The following is a guest blog post from Dr. Daniel Moore, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Birmingham.
In my role as convenor of a large first-year compulsory module on the undergraduate English Literature programme at the University of Birmingham, I have seen a real shift in the way we’re thinking about both student feedback and assessment over the past few years. The Department of English has moved from a more rigid system of exam and coursework-based assessment to a system that highlights the importance of continuous assessment and feedback – as well as ‘feed-forward’.
All of this has, of course, been taking place in the wider context of an increased emphasis on student satisfaction. Feedback on academic work is naturally an important way of helping students feel connected with their tutors and on top of their studies. In recent years, a growing amount of critical attention has been directed towards the value and purpose of feedback for students, especially for students in subjects that are largely essay-based. Recent studies at the University of Derby (who recently contributed their own guest post in this blog), the University of Huddersfield and the TESTA project housed at Winchester have all pointed to the value of mixed forms of assessment and a variety of feedback approaches.
These internal and external factors have given tutors like me more scope to experiment with different ways of delivering effective feedback. One of the techniques I have pioneered within my Department is using Panopto’s lecture capture software to mark group assignments. Panopto was already being used across the university campus for lecture recording, but was flexible enough to open up some interesting possibilities for creating more nuanced responses to student work.
Initially, our students submitted hard copies of their group assignments which tutors marked using a document camera, microphone and Panopto. The process has now been refined to include screencasting of the student’s essay. Panopto’s integration with our new VLE – Canvas – has streamlined the whole process even further. While there have been some minor hiccups along the way, overall the system has worked very well.
Our video feedback was often comparatively lengthy due to the fact the assignments themselves are 9000 words long – sometimes our feedback videos ran up to 12 minutes in duration. Tutors provided constructive feedback throughout and only mentioned the mark at the end of the recording. The reason for this was two-fold. From a practical perspective, it made it easy to edit the marks in the case of a moderation issue. More importantly, it focused students’ attention on the content of the feedback.
Well, we survey our students halfway through our year-long modules, and we have asked them about their experience with Panopto’s video feedback. An overwhelming number of students said that their feedback felt more personal, focused on specific issues in concrete terms and offered practical advice that they could take forward. They felt that the video feedback conveyed the academic’s tone more effectively and therefore was much more nuanced. Another key benefit for students was the ability to gain insight into the marking process and see their work through an academic’s eyes. Over time, they are also able to spot patterns in their feedback, as all videos are stored within the VLE.
From a tutor’s perspective, giving feedback to students via video was seen as a great time saver, with staff reporting that when they switched to video feedback, the average time spent on the whole process was reduced by 10-25%. As well as saving time, tutors also saw pedagogic benefits. In certain instances, tutors felt that they could verbally provide critique that might seem overly harsh when simply written down. As this was the first piece of assessed work for these first-year students, this ability to modulate constructive criticism was especially important.
Many of these benefits have been seen by colleagues in other departments here at the University of Birmingham too – for instance, Dr. Jeremy Pritchard from our School of Biosciences who, as well as using Panopto to flip the classroom, is also providing recorded feedback to students.
So, what does the future hold for using video capture solutions like Panopto? Well, currently we want to keep on using Panopto for feedback on non-degree contributing formative work, building on the successes we’ve had so far. I have also recently started making short generic videos about upcoming assignments for my students – the pitfalls to avoid, ways to answer essay questions intelligently, generic exam advice and more. Students are currently watching these for one of my final year modules, and anecdotally, they are finding them useful! It will be interesting to see how this develops and I’m keen to explore this further.