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Tips from the Pros: Screencasting Feedback for Better Learning

Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Tips from the Pros: Screencasting Feedback for Better Learning

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Last month, I talked about the benefits of providing voice feedback to students. Screencasting takes these benefits one step further by adding a visual element to the instructor's voice (Orlando, 2016)

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Last month, I talked about the benefits of providing voice feedback to students. Screencasting takes these benefits one step further by adding a visual element to the instructor's voice (Orlando, 2016)

A screencast is just a recording of everything that happens on your monitor along with voice narration. You simply open the software, define the area to be recorded by dragging your cursor across the monitor to make a rectangular capture field, click “record,” and start speaking.

Unlike voice feedback, which can be embedded as an audio file in a student's work, video files are too big to easily transfer to a student. Thus, you need to upload the result to either your school's learning management system or post it to a cloud-based hosting side. Screencast-o-matic allows you to both create and post a screencast, making the process easier than using separate systems for each step.

Screencasting has the advantage of making your feedback akin to talking to a student sitting next to you in your office. Just as you would open a student's work in your office to point out places in the assignment where there are problems and circle text or leave comments on it, you do the same with a screencast. The only difference is that the student watches the video recording rather than being next to you.

One advantage of screencasting is that the instructor can actually work on the text itself to make a point. One problem with traditional comments on paper is that the student is given comments about suggested changes, such as “move this to the end,” but does not actually see what those changes would look like. But with the student's work on the instructor's computer, the instructor can modify it to demonstrate what the student should have done. The instructor might say, “This paragraph is unneeded,” and then delete it, or say, “This section needs to be moved over here,” and copy and paste it over while speaking to show how it should look. This adds an element beyond traditional text feedback.

Screencasting is also good for making tutorials for students demonstrating processes. In particular, an instructor can demonstrate how he or she solves problems or performs common tasks. I created one on how I read and take notes on academic work.

Studies of screencasting feedback found that it tends to start a dialogue with the student. Students ask more questions about the feedback and initiate greater discussion of the issues than with text feedback. Students report that the feedback method creates a more collegial atmosphere and a sense of working through the issues together.

Students also tend to move beyond the grade to talking about ideas when feedback is given in screencasting form. Grade obsession is not only a headache to faculty, it undermines student learning by creating the impression that the grade is the point of education, rather than the learning. Anything that moves the student's attention off the grade toward ideas is likely to be a benefit. In fact, teachers report that students are genuinely excited to receive feedback in screencasting form for the ideas that it conveys, whereas students often dread receiving text feedback because their attention is drawn to the grade.

Finally, faculty report that they were more likely to “look at the work as a whole” by focusing on macro-issues with screencasting feedback, whereas there is a tendency just to tick off minor grammatical errors in the margins with text feedback. This was supported by my own study comparing voice, text, and screencasting feedback, where faculty seemed to move toward more conceptual “thinking” issues over the writing issues that are more appropriate for a copy editor or writing tutor.

Best practices

Screencasting feedback takes a bit longer than voice feedback because of the time spent setting up and saving a screencast, but faculty who have tried it believe that it is well worth the effort. However, to make it worth the effort, the faculty member needs to treat the screencast as a visual medium, again, akin to talking to a student sitting next to the faculty member in his or her office. One faculty member in our study scripted her voice feedback and then read it to the student during the screencast. This caused the time investment to explode and is not necessary. We don't need a script to go over a student's assignment in an office visit. Just start the screencast and give the student information as it occurs to you. Plus, a scripted narration will remove the personalization from the experience.

It was also found that faculty would initially just speak to the student without annotating the assignment during their screencasts. This likely goes back to the sense of not wanting to change the original text. But changing the original text is precisely what is needed to demonstrate what the student should have done. Faculty should feel free to modify the text. The actual changes need not be saved on the student's document anyway—they are being done solely for the screencast. Getting used to making changes to the assignment will also get the faculty member in the mind-set of teaching through the feedback, not simply grading by pointing out what was done wrong.

Finally, it is best not to spend time just fixing minor grammatical errors during the screencast. If you want to point out the correct spelling of a word, do that with a text comment. This will be easier to find later, because embedded text comments are easier to find quickly as a reference later on. The screencast should be a teaching device that provides the student with some broad ideas and concepts that are best conveyed by voice and images combined.

Take a look at this tutorial on how to provide screencasting feedback to students: https://youtu.be/CDcfX2Qj6k0. As noted, screencasts are also a good method of modeling how an instructor performs tasks expected of the student, such as solving a problem or outlining an essay. Take a look at this example I produced to teach how to read academic work, and think about the various ways to use screencasts in your teaching: http://bit.ly/2sfBctq.

Orlando, J. (2016). A comparison of text, voice, and screencasting feedback to online students. The American Journal of Distance Education, 30(3), 156–166.