Over the past year myself and three colleagues in the School of Biomedical Sciences at Ulster (Alison Gallagher, Kay Hack and Paul Hagan) have been exploring the use of audio feedback to students. We used a number of methods to record and deliver audio feedback to students and the findings of the project will be disseminated at:
1. University of Ulster Centre for Higher Education Practice (project funders) 3rd Annual Festival of Innovative Practice, Universtiy of Ulster, Coleraine; Friday 15th June 2012.
2. Higher Education Academy 8th Annual Conference at the University of Manchester; 3rd – 4th July 2012.
At both events we plan to disseminate our project using the poster embedded below.
A Pecha Kucha presentation was delivered at the Ulster event. A screencast video of this is posted below:
The project investigated various modes of recording audio files such as desk-based microphones, headsets, and hand-held voice recorders and interfacing with software such as Audacity.
Modes of delivery of MP3 files were also investigated such as feedback podcasts, emailing audio files or delivery via the institutional VLE. A feedback podcast was developed for a large (n=140) year one module to provide comments on student performance in a laboratory context. This utilised Feedburner to manage the podcast and to track usage. The feedback provided was generic in nature and summarised comments provided to students verbally in class.
In their evaluation a number of students stated that they preferred to receive verbal feedback in class or to receive written feedback. Some students commented that they did not use iTunes (or similar software) and were not familiar with subscribing to podcasts despite being given a brief instruction on how to do this. This therefore represents a technological hurdle that needs to be addressed if this technology is to be used in the future. Finally both staff and student perceptions of using this mode of feedback alongside more traditional modes of feedback such as written comments on student work or verbal feedback provided in class were explored.
We have found one of the most straightforward ways to get started with audio feedback is to use the Wimba Voice Tools available within our own VLE, Blackboard Learn. This requires that the user have a headset and microphone, but all other aspects from recording the audio to delivery via email is taken care of. One downside is that emails are sent off immediately and cannot be queued up for delivery in a batch. If individual students are receiving feedback it will reach them at different times. There is also limited opportunity to edit the files before they are sent out. However, these are only a minor drawbacks considering how straightforward the tools are to use. In addition, the files are archived within Blackboard learn for accessing at a later time.
Other Recording Tools
In a previous post I mentioned that for a while now I have been sending feedback on some student work as MP3 audio files. I have used the free program Audacity which gives a greater level of flexibility in recording, editing and outputting the finalised audio file. A short article in the Bioscience Education E-Journal describes how we have configured Audacity to work for us.
Some colleagues had been asking about the process of providing feedback in this manner and so I have prepared a short screenr video on how to use Audacity.
Once captured the files need to be sent to students. If you are not using the Wimba Voice Tools on the VLE then you will probably send these by email. This is no major problem if you are sending files to a handful of students or generic feedback to a large group; but what if you have recoded individual files for a large group of students? For that you will need to use mail-merged email that allows you to attach the individual file for the relevant student. This can be done using Pegasus Mail and a full tutorial is provided here: www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/journal/vol12/beej-12-c1.aspx. An alternative approach is to use Microsoft Office running macros and a tutorials is available here: word.mvps.org/faqs/mailmerge/mergewithattachments.htm. Both scenarios do require some time spent in configuring the system.
Colleagues offered various perspectives as evidenced in the poster above. Some brief conclusions are: Individualised and formative feedback by this mode can be very effective. It may be extended to offer ‘whole group’ feedback for large classes, though this does not seem to be very effective in all cases. Colleagues agree that audio feedback does not necessarily mean that it will take a shorter time than written feedback, but that in most cases it has a greater impact with students.