NCU Faculty Uses
Screencasting to Enhance Feedback to Students

Written by Judy Tierney

Throughout the nearly one-thousand-year history of academia, written feedback to students on papers and assignments has been standard practice for faculty. While this approach has been relatively effective over time, scholars reviewing their marked-up papers are sometimes left wondering how to interpret and best address comments. In today's digital age, where technological advancements are often accelerating faster than our ability to adapt to them, many students are pondering the question, "What have you done for me lately?"

Dr. John Orlando Dr. John Orlando

At Northcentral University, Dr. John Orlando, associate director of faculty support for the School of Business, is leading the way to provide more effective feedback to students using a technology known as screencasting. These digital video recordings enable professors to display a student's work on the screen while they provide verbal commentary and guidance on the document.

According to Orlando, screencasting combines the best elements of both written and verbal communication into a more impactful tool that's easier for students to understand. He is conducting workshops and conferences among NCU faculty across all schools to train them on how to record voice feedback over class assignments. The goal is for faculty to understand the different options and technologies, as well as best practices for communicating to students via screencast.

"Screencasting makes the feedback akin to the student sitting next to the instructor in his or her office while the two go over the work," Orlando explains. "The instructor can highlight passages, move text around to show a better arrangement, and add or delete text. The addition of the voice recording humanizes the instructor, enabling the student to hear not only what the instructor is saying, but how he or she is saying it."

Orlando's passion for screencasting comes in part from a study he and his team conducted with NCU students and faculty that compared text, voice and screencasting feedback. While there have been quite a few studies on voice alone and text alone feedback, he says, there have been limited studies on screencasting feedback and none comparing all three. He believes his qualitative research at NCU fills a gap in the learnings.

"I truly believe that the content of the message changes with screencasting."

—Dr. John Orlando

While other studies have shown that students prefer voice feedback to text feedback, in Orlando's initial findings, students preferred text or screencasting, with no preference for voice. "It makes sense that people who were in the voice camp would now prefer screencasting," says Orlando. "We found that the proponents of text feedback were generally older students who were more familiar and comfortable with text because they've been using it for a long time."

As the study progressed, however, preferences across the board shifted to screencasting. Orlando feels confident the faculty's drive to continually improve and enhance their screencasting techniques has contributed to the change in perception. Faculty got better at it and began using it more to its full advantage.

Screencast Sample screenshot from a screencast video

Orlando describes some of the pitfalls he teaches faculty to avoid when screencasting. One common mistake is typing out feedback first and then recording it for the student. When speaking naturally, faculty tend to relax, be more expressive, use more adjectives and provide emphasis which helps create a connection to the student. Orlando advises faculty not to worry about correcting grammar, rerecording or editing out mistakes and linguistic pauses like "uhs" and "likes."

Another practice he counsels against is using a webcam shot of the professor rather than a screencast of the student's work when making videos for feedback. "Since the focus is on the assignment, the visual should be of that work, though the instructor can include a webcam shot of themselves in the corner to add facial expressions," says Orlando. "I also encourage faculty to manipulate the student's work on screen to demonstrate suggestions about what changes the student should incorporate."

"Screencasting brings a whole new level of teaching and engagement."

—Dr. John Orlando

According to Orlando, screencasting's voice component also provides productivity benefits over text feedback. "Students retain voice feedback much better than text feedback, and they apply it to their work three times more often," says Orlando. "Moreover, faculty are able to provide nearly three times as much feedback in one third the time when it is given in voice form over text."

Dr. Orlando has seen firsthand how screencasting feedback offers a step forward in teaching in the digital environment. With NCU leading the way, his workshops are now in demand by other universities and organizations that hope to provide better feedback to their stakeholders.

Orlando likens screencasting to speaking with a colleague at a conference, calling it a deeper level of engagement than is traditionally found in academia. He hopes to continue to analyze the feedback from his study to provide more concrete results about the benefits.

"I truly believe that the content of the message changes with screencasting," Orlando concludes. "Faculty move beyond just pointing out errors – what I call 'justifying the grade' – to real teaching by sharing their expertise to improve student performance. Screencasting brings a whole new level of teaching and engagement."