Recording oral feedback for writing assignments

This past weekend, I was able to give my presentation on recorded oral feedback on writing assignments. Over the past few months after my initial talk for REALize 2014, there has been a great response to the various sessions and a call for this to be converted into something that they can read over and share with other people. That is the purpose of this post. In short, I will take you through each slide and the main content related to that slide. You can click on most of the images to take you to the related content. Feel free to use the interactive tools or to comment on things here or on Twitter.

page-1A few years ago, I was introduced to the idea of doing recorded oral feedback for my students on their writing assignments. The premise was that students found it to be more personal and saw it as a sort of mini lesson that they could return to at any time. My first attempt worked so well, that I started exploring the research into this form of feedback and found quite a few articles on the subject. Over time, my approach has evolved into what I am presenting on here.

page-2In my session, I asked three discussion questions to get things started. In order to allow those who didn’t want to speak up in the session a place to share their comments and questions, I created a Padlet wall for them to post their answers. As it turned out, it wasn’t needed, but I am leaving it active to allow those who read this post to post questions and comments on the these three questions:

  1. How do you give feedback on writing assignments?
  2. What are some common problems you have in giving feedback on writing assignments?
  3. How do you keep track of the feedback you give students?

The response was pretty typical. Most people give written feedback directly on the assignments which poses a problem for hand-written assignments when it comes to space and legibility. Some people also used track changes or commenting directly in the Word document. The biggest problem most people had was that of time. Giving good feedback can eat up a lot of time and this can be burdensome for teachers who have more than one writing class on which to give feedback. Finally, most teachers said that they either keep a copy of the Word document or they make photocopies of the hand-written work to keep track of what feedback you have given and to see if students are progressing.

page-3The format for this presentation followed a similar path that I took as I worked out the reasons for giving recorded oral feedback, the tools that I currently use, the problems I have encountered along the way, and the questions I asked myself as I reflected on what I am currently doing to see if there are ways that it can be improved.

page-4The first study I looked at was from Bitchener, Young, and Cameron (2005). The study involved a group of university ESOL students divided into three groups: one would receive written and oral feedback in the form of a short direct meeting; the second group met part time and was only given written feedback; the third group only met for a short time each week so they only received limited feedback, focusing on quality and organization as opposed to grammar, spelling, and other structural problems. They each were given four written tasks to complete and the number of type of errors was recorded. The result was interesting in that each of the groups actually created more errors in each subsequent writing assignment until the last submission. That was when the writing and oral feedback group made significant gains over the other groups. This may be in part to the need to work out the problems before mastering them.

page-5The one thing that struck me from this study was the separation into what the authors referred to as ‘treatable’ and ‘less treatable’ features. Oral feedback was able to provide better guidance in the treatable items (ex. past simple tense; the definite article) than the ‘less treatable’ items (ex. prepositions). I have found that the recorded feedback can provide even more guidance on each of these items since you can give short lessons on each item that the student can then review on their own as opposed to a one-time sit down with the student.


The second research study I looked at did not involve language students, but it did use screencasting, the recording of your screen as a video along with audio. It compared 18 essays in total written by two groups. One group got written feedback while the other received a short screencast. The interesting thing was the amount of time it took the instructors to give their feedback. While the the initial reading and annotating of the essays took the same amount of time (about 1.5 hours), the written feedback took an additional 35 minutes to complete while the screencasting only took 5 minutes. That means over the entire process of giving feedback on the 18 essays, the instructor could have saved nine hours.


The results were that the students felt that the quality of the feedback was equal if not better in most cases while saving the instructor a great deal of time.

page-8The last study I examined was at a Norwegian University that used screencasting across the subject areas. A large number of individuals and groups took part in the study, giving a nice cross spectrum of results. The interesting difference was that they didn’t just use screencasts for feedback, but they also used it to give instructions and messages. This gives students a level of continuity instead of using different tools or methods for different tasks.

page-9The results of the study showed that recorded oral feedback using screencasts provided a number of benefits for both the teacher and the students. It provided clear instruction and allowed students to review the information if need be. Group were able to review the comments together and it allowed for more discussion time. For the teacher, it saved time and also encouraged them to be clearer in their feedback. While short projects made noticeable improvements, larger projects made the biggest gains. Finally, both teachers and students commented that they felt that this type of feedback gave them both the opportunity to get to know one another better and gain personalized instruction.

page-10One of the problems that instructors faced was an ever increasing level of expectation from the students in regards to feedback and assessment. A large part of the problem in meeting those expectations is due to the time needed to provide a higher level of feedback.

page-11One of the ways of meeting the high expectations from students was through the use of screencasting. Students commented that they felt the quality of the feedback increased through the use of video comments. Also, students mentioned that they felt inspired and motived to complete future work which is unusual considering that students often comment that they feel stressed upon received feedback on their work. This suggests to me that the ability to articulate a ‘softer’ approach to commenting is more easily obtained through spoken rather than written comments.

page-12Once again, students felt that video comments allowed for students to gain greater access to the instructor, allowing them to feel more connected to them.

page-13Finally, teachers mentioned that they felt that they were able to reduce their workload while providing even a higher level of feedback that was more precise.


This is now the practice part of my presentation where I look at some of the tools that can be used to give oral and written feedback on writing assignments. The first thing that you need to do is to get the student’s writing work on your screen. If it is in a Word document, you can simply open it up in Word and start adding your annotations. The bigger problem is when the work is hand-written. For myself, I use a scanner at work to keep a copy of my students’ work electronically. This saves me keeping piles of paper around and is much easy to review with the student when I meet with them one-on-one. I keep a file folder on my computer for each student where I store all of their work. The problem with scanned work is that you can add comments to it in Word. That is where a tool like XODO is so handy. I can upload almost any document or image and can then add my annotations or comments directly on the image or document. XODO hosts the file with the comments online and provides you with a unique link that isn’t searchable so you can share it with the student and you can also bookmark for review later on.

page-16Screencasting can be done with an online tool such as Screencast-O-Matic, or can with an installed software such as Jing or even Quicktime Pro which comes with all current Macs. Screencast-O-Matic allows for up to 15 minutes or recording and the video that is created can be stored on the Screencast-O-Matic site, on YouTube, or can be downloaded and then shared on your online classroom. As with XODO, you do need to register to use this free online tool, but it still is something that you can have students use for various projects. I have had students play their PowerPoint slides on the screen while recording themselves talking through the presentation. This allows them to archive the presentation as part of their e-portfolio. There are numerous uses for screencasting, but the focus here is on the feedback for writing assignments. In this case, I pull up the document on my screen using XODO and then I start recording using Screencast-O-Matic as I annotate, comment, and talk the student through their writing assignment. Once I am done, I can either store it online, or I can download it and share it on our course website.

page-17Here is another silent demo in which I go through the steps I use while recording my feedback. While you don’t get my commentary that I give during my session, it gives you a picture of what it looks like as I give my feedback.

page-18An important component in any classroom is the ‘online space’. This is the place where students and the teacher can interact, share, discuss, and develop things that start within the physical classroom. For a few years now, I have been using Edmodo, a free cloud-based classroom that is closed, but doesn’t require students to give their email address to join. A teacher simply registers for free, creates a new group (class) and then gives the class code to each student.

The reason I like Edmodo over other learning management systems (LMS) is that it is social in design and removes a lot of the hierarchical structures inherent in most systems. Instead of being highly product-based in its approach, Edmodo turns things over to the students to collaborate and share, making it far more process-based.

Edmodo looks and acts much like Facebook or other social networks. This makes it fairly user-friendly for students and teachers to add and disseminate a wide variety of media without any other components needing to be added. In this case, I share my videos, documents, and other forms of feedback directly with each student and they can reply and post things as well. This could be done in a number of ways, I am only sharing one method that I have found to be quite effective.

page-19This is another one of my ‘silent demos’ that I use during my presentation to walk people through some of the key features in Edmodo. There is a lot in Edmodo, so I only focused on a few everyday things. You can learn a lot more from the main Edmodo site.

page-21This is the section of my presentation where I spend time sharing some of the problem with using online tools for recording and sharing your oral feedback. The biggest issue for me is that the rules in my area of the world, British Columbia in Canada, has strict rules about hosting students information on cloud-based servers. I basically discuss some of the ways that this can be done without circumventing the rules or putting students at risk.

page-22Another issue with using online tool is advertisements. I am not against ads per se, but since I have very little control on what my students end up seeing, I tend to pick and choose my online tools fairly carefully. My example above is from Vocaroo, an online audio recording tool that at first glance appears to not have any ads. The problem is when you share your recording with your students. That is where the ads pop up and can be confusing to some students who are still learning to navigate the internet in English. The bottom line? Do a thorough run through the whole procedure to make sure any tools you use are not malicious or can include information you don’t want your students to see.

page-23An important thing to consider when choosing the tools for your feedback is to make sure it is compatible with what you are using at school and that students are able to access the feedback on whatever device they want. I try to make all of my components mobile friendly, meaning I avoid things such as Adobe Flash or text that is really small. That is why I choose the MP4 option for video for my students when I download it from Screencast-O-Matic. Also, Edmodo has a wonderful mobile app available for most devices.

page-24What happens when you student or yourself have limited access to the internet? One thing you need to be prepared to do is to have an option for students who don’t have internet at home. Provide time within the schedule for students to review your feedback at school on the network or give them something they can play the video on. If this is an ongoing problem, you may need to reconsider using recorded feedback at all. After all, if one student can’t access it, it creates a two-tiered system if others get more feedback than others due to network restrictions.

page-25Time can be an enemy or a blessing. In this situation, we have seen how it can save you a good deal of time. The problem is that some situations can actually take more time in the short while, but provide long term gain.

page-26Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve. Don’t expect that this will all happen overnight. You need to leave yourself some time to experiment with things to see what works for you. Don’t give up too soon. It will get easier and easier each time to do it. Pretty soon, you will find that you are so used to doing it, you don’t even think about what you need to do.

page-27Normally, this would be the time for questions. Feel free to pass along your questions to me using the information on the last slide. I am almost always on Twitter and checking my email. Also, I do reply to comments posted on this site as well.

page-28Here are the three articles I referenced in this presentation:

page-29If you go to the link mentioned in the slide, you can find the various places I reside online and the different ways you can get in touch with me. I love to hear from people so don’t be shy!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s