By Rebecca M. Price
Giving constructive feedback is always a challenge. How do you comment on student work in a way that makes sense to them, avoids swamping them in detail, and maintains a positive attitude toward the assignment?
I teach courses that have students writing scientific papers and I have a long track record of providing extensive written comments that students often seem to ignore. So, I started making Panopto videos. I did this in a hybrid course. It was a five credit course that met once a week and the video feedback had the added benefit of helping me establish a rapport with each of the students. The videos showed that I valued each of them as individuals in addition to tracking what they were learning in the course. I would begin my video by emphasizing what a student had done well.
For example, I might say, “You have articulated a strong and testable hypothesis, and you have used the primary literature to show why testing the hypothesis is justified.” Starting with this positive comment seems much more effective in a video than it does in writing. That’s because of the intonation. It’s hard for me to express my enthusiasm in writing, but I can do that so easily with my voice and with my face. I use my voice and face to express my passion for students’ work.
“It’s hard for me to express my enthusiasm in writing, but I can do that so easily with my voice and with my face.”
After describing what worked in the paper, I would move on to areas to be improved. Again, intonation was critical here. It is discouraging to students to read a comment like “paragraph two is unclear and needs to be reworked”, or even the more terse “unclear” next to a highlighted paragraph; but stating aloud that “the ideas of paragraph two are critical for your argument, and you can work on the phrasing to make those points crystal clear to your audience” is much more palatable for the student, especially when couched with encouraging gestures and intonation. That comment can be followed up with an example of how to improve the clarity of one sentence. It is much faster to say a long sentence like that in a video than it is to write it down, and it’s easier for the student to process the details by watching the video than it is when they skim written comments. I am also much more comfortable using a conversational tone when I am talking than when I am writing. I supplement my video feedback with a few written comments, but these tend to be brusque, and are usually presented as a bullet list of points to consider.
“In general, I find that it is faster for me to make the videos than to provide the written comments. In a class of 22 students, all but one preferred the video feedback I was providing over the written feedback I provided.”
You can view the recording in Panopto by clicking on the play button or the arrow in the lower left. Access full screen by clicking on the brackets [ ]. To enable captions, click on the CC button in the video controls area of the video.