• Academic Technology

It’s Time To Retire The Red Pen

A red pen lives on the desk of almost every educator in every school and university.

That same red pen rests near the keyboard of every manager in every workplace.

That red pen has one job — to mark wherever a student or employee has made an error, misstated a point, or left out important information.

The red-lined review is a well-worn tradition for almost every type of written deliverable — from schoolhouse essays and homework assignments to workplace memos, presentations, spreadsheets, and almost anything and everything else that may be written down and shared.

Today, however, that tradition has run its course. Deliverables of all stripes are increasingly shifting to electronic formats. Files are shared by email or via dropboxes, to be read on laptops or tablets. The paper version is often never printed at all.

Already word processing tools like Microsoft Word and Google Docs have helped transition many of us away from ink, offering collaborative review tools like Track Changes and Review History. These tools give a modern update to the red pen — often even showing edits in brilliant #FF0000 color.

But just like the red pen itself, these tools have a fundamental limitation — they require the edits to be read.

As millions of teachers, managers, and writers around the world can attest, writing down an edit offers no guarantee that the original author will understand it. For reasons of handwriting, excessive brevity, limitations of space, and dozens of other factors, virtually all of us at one time or another have either misinterpreted an edit or had one of our own edits misinterpreted.

For students, those mistakes mean lower grades. For employees, those mistakes mean additional rounds of revision (and additional time spent on a project).

There’s a better way: record your feedback in a video.


At schools and universities, screen recording (or “screencasting”) has become a common video application. Recording one’s screen is simple and fast—and almost any computer and webcam will do.

New research indicates that screencasting can be a particularly adept way for teachers to provide comments and reviews on student assignments — even for deliverables like presentations or websites that can’t be manually or electronically marked up.

“Experimentation with screencasting technologies in traditional and online classes has yielded fresh approaches to engage students, improve the revision process, and harness the power of multimedia tools to enhance student learning,” write Riki Thompson of the University of Washington Tacoma and Meredith J. Lee of Leeward Community College.

The authors note that misunderstood edits are no small challenge for most students — the authors quote an anonymous student as saying: “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a paper back with underlines and marks that I can’t figure out the meaning of” — and go on to prescribe video as an easy potential remedy.

“We argue that screencast video feedback serves as a better vehicle for in-depth explanatory feedback that creates rapport and a sense of support for the writer than traditional written comments.”

Video reviews aren’t only helpful in academia. More and more professionals are finding video helps them to make clear the intricacies of their edits and ideas for their colleagues in a way that can be challenging in text.

In businesses and other organizations, many knowledge workers are finding that video is an ideal medium for providing edits and reviews.

While in the past, providing feedback on documents required making line-by-line changes in the original document (opening up a nightmare scenarios for document managers attempting to manage version control), or transcribing a list of requested edits in bullets (and hoping those bullets were detailed enough to properly communicate the necessary updates).

While line-by-line editing was time-intensive, it was still easier than more conceptual editing. Managers who wanted all or part of a deliverable revised to change the tone, the urgency of the message, or any number of other more ethereal-but-critical aspects of the document could only offer vague suggestions and hope the author would get the message.

Now though, video is helping businesses solve those inefficient cycles and misunderstood edits. Either as a supplement to traditional edits or an outright replacement, video gives managers the ability to open a deliverable on the screen of their computer, record themselves reviewing it (with or without changes tracked), and instantly share that full review with the original author — whether the author sits at a desk just a few feet away or in an office halfway around the world.

Watch an example video of a deliverable review below:



By recording the review, the manager helps to eliminate possible confusion in any line-item notes or edits made — and can call out why those edits are important so that the author can bear them in mind for future assignments.

And along with documenting the details, video also allows the reviewer to provide more specific insight on updates that may be needed in the deliverable’s tone or tenor. Comparisons may be more easily made inside the document (“I thought this was well said here, but this is off…”) or even outside the document (“See what our typical style looks like here” or “We want to position against what our competitor is doing here”).

Best of all, recording feedback can even help a team become more efficient over time. As new employees come onboard and new team members take up ongoing processes, having a video library of existing document reviews gives your team an accessible, searchable reference tool that can quite literally show them what’s expected in their assignments.

Try it for yourself!
Panopto makes screen recording easy. In just a few mouse clicks you can capture anything you show on your computer screen in high definition, record simultaneous video or audio commentary, and share your insights with anyone.

To see how Panopto can help your business or university provide better feedback, contact our team for a free trial today.