In a recent guest blog post, we covered the use of Panopto at Birkbeck, University of London for formative assessment in Earth and Planetary Sciences. We caught up with one of the academic staff members involved in the project to use video for assessment in Geology – Steve Hirons – to find out if he had gained any further insights into best practices when using video for student recording and assessment.
Steve recaps the initial project and shares an early lesson learned with us here.
The background – changing assessment practices at Birkbeck, University of London
At Birkbeck we’ve been actively looking at ways to develop student feedback and assessment practices. Academics have been working with Learning Technologists at the institution to trial a range of new pedagogical approaches. Panopto is one of the technologies we thought we could use to deliver innovative methods of video assessment for our BSc Geology students. Rather than seeing it purely as a lecture capture tool, we could see a lot of potential to use Panopto’s recording functionality to enable students to create their own videos.
In a related case study I worked on with my colleague Deborah Grange (which was also published in a recent ebook via the Bloomsbury Learning Environment), we outlined the vital need we had to upgrade our ability to help our Geology students prepare for their final verbal assessment.
For our students to succeed, they need to master a fundamental skill – the ability to describe rocks in fine detail. 50% of their summative exam for some modules depends on this skill. Ultimately, the final assessment of their degree is a ‘viva voce’, or verbal presentation, with a professional geologist.
Up until recently, we’d just been preparing students for this examination by getting them to do written assessments, but Panopto opened up new possibilities.
We decided to replace the written assessment format and ask our students to record verbal commentaries to visuals of different types of rocks. These recordings were uploaded to our secure Panopto video content management system and could be accessed by the other students within the cohort to aid peer reflection and collaboration.
Student reactions to video assessment
When we introduced this change, the students who participated reported three benefits:
- They felt much more confident in their ability to describe rocks.
- They told us they had been more organised in creating their descriptions, knowing they would be recorded.
- Distance learners felt that this had greatly improved the inclusivity of the course for them.
While most of the students were eager to embrace the new approach (if a little apprehensive at first, due to understandable nerves), I did encounter one student who didn’t want to use video for her assessment in this way (although for privacy reasons, I won’t share her name here). When I asked her why she wasn’t keen to do so, she said that she lacked confidence in public speaking, did not want the other students to be able to review her work, and felt disadvantaged as English was not her first language. While I was disappointed that she didn’t want to try the new approach to assessment, I accepted her reasons and she did not complete the video element of the assignment.
However, after she recently had her viva voce with an external examiner, she came to me with a much-changed attitude.
Having felt nervous and tongue-tied during the viva, she realised that the video assessment would have been hugely beneficial in helping her to prepare more effectively and face some of her fears. With hindsight, she agreed that she should have done the video assessment. More than that, she said that based on her lesson learned, we should make this a compulsory element of the course. She felt that mandating the presentational element, or even formally assessing it prior to the external examination would help push reluctant students out of their comfort zone, but for their ultimate benefit. She also encouraged me to share her story, so others could learn from it.
As a teacher, this was an important lesson for me too.
While, of course, we must be mindful of student wishes and expectations, we also need to remember that as instructors, we have a duty to help students obtain the best outcomes possible. Sometimes, this may mean finding new ways to help some students overcome any reluctance they may have to trying new approaches.
It is also all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that students are inherently more comfortable with technology, but this is not always the case. As we begin to experiment with unfamiliar pedagogies, we need to be equally as creative in our approaches to engage with students so they understand why we might be implementing particular learning strategies and how it will help them.
This student’s changed view has inspired me even more strongly to continue with this method of formative assessment and encourage hesitant students more effectively in the future. How will I do this? Here are three key ways I think I can improve on this moving forward:
- Relay the story of the reluctant student with a link to a video account she has created of the change in her perspective.
- Add some comments from the external examiners regarding the apparent nervousness of the students in their viva voce assessments.
- Talk through any apprehension students feel in class and be much more explicit as to why this exercise is being done and how it will help the students.
Next steps with assessment and video
I have now begun to think about new ways in which we can use Panopto to help enhance the student learning experience. I think there is a great application for the platform when students are developing their individual mapping skills during their Map and Thesis module. This is a compulsory part of their degree during which they have to go to a field area and prepare a geological map from their own detailed observations. They spend over 30 days doing this and it is not always possible for staff to visit students when they are undertaking this task.
By using Panopto, the students could record a video of their fieldwork observations with their geological interpretation outlined verbally. They could then upload the recording to the video content management system so that the relevant member of staff could watch it and send feedback while the student is still in the field. This process would both help address any difficulties students face when interpreting the geology and reinforce the skill of talking about geological theories in preparation for their final viva voce exam.
As Panopto works very well on smartphones, it would be an incredible asset if used in this way.
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