May 3, 2016

Audio Feedback: Customized Follow-up for Students

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

When I am correcting my students’ assignments in my French or Law courses, I often feel the need to go beyond my correction codes. For me, it seems insufficient to simply mark “unclear” or “requires further development.” How can you clarify? What does “requires further development” mean? I really want to reformulate the sentence that requires clarification, and to outline the explanations in order to provide an example. It’s unfortunate that my handwriting is difficult for students to decipher. It’s also unfortunate that their copy looks like a construction site after I have finished my job of editing, crossing out sentences and adding comments, as much within the text as in the margins… That’s why I tried out a new style of providing feedback – audio feedback.

Audio Feedback within a Formative Context

Audio feedback seems to be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to formative assignments where the teacher’s comments play a crucial role. Indeed they help students to situate themselves in relation to the acquisition of the competency and to know what to do in order to improve themselves leading up to the evaluation. So I have lots of things to say to the student and hope that they will take the time to listen to my comments with the sense that I am also encouraging them whole-heartedly.

I tried the audio feedback experiment within the context of a Law course. At the beginning of the semester, it’s difficult for some students to adequately analyse the facts of a case that are given in light of the laws that are currently in force. They haven’t yet understood how to properly structure their responses. I therefore asked all my students to submit their response to a legal problem that was assigned within a forum on Moodle. Using the free and open source software Audacity, I recorded and uploaded an audio capsule for each student to which I attached a well-written response. The audio capsule allowed me to enthusiastically highlight all the student’s good points, but also to specify where their response diverged from my evaluation grid and what they needed to work on in order to improve it.   

Excerpt of the audio recorded for a student

The exercise undoubtedly took more time than it would have taken if I had just written down some correction codes on their work, but I really enjoyed making the audio capsules and believe that the students benefited from me working like this. I prepared a survey for the students which revealed that 80% of them felt that the feedback really helped to understand the marking. They would also like me to continue providing the audio feedback during the semester. 20% of the students reported that they prefer written feedback (of these, two-thirds admitted that they had not listened to my corrections).

I consider the positive reaction from the students as a type of encouragement to continue providing audio feedback as an alternative or complementary means to provide feedback, as the situation requires. In addition, at the time of writing, I just learned about the existence of a tool that is even easier and faster to use than Audacity. The tool is called Talk&Comment. This Chrome browser extension allows you to instantly record audio comments in the cloud and to share the link. With Talk&Comment, there are less steps to record and upload my comments. Wonderful!

If I am tight for time, it is possible to ask students to write a response in teams. For example, in a French course, students can write a paragraph in teams or a formative plan that a member of the team can then post to a forum in Moodle. Given that the comments are visible to all students, it will be easy for the members of a team to listen to audio feedback created by the teacher about the paragraph they have created together, but also have access to those paragraphs that were submitted by the other teams.

Audio Feedback within a Summative Context

In a summative context, I have found it worthwhile to use audio feedback to justify the marks that have been attributed to students in a situation where there is a debate in a French course. Indeed it seemed necessary to me to specify to the student which arguments are well-developed, but also those which seemed a bit weaker to me as well an explanation of why I felt that way. In cases where the student has not submitted their written assignment, it seemed finicky to have to transcribe the student’s arguments to comment on them as much as it seemed too curt to write “Argument #3 is weak.”

I therefore asked each of my students to submit a correction grid for this assignment on the Pluriportail platform (as if they were submitting an assignment). This platform, which is used by the college to communicate with students and to transmit their marks does allow for the automatic insertion of audio feedback within a PDF document that has been submitted by the student. The communications between the teacher and the student are not accessible by the other students, which is the appropriate course of action within the context of a summative evaluation.

I believe that the experience of providing very clear feedback has made some of my meetings a bit redundant for those students that want to understand why they received the mark that they did, or to ask for it to be reviewed. For example, an unhappy student came to discuss a low mark that I had given her. I invited her to listen to my recorded comments and then to come back to meet with me. Later that same day, I received an e-mail from the student specifying that she understood her mistakes thanks to my comments. It goes without saying that my intention is not to discourage in-person meetings with the students, but to ensure that they come to my office once they have understood the marking, and are ready to work with me.

For the moment, I haven’t yet tried using audio feedback for the marking of individual French essays (between 700 and 900 words). Indeed, this marking takes a long time and the effort required to record audio feedback needs to be worth the time I invest. This type of feedback will undoubtedly be useful for supervising and supporting the weaker students. I have promised myself that I would try it out soon.

In conclusion, I would like to invite teachers to try this new method of providing feedback and, above all, to determine within which contexts it can genuinely be useful within their courses. I’d also be curious to learn how others who are familiar with audio feedback are using it, including any tricks they may have developed to make this type of correction even more efficient.

About the author

Karine Bélair

She has been teaching at the Collégial international Sainte-Anne since it opened in 2011. She has a double diploma in Civil Law and in Common Law and is a member of the Barreau du Québec. She also has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in French Literature, both from McGill University. She wrote this Real Life Story following a series of experiments within the context of a Professional Community of Learning (communauté d’apprentissage professionnelle) at her college. In this community, teachers are matched up with their peers according to their interests, and are encouraged to share the results of their pedagogical research or discoveries with their colleagues.

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