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Case study: raising the quality and impact of feedback with screen-captured essay analysis videos

This case was created with Russell Stannard, Principal Teaching Fellow, Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick.

What, why, how? – Practitioner/Advisor Statement

My innovations were motivated by the challenge of making feedback (originally on written work but now broader) more engaging, efficient and multi-modal (rather than just text based) and therefore more inclusive. We need to motivate students to make use of feedback. This challenge is encountered generally across education.

We are now successfully addressing this, in an incredibly well received way, using a “screen-captured feedback” approach.

I was frustrated by this lack of engagement with feedback. Practice in this area was getting out of sync with other changes in HE. So I was deliberately looking for a solution. I first saw the technology in 2000, but it took 6 years to realise it was easy and doable. Then I started to experiment with Camtasia (teaching at Westminster University). I did a research experiment with 11 Chinese students, and got published in Times Higher. I won a Times Higher award for outstanding initiative in ICT.It was used in a national student teaching report for the government. I developed new techniques through a community of practitioners that grew as a result of this publicity. It has also worked well with disciplines with a design element (engineering, arts etc).

Screencasts are recorded combining a recording of the student’s work being explored on screen and a commentary from the teacher. I know use the Jing software for this, but have also used Screencast-o-matic and Camtasia. I record myself viewing, correcting, commenting and giving feedback on student’s work on screen. The recording is exported as a video. The video is then uploaded to a server, and a link is sent to the student. The feedback is personalised to the student.

The technique is used to address issues with deeper meaning and structure, allowing complicated feedback on these issues to be more easily developed. I tend not to use it to address superficial issues.

This approach is currently used by 4 academics in Applied Linguistics (almost 1/4), with 50% of students. Based on research carried out on Norway, and the priority given to feedback on NSS, this is of great significance to all students and to all departments.

I have evaluated the impact of the technique on teachers, and have found that it alters the style of feedback, with fewer ‘tick marks’ and more comment to justify. However, it is possible to end up providing too much feedback. I have tried modifying the technique by limiting myself to 5 key comments per essay.

The response from students has been excellent, and engagement with feedback has clearly improved. This should be a long term change in how the student uses feedback.

The simplicity of the approach enabling wider uptake. Software is available for free. However, even with this technical simplicity, uptake is depends upon teachers being able to establish a natural flow when speaking into the recording. Some people struggle with this. Perhaps a purpose designed screen recording tool could help with this?

The approach could also be improved if upload speed were improved (on campus). The use of Moodle (starting in 2013) which might simplify the workflow. Also, when working with large cohorts it can become repetitious, with many students requiring similar feedback. This is a constraint on wider adoption. It could be addressed with a simple mechanism for combining examples from different students. However, the personal aspect of feedback is an important part of the value of the technique, and this would have to be preserved. US users have suggested flipping the technique for student reflection. Self-review is an approach that can be used to increase the impact of the approach while maintaining the personal aspect. Students are asked to give feedback on their own work reflexively (with training and guidance on how to review), and then to share their self-assessment.

Finally, wider adoption might be constrained by concerns regarding validation by external examiners. It is not clear how this would work at Warwick, there is no official or guidance in place. In institutions where there is that official push (OU) it is more widely embedded. It might be the case that Warwick centrally is keen on this, but people still aren’t confident enough to try something new. Official guidance and encouragement might enable wider adoption.

Academic Technology Advisor’s Analysis

Summary of the design change

This is a complex innovation, involving changes in hardware, software, individual and collective practice, and roles and relationships. A core existing practice, essay feedback, is transferred from its traditional media (notes handwritten on text, and less commonly one-to-one face-to-face communication) to an unfamiliar medium (online video). There are two significant transformations:

1. in the different temporal aspect of the acts of giving and receiving feedback (Russell recognizes this as being a desired and significant effect) – rather than briefly skipping around the text and the scribbled notes, the student has to stop and engage with a feedback point in a more directed, linear fashion.

2. by establishing, through the physical presence of the academics voice in the feedback, a stronger connection between the academic, their authority, the advice, specific points in the student’s text, the actions of the student, and their ideas/skills/learning.

What led to the design change?

A convergence of the innovator being immersed in the problem domain, and keeping a watch out for changing hardware and software affordances and patterns that might be transferred and adapted to re-invent the problem domain.

How significant are its intended impacts?

This might be viewed as a superficial application of new gadgetry, but there’s much more to it than that. The shift in format transforms the acts of giving and receiving feedback, from an often light, shallow and inconsequential engagement (the student briefly looking for expected words to confirm their expectations) to a more focussed, deeper, directed engagement that holds the attention of the student. In the cases where the video based technique is applied, the difference can be very significant. If this level of engagement were to transfer beyond these cases and the video media, with the more focussed deeper engagement style being used in written, oral and peer-to-peer feedback, then the significance will be even greater. If the approach were to be more widely adopted, with all students getting some exposure to it (not necessarily for all assignments), the positive impacts could be enormous.

How was it implemented?

The technique was invented quickly, once the hardware and software became available and its affordances were recognised by the innovator. It was an individual innovation-decision, with little dependency on supporting infrastructure and agencies. Any institutional structural constraints present had little impact on the invention and adoption by the innovator. The practice is very much about improving student-teacher interaction on a one-to-one basis. It’s introduction to these relationships would have needed thought and care, along with some action to establish it as normative amongst peer groups.

How successful is the design change?

For the inventor, and his students, this has been very successful, and has become normal practice. Through national and international publicity and networking, it has been replicated by many others outside of the university. However, it might be that for the innovation to achieve its potential, and to transform attitudes and practice (by teachers and students) it needs to be used more widely and consistently.

How durable are its impacts?

Potentially life-long, if it does make a permanent change to attitudes and practices. It seems to scaffold behaviours that could become cognitively ingrained.

How transferable is the design?

Although “feedback” is widely regarded as a significant issue, there is less commonality as to the nature of the problem: does feedback need to be delivered more immediately? is more feedback needed? better quality feedback? feedback that justifies the mark? feedback that directs the student to specific improvements? – there are many views on the issue. This approach deals with the “problem” of feedback when conceived in a specific way: students not using feedback effectively, teachers not creating feedback that engages the students and encourages them to use it effectively. The definition of the problem in this way is the starting point for the diffusion of this approach. However, there are then issues concerning its compatibility (or perceived compatibility) with existing practice, especially institutional rules, norms and expectations. The technology may itself also be perceived as too complex, when compared to existing practice. However, it is argued that once the teacher is set-up with the required skills and and facilities, it is simpler and quicker. This needs to be demonstrated, made observable widely. Although the software itself is free, and the hardware is in most cases already present, additional support is probably needed to make it easy for all teachers to try it out for themselves.

Academic Technology team actions

Wider understanding, consideration, and where appropriate, adoption, would be eased through identifying and documenting the simplest, quickest technology solution. This should be documented in a simple user guide and video, and showcased in person.

Case study: using Spreeder in teaching speed reading to extend student academic capacity

This case study was created with Han-na Cha, Programme Coordinator, UG & Masters Skills Programmes, Student Development, University of Warwick.

What, why, how? – Practitioner/Advisor Statement

I use Spreeder to teach speed reading in workshops for undergraduate and taught masters students. The sessions take place in large conventional flat teaching rooms, with between 8 and 25 students. I show it on the instructor screen at the front of the class. I import a text (e.g. from the news), and as a group we practise speed reading techniques using Spreeder to control the presentation of the text. Spreeder makes it easy to change settings like words per minute and word chunk size. Students will then access it at home, personalise it for themselves, and practice further. In the classroom, this allows the teacher to easily demonstrate techniques (grouping words, decreasing fixations etc) to increase speed. The aim is to prevent habitual “back-skipping” and “sub-vocalizing” by the student. Working on a text together gets them to understand and to be confident with reading whole texts and with the principles of speed reading.

Spreeder, used in this way, supplements other approaches. It helps me to meet different learning styles, adding an additional strategy.

This is really helpful to the students faced with having to read large amounts, allowing them read more secondary material (as feedback confirms).

This approach is starting to spread to other teachers who teach speed reading. Recommendation are passing between students, and between students and teachers in both directions. It could have a wider application beyond students attending these courses. Easy free access online makes this easy for it to be adopted. There is a good blog to support its use.

Adoption might be constrained by an inability to import PDF versions of academic articles.

I discovered this approach after looking for software that would help with speed reading on the computer. I heard about it from a student (I often ask students for technology ideas). I asked the student about how it is useful and what its limitations are. I tasked a student to try it out. The student then demonstrated it and reviewed it in a workshop. At that point I knew it was right and adopted it in my teaching.

Academic Technology Advisor’s Analysis

Summary of the design change

The addition to an existing workshop of an in-class, teacher-led, individual plus peer-connected, technology-enhanced activity, using a free web-based tool, presented on the instructor’s overhead screen, leading to a change in cognitive habit, leading to improved reading capability and study capability.

The new activity was added to an existing workshop, using a free web-based tool. The activity was undertaken as a common, synchronous, shared experience (social, bodily and aesthetic dimensions focussing attention on a cognitive task). The teacher leads the whole class, focussing on shared challenges. The shared activity demonstrates to each student that the approach works for them individually, building self-confidence in their cognitive capability, their ability to read and understand whole documents quickly. This is then developed through in-class practice into an altered cognitive habit that extends reading and study capability. It also provides the capability for students to practice the technique after the class and to improve their skills further, and to apply the technique in future studies.

What led to the design change?

Teacher: reflecting on strategies, widening learning styles, inviting student suggestions, commissioning student review.

Students: actively suggesting alternative approaches, peer-sharing techniques, reviewing a technique, demonstrating a technique.

How significant are its intended impacts?

Very significant for those students taking part. They attain a cognitive capability that will significantly improve their lifetime chances of success. Any student who struggles to effetively read core texts or to go beyond core texts would benefit. Potentially significant for all students, but limited by the scale of the workshops and low awareness in the wider population.

How was it implemented?

Experiment with students. Evaluate the software. Live trial.

How successful is the design change?

Good indications: positive anecdotal feedback; students recommended to peers.

How durable are its impacts?

Not certain, but likely to be lifetime.

How sustainable is the design?

Dependent upon a free online tool not provided by Warwick University. Looks like html + javascript. Could be downloaded?

How transferable is the design?

Teaching speed reading is a specialist activity, and currently a rare occurrence within Warwick. The ease of access to the technology, and the simplicity of the approach, makes adoption more likely. Students are adopting it independently. Greater adoption of the whole-class activity depends upon the growth in the teaching of speed reading.

Academic Technology Team actions

To assure sustainability, recommend that a local copy is made so that Spreeder may be run offline, independent of the host web site.

Sociological Meta-analysis

HC has been meta-reflexive, design aware and reflexive. But horizontal routes to re-invention and diffusion are limited. So is instead more closely allied with the students, forming a participatory design collaboration.

Conference abstract – participatory design thinking in HE

Facilitating the co-evolution of HE people, practice, tools and services through Participatory Design Thinking with staff, students, service providers and employers.

People at all levels and in all locations in UK higher education have a remarkable capability for innovation, for adapting to new circumstances, for adopting and adapting practice and tools, and for inventing new designs. How can we account for and guarantee this capability? Top-down strategic direction? Or its opposite, the wisdom of the crowds? Neither of these political extremes has the answer (as will be demonstrated).

In this presentation, created and delivered with students at the University of Warwick, I will report on my research into how innovation (personal and collective) happens on the ground. Using a selection of case studies from Warwick, other UK universities and international institutions, I will demonstrate the crucial role of designerly reflexivity – thinking reflexively like a designer. Using the extensive literature on how designers think and work (e.g. Cross 2005, Lawson 2005, Schon 1990), along with work by the sociologist Margaret Archer on the crucial role played by modes of reflexivity (Archer 2003, 2007, 2012), I will show how ordinary people (not trained designers) are increasingly perceiving, thinking and behaving like designers to change their social and technical environments and to amplify agency.

Higher education is leading this revolution, with initiatives like the National Teaching Fellowship feeding the flames. However, I will argue that as the rate and diverse base of innovation increases, we need to ensure that these capabilities are equitably distributed, that innovation is an inclusive activity, leading to inter-connected and transferable design change. Participatory Design Thinking, often misrepresented as a design project methodology, is in fact an approach to priming and facilitating innovative design change by making it easy for people to work together as co-designers. Networks, spaces (physical and digital), ideas and practices are provided that encourage the experts – staff, students, service providers and employers – to work together in a designerly way. Whereas naive crowdsourcing approaches assume that collective design agency somehow already resides in the crowd for free, Participatory Design Thinking is all about investing time and resource into developing communities of designers. The effectiveness of this approach will be demonstrated with examples of success in higher education and elsewhere, focussing on the question: how can we make this work with students as participants in service and teaching design?

Archer, M. Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Archer, M. Making Our Way Through the World: Reflexivity and Social Mobility, Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Archer, M. The Reflexive Imperative in Late Modernity, Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Cross, N. Designerly Ways of Knowing, Springer, 2005.
Lawson, B. How Designers Think, Architectural Press, 2005.
Schon, D. Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions, John Wiley & Sons, 1990.