Author: Philip Longwell, Study Skills Tutor, Centre for Collaborative Learning, UCLan
Giving effective feedback to learners is important in many areas of higher education. Academic staff are commonly and acutely aware of the need for feedback to be timely, considered and detailed. Feedback can be both summative, such as an end of course evaluation, or it can be formative, whereby the information given is intended to assist the learner in some way to improve future performance. Frequently the feedback is given on an assignment as part of a module, which should provide positive comments, as well as constructive guidance on ways to improve for the next assignment or future ones.
Of the many factors that make a difference to student outcomes, the power of feedback is paramount in any list (Hattie 2009:13 as cited in Mayhew, 2016). It may impact significantly on levels of student satisfaction, student learning and attainment. Yet, student feedback satisfaction rates often score lower down in comparison with other aspects of teaching and learning provision, according to National Student Surveys. The latest figures for 2021 shows that the questions ‘Feedback on my work has been timely’ and ‘I have received helpful comments on my work’ score around 72%. (Office for Students, 2021).
Feedback to language learners
Back in 2006, Russell Stannard was lecturing in computing at the University of Westminster. He had seen screen capture technology being demonstrated at BETT a few years earlier. Around this time he was he would record his lectures, demonstrating the use of Adobe tools, such as Flash and Photoshop. In fact, screen capture software was not particularly new and was used for training users of other types of software, too. But his real ‘lightbulb’ moment came when he applied the technology to thinking about how to offer feedback on language students’ written work. In two articles, both published that year, he wrote about opening up his students’ work and record himself giving oral feedback with a screen capture of their work on his computer screen. He experimented with Chinese students on an English for Academic purposes course. Stannard (2007, as cited in Brick and Holmes, 2010) found that multimodal feedback tended to be more extensive than standard written feedback. A two-minute recording contained about 400 words. Multimodal feedback is also denser because it contains both verbal and nonverbal information (Brick and Holmes, 2010, p340).
It was not, by Stannard’s own admission, particularly pedagogically sound at the time and just an idea, which he now describes as ‘terrible’ (Stannard, 2019). Nonetheless, it was his idea that took off and which has subsequently been written about by several researchers and formed the basis for many of his talks at conference. It also led to him setting up his own company featuring screen captured tutorials for different platforms and tools.
Kerr (2020) has more recently examined five main characteristics of effective feedback for language learners, noting differences between spoken and written forms. The former is more spontaneous, direct and often done with others present compared with the latter. They both, however, have the aim of being specific and related to learning outcomes. In addition, it should be appropriately challenging, targeting areas where improvement is possible. Furthermore, it requires the active involvement of the learner and a nudge towards greater autonomy. In order words, to be effective, it needs to “prompt a learner to modify their knowledge, language production or learning strategies.” Finally, whilst feedback often highlights errors, receiving feedback on correct responses or positive performance. (Kerr, p3).
Whilst both Kerr and Stannard initially were focusing specifically on language learners, the need for greater oral and video feedback can be relevant for all students. Academic staff are acutely aware of the need to provide richer, detailed feedback but are often faced with workload pressures which means that individualised video responses, with all the technical considerations, can be too time-consuming. The downside is certainly a requirement to use the technology efficiently and the time it takes to produce, render (save) and distribute the videos. However, the benefit to the learner can be significant. Mayhew (2016) argues that while the provision of timely, high-quality detailed feedback is often seen as crucial to the student experience, satisfaction surveys have also found that feedback does not match the same level of quality than input, such as lectures. In addition, over reliance on text-based feedback is seen as biased towards one type of learning style (Stannard, 2008). Whilst the concept of ‘learning styles’ can divide opinion, with some believing it is a myth that should be dismissed, the idea of students having alternative methods of delivering feedback does have some value.
Audio feedback and Turnitin
One potential solution has been the provision of audio feedback. This typically used to be in the form of an .mp3 file rather than a Word document on handwriting on scripts. Audio on top of written feedback has been found by some researchers to be easier to understand and more personal. Students were more likely to engage and take note of feedback (Fitzgerald, 2011 as cited in Mayhew, 2016). Ribchester et al (2008, as cited in Mayhew, 2016, p.181) found that “audio feedback was easier to access, avoided issues with legibility and that students were more sensitive to the spoken word than written feedback.”
Commonly at UK universities, written work is marked, and feedback generated via TurnItIn. This is a widely used tool for primarily checking similarity against existing submissions and to root out potential plagiarism. In addition, it is a method by which a tutor can give feedback on work in the form of quick marks and free comments in a ‘feedback studio’. If any learning outcomes (LOs) are clearly known, then these can be highlighted in the studio and comments made as to whether a student has or has not met those. However, there are some weaknesses in how effective this is from the students’ perspective.
One study (Abrahamson and Mann, 2018) sought to better understand the tensions that exist between delivering and receiving feedback in TurnItIn. They found some evidence that the platform can be a barrier to learning and thinking and that some comments tend to dehumanise feedback and present it as mechanistic process devoid of interaction, critical discussion and collaboration. Furthermore, their findings raised pedagogical and philosophical questions around the language used to feed back to students and where a oral dialogue with the tutor would help students to understand the written comments. (p154).
In my own experience of dealing with the aftermath of students’ work submitted to TurnItIn, the ‘voice comment’ feature is rarely used by tutors. However, if a student has requested alternative methods of feedback, perhaps because of a specific diagnosed learning difficulty, then this might be deployed more often. Nonetheless, it is not until an oral dialogue with the tutor that students might have an opportunity to be clearer about their work and, possibly, to understand where they did not meet any learning outcomes. Additionally, it would be an opportunity to mention any mitigating circumstances, otherwise not disclosed, which might have affected performance.
In any follow-up meeting, the process of dealing with the feedback is more personalised and humanised. It commonly happens in teacher observations – with a one-to-one meeting before and after the observed lesson – but not so much between tutors and students. There are many reasons for this. Time is paramount and the tutor would usually not have the required time to answer every single query the students might have on their feedback. In practical terms, recording high quality audio feedback is time consuming and difficult enough. Without the additional concept of visual feedback. It is, however, possible in certain circumstances to give oral feedback in individual tutoring situations, while multimodal feedback has an even greater effect on the learners’ experience. This is where screen capture technology comes in.
Screen capture technology for feedback
As mentioned earlier, recording your screen with students’ work shown and narrating a voice over with feedback has deployed since Stannard first had this idea. There are free screen capture tools, such as Jing and Screencast-o-matic that enable this. This software bridges the gap between low-end screenshot tools and high-end, costly tools from companies like Techsmith. Screencast-o-matic’s menu gives you four options: Take Screenshot, Launch Recorder, Open Editor, and Open Uploads.
You also get quick access to your recent screenshots and recordings, but there are limitations on the free version. You can take and edit screenshots, record up to 15 minutes of watermarked video, and share to online platforms. Upgrading to Deluxe unlocks a host of extra features, most notably unlimited video recordings. Premier gives you more storage and backup options, along with business-friendly branding and advertising features. Screencast-o-matic’s video recording alone makes it more powerful than Microsoft’s free Windows Snipping tool, which lacks the feature entirely (Minor, 2020). However, in Microsoft Office, you can easily record a presentation in PowerPoint. Most university staff will have access to this. You can also record your screen using Microsoft Stream and once satisfied with the recording these can be uploaded directly into the user’s Stream folder. Another tool that I have used and produced a tutorial for Stannard’s YouTube channel is Loom, which is a Google Chrome plug-in. This video has now been watched over 76,000 times! His website Teacher Training Videos, set up in 2006, holds a lot more tutorials like this.
My own experience of using screen capture software began with Techsmith’s Jing, when I completed an ICT in ELT module as part of my Master’s degree at the University of Warwick, 2011-12, where Russell was a tutor for three years. Jing is still available in some form or other. However, I later graduated onto another Techsmith product, SnagIT for basic screen captures, although I have used the basic version of Screencast-o-matic occasionally for demonstration purposes. Since 2012, I have used Camtasia for creating video content. However, I did not really experiment with giving feedback to students until I became a freelance tutor in 2017. I then used Camtasia for giving feedback to students’ written work and homework. An example can be viewed here giving feedback on IELTS Writing Task 1 and 2 for a private student in 2019, who was achieving around 6.5. I made this public with permission as a demonstration of what the technology can do. After several weeks of tutoring this student, she eventually reached her 7.5 goal in writing. There is not much annotation on this example, but I do use this regularly to correct grammar, spelling and other language errors. The camera is shown, which makes it multimodal, but the main thing is the (hopefully) friendly and supportive voice. Annotations also add to this and in other videos that I have created I can draw attention to aspects of the learner’s work by adding appropriately timed text boxes with corrections or suggestions, which can be spotlighted or zoomed in on. By providing positive comments before offering some constructive suggestions, the enhanced features of multimodal feedback has palpable benefits for the learner. Another example of screencapture was providing a ‘walkthrough’ for pre-sessional students using Kaltura to record a PowerPoint presentation, so that it could be uploaded and integrated into Blackboard easily.
Online technologies, then, can potentially offer positive solutions for closing the expectation and experience gap. As studies, such as Brick and Holmes (2010), have shown this kind of feedback is well received by students. Cohorts of students express strong levels of satisfaction with video feedback received (Mayhew, 2016, p184). So, evidence has grown to suggest that, as tutors experiment with this kind of delivery, learners value this kind of detailed, multimodal feedback. It is clearer and more effective than more traditional forms. Of course, the big disadvantage with providing this kind of feedback is that it can be time-consuming and not always practical. For the sole tutor, with 25 papers to mark in a short space of time, it is often not practical to add another workload layer to existing written forms.
In conclusion, even with a simple screen capture tool or one that integrates into other technologies that are used at an institution, you can enhance the feedback experience. An instructor might not need to spend ages doing this once they have practiced and become familiar with this kind of method. It might appeal to more ‘tech-savvy’ users, but most tutors already have to use technology of some kind or other when offering feedback. Whether they have a choice or the time to do so is another matter entirely.
Note: I first met Russell Stannard at the University of Warwick in 2011. By this point he had moved on to teaching on a MA in English Language Teaching programme and was jointly responsible for modules on Information in Communicative Technology (ICT) and reflective blogging. He was also my dissertation supervisor. I ended up working with him on a part-time basis and introduced him at an international teachers’ conference in Liverpool, 2019, which can be viewed in full online.
Abrahamson, E.D. and Mann, J. (2018) ‘For whom is the feedback intended? A student-focused critical analysis of Turnitin software as a tool for learning’, Journal of pedagogical research, 2(3), pp. 146–166.
Altmann, G. ‘Feedback’ image. Free to use from Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/images/id-2463928/
Brick, B. and Holmes, J. (2010) ‘Using Screen Capture Software for Student Feedback’ in Klinshuk, D., Sampson, G., Spector, J.M., Isaias, P., and Ifenthaler, D.(Eds). Cognition and Exploratory Leaning in Digital Age: Proceedings of the IADIS CELDA 2008 conference, ‘IADIS CELDA 2008’. pp: 339-342.
Kerr, P. (2020) Giving feedback to language learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available at: (PDF) Giving feedback to language learners | Philip Kerr – Academia.edu
Longwell, P. (2012) Jing. Available at: http://teacherphilisictinelt.blogspot.com/2012/02/12-jing.html
Mayhew, E (2016) Playback feedback: the impact of screen-captured video feedback on student satisfaction, learning and attainment. Symposium. European Political Science: EPS, 16(2), pp. 179-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/eps.2015.102.
Minor, J (2020). Screencast-o-matic review. Available at: Screencast-O-Matic – Review 2020 – PCMag UK
Office for Students (2021). Available at: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/student-information-and-data/national-student-survey-nss/%20
Stannard, R (2007a) ‘Goodbye to Lecture Notes’ in The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2007/sep/18/link.link24
Stannard, R. (2007b) ‘Using screen capture software in student feedback, The higher education academy English subject centre case study’, available at: http://www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/ publications/casestudies/technology/camtasia.php. accessed 15 April 2015.
Stannard, R. (2008) ‘A new direction in feedback’, Humanising Language Teaching. 10 (6). Available at: www.hltmag.co.uk/dec08/mart04.htm.
Stannard, R (2019). ‘What Can Technology Do for Assessment and Feedback’. Digital Feedback. Proceedings of the Learning Technologies Special Interest Group Pre-Conference Event. 1 April. Liverpool: IATEFL Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ga349j7n5Q