A Better Way: Preparing Feedback for Student Work (Updated)

Note: This continues my series on Evernote and Postach.io to impact teaching, learning and leading. If you decide to get an Evernote Premium account, I hope you use this referral link.

My daughter hunched over her spiral notebook, words flowing, one letter at a time, from the BIC ballpoint pen she clasped tensely in her hand. Although the ink spilled out easily, I could see the frustration on her face when she made a mistake. That would necessitate a complete re-write of the page. As I continued to type on the laptop in front of me, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why do we, as adults, have access to the latest writing technologies, but our children are forced to labor with paper-n-pen in schools?” The question must have slipped out, because she looked at me and repeated a response that she had undoubtedly heard her teacher say—“Because, the writing test is done by hand and this builds stamina.” 
Update 08/04/2014: Special Thanks to Michael Flower for pointing out some of my images weren't showing up- "have been following your postings about the use of Postach.io in education (as you can see, I teach at the university level). I, too, use Postach.io...mostly (so far) as a way to send out reading suggestions for the difficult articles we work with."

ISN’T THERE A BETTER WAY?
What’s worse, her teachers also had to provide feedback to each piece of student work in the same—by hand with a red pen or pencil, marking in crimson all the mistakes my daughter had made. There has to be a better way. In this article, you will have the opportunity to explore another approach that enables you, as teacher to offer feedback. The need for this is clear and present, especially today when everyone has a mobile device with a built-in camera. Small screens abound and posting that content to a blog is easy with Postach.io.


YES, THERE IS!
New technologies are transforming how we provide feedback on student work, not just writing. In their research, Riki Thompson and Meredith J. Lee highlight relevant points in their literature review in Talking with Students through Screencasting: Experimentations with Video Feedback to Improve Student Learning. I have summarized some of these points below, including my own perspective below:
  1. Communication with students about their work is transforming as instructors in all fields experiment with a variety of tools to deliver information, present lessons, conference with students and provide feedback on written and visual projects.
  2. There is a need to find more effective ways to provide feedback that students can understand and apply to improve their work.
  3. When reading or viewing a student’s representation of learning, the teacher engages in a conversation, engaging the text and asking questions. This conversation often goes unrecorded or unsaved, or worse, is relegated to a few remarks scribbled in the margins of a piece of writing or a post-it slapped on the board.
These challenges should prompt us to embrace technology tools as a way to transform how we offer feedback. In their excellent article, Thompson and Lee make an argument—which I agree with--for screencasting. These are digital recordings of the activity on one’s computer screen, accompanied by voiceover narration

While screen casting has garnered attention in recent years through the work of Flipped Classroom approach proponents, which has made a wealth of screencast tools available (e.g. TechSmith’s SnagIt or Screencast-o-matic on computers, ExplainEverything on iOS/Android, EduCreations or ShadowPuppet on iPad to name a few examples of easy tools available), the entry point for many teachers can be lot easier. 

Some of the challenges with creating screencasts is that teachers often fear video because it has many “moving parts.” Video may often be perceived as being too difficult, requiring more than “one-take.” The truth is, “one-take” video or audio works because it’s authentic and is not meant to be at a professional level. 

What’s more, collecting student writing may involve snapping pictures of multiple page documents, stitching them together, then trying to import them into a screencasting tool of choice. And, then unless you’ve setup your own video hosting provider (e.g. PHPMotion), you will need to rely on other locations to save content, like cloud storage (e.g. Dropbox, Box.net, GoogleDrive), or commercial solutions (such as YouTube.com, Vimeo.com, Screencast.com) that come with their own problems. How do you provide multimedia feedback that is only accessible by the student?

Ideally, students would submit their writing in digital format and then the teacher could review content online. Blogs provide an easy way to accomplish this. Let’s explore what this might look like using two popular tools, Evernote and Postach.io.

A SIMPLER WORKFLOW: EVERNOTE AND POSTACH.IO
“Are you typing that on your iPhone, Edward?” I asked my son while we sat in the living room. His reply—an affirmative grunt--astonished me but is the reality for many teens today, who are unafraid of using a small screen for creating content. 

Many educators are familiar with the ever popular Evernote and Postach.io tools, which allow one to clip/create multimedia content and then easily share it online. What they may not know is how easy it is to capture student work and offer audio feedback. 

A Notebook Stack where every student has their own Notebook

Students simply have to email a secret email address—provided with each Evernote account—and add @NotebookName to place that email in the correct Evernote Notebook. The main benefit is that the students’ work is ready for a teachers’ review. As a teacher, I could open up a variety of students work in sequence, and click click click, provide some quick audio feedback by using Evernote’s record button. With an Evernote Premium account ($50 cost which is well-worth it), I could share a notebook (one notebook per student with unlimited notes), and they could go in and listen to that feedback. This means that students and teacher enjoy the following benefits:
  • Students can easily submit their writing or work via email to the Evernote Notebook created for them (e.g. @Maain_Martha).
  • Teachers get access to the students’ writing in digital format, and they have a choice to add audio feedback to a piece of writing by sentence or paragraph, depending on where they insert the audio file, as well as highlight content using Evernote’s highlighting tool.
  • Teachers can share the students’ notebook with the student (view/modify rights).
  • Teachers can also “publish” a student’s final draft of writing using Postach.io if it’s ready to be shared and after consulting with the student.
  • If the teacher wants to record a screencast, she can do that because the content is already in digital format.
CLASS WRITING FEEDBACK
As a teacher, it’s sometimes useful to grab a piece of student writing, without sharing who it belongs to, and then offer feedback on that piece of writing. Sharing that feedback using a tool like Postach.io—which is a blog created from an Evernote Notebook—makes one's job as teacher easier when offering feedback. What’s more, once the information is displayed on a Postach.io blog, if one wanted to, the teacher could record a screencast and then attach the video file (MP4 video format is recommended). The video file would be viewable on the Postach.io provided it is in MP4 format.

Here’s what audio feedback looks like on Postach.io:



And, what a video looks like on Postach.io:




CONCLUSION
As you can see, while there are many methods for offering feedback on student writing, screencasting being one of them, Evernote and Postach.io make it easy to add audio annotations to student projects, then share those with the world via an online blog using Postach.io. Screencasting videos can also be included as teachers grow more comfortable with the video recording tools.


References
Thompson, R. & Lee, M.J. (3/2012). Talking with students through screen casting: Experimentations with video feedback to improve student learning. Available online at http://tinyurl.com/b4jkd9v


About the Author
As a lead learner of learners in K-12 public schools, Miguel Guhlin (Twitter: @mguhlin) encourages others to engage in reflection on teaching, learning and leading in educational settings. He is most happy when helping others cross the digital divide via transformative, technology-based experiences. You can read more about those experiences at his blog, Around the Corner-MGuhlin.org - www.mguhlin.org


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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