Thus begins the audio recorded feedback I provide students with on their oral and written assignment drafts. When I refer to audio feedback, I mean assignment feedback I give to students in the form of an audio recording. This means of feedback is an effective and efficient alternative to providing students with handwritten comments.
I typically provide audio feedback on draft assignments. Feedback on draft assignments is a type of formative assessment. The intention is that students will listen to the audio file and use the feedback to refine their work for a revised submission. This is how it works: Students submit draft assignments in hardcopy (which is my preference, but softcopy works, too). First, I read the assignment and make a few handwritten annotations in the right margin that will guide my comments in the recorded feedback. An example annotation is “move?” I also underline words, phrases or sentences that I plan to comment on.
Then, I do the recording. Each recording begins with me saying the student’s name: “Hi, Roberto. I’m going to give you some feedback on your draft.” I make a point of continuing with a positive comment, such as “You’ve done a good job addressing most of the assignment criteria, but …,” and then I move on to discussing areas that should be improved for the revision. I make direct reference to the annotations I’ve made in the text, for example, “You’ll see on page 2 that I’ve written ‘move?’ in the margin. I don’t quite see how this section connects to the previous paragraph where you talk about … I wonder if this section would fit better on page 1 where you first mention this idea. See if you can improve the flow of ideas.” I also make a point of ending the recording on an encouraging note, something along the lines of: “I’m confident you’ll be able to improve this piece of writing. I look forward to reading the revision.”
The annotations are intended to serve as advance organizers (Ausubel, 1960). An advance organizer is information given to students to help them prepare for some new information they will receive. I return the hardcopy assignment in class and later in the day, I “publish” the audio feedback in myCourses. Students look at the hardcopy in class and before they have access to the audio feedback, I encourage them to start thinking in advance of listening to the feedback what the annotations mean, “Why is it being suggested that I move this section? Where would it be better placed? Why is this sentence underlined? Is it unclear? Does it connect to the ideas in the paragraph?”
Over the 10+ years that I have given audio feedback (on audio cassettes in the early years!), anecdotal comments from my students about this feedback method have been enthusiastic. They say they are motivated to listen to the feedback. They like listening to the feedback on their mobile devices. They feel as though the instructor is sitting next to them giving them truly individual feedback. The audio feedback is perceived as much more personal than handwritten comments. (A study by Lunt & Curran, 2010, addressed the question “To what extent, if any, does electronic audio feedback represent an improvement on written feedback in terms of efficiency (staff experience) and perceived quality (student learning and experience)?” My students’ comments are consistent with their study results.) The feeling of personalized feedback seems particularly important for students in large classes where there is limited one-to-one contact with a professor.
Giving audio feedback is efficient and satisfying for me. I can say more to a student in a recording than I would have time to write (also consistent with Lunt & Curran’s findings) and the feedback can easily be nuanced through intonation. Another efficient use of audio feedback is to give group feedback. If I notice common problems in a given assignment, I record feedback that addresses these common problems and post the audio file—which is brief—to a discussion forum in myCourses for the entire class. I usually include a few written words in the post to let students know the main points of the audio recording and why they should listen to it.
I used to be really uptight about making “perfect” recordings. If the phone rang, I stopped the recording, deleted it and started again. If I said something and then realized it wasn’t exactly what I had wanted to say, I erased and rerecorded. Now, I’m much more laid back with the recording. If the phone rings, I say, “Oh, I’m just going to pause the recording while I get the phone. Back in a minute.” If I misspeak on the recording, I say, “You know what? That’s not exactly what I meant. I’m going to try again.” Students have commented that such recordings give them a sense of the “humanness” of the instructor. I like to believe that this sense of “humanness” lets students know that someone is really interested in their writing and that this feeling will motivate them to act on the feedback.
Ausubel, D.P. (1960). The use of advance organizers in the learning and retention of meaningful verbal material. Journal of Educational Psychology, 51(5), 267-272.
Lunt, T. & Curran, J. (2010). ‘Are you listening please?’ The advantages of electronic audio feedback compared to written feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(7), 759-769.
Record audio feedback directly in myCourses. In the Assignments tool, you’ll see a “Record Audio” button.
Instructions are in the McGill IT Knowledge Base article on the Assignment tool. Note that in the Assignments tool, instructors can see whether or not students have accessed the feedback.
Read about a McGill prof who gives audio feedback in pdf documents (click on Comment > Record audio): New technology brings human touch to teaching, posted in the McGill Reporter on May 19, 2011.
See a video example of how to record audio feedback: Using audio feedback in your teaching – Case study:
Download freeware for audio recording in mp3 format. A widely used software programme for recording feedback is Audacity. It’s a free download (for Mac or PC). In order to save the audio files in mp3 format, you need to download the LAME mp3 encoder, as well. Upload the mp3 files to myCourses and make them available to students through the Assignments tool.
Record on a mobile device. I have tried using several different audio recording software programmes on my Android tablet; my preferred one is the Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder. The free version has limited recording time. I paid $3.99 for unlimited recording time.
Associate Director, Faculty and Teaching Development, and Senior Academic Associate, at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning!
(Photo credit: Owen Egan)