Providing students with audio feedback

I’ve started providing my students with audio feedback on a set of about 60 clinical case studies that they recently submitted. I was depressed at the thought of having to write out my feedback; I tend to provide a lot of detail because I almost always try to provide a rationale for the comments I’ve made. I want the students to understand why I’m suggesting the changes, which can be really time consuming when I have a lot of documents.

This semester I decided to try audio feedback (Cavanaugh & Song, 2010) as a method of providing input on the students’ drafts and I have to say, it’s been fantastic. I take about the same amount of time per document (10 – 15 minutes) because I find that I give a more detail in my spoken feedback, compared to the written feedback, so this is not about saving time. I realised that when I write / type comments there are some points I don’t make because in order to explain the reason for the comment would take more space than the margin allows.

In addition, I’ve found that I use a more conversational tone – which the students really appreciate – and because I’m actually speaking to the student, I pay less attention to line items e.g. spelling corrections and punctuation issues. In other words, I give more global comments instead of local comments, and obviously don’t use Track Changes. As I mentioned earlier, I provide more detail, explaining the reasons behind certain points I make, going into the reasons for why it’s important that they address the comment.

Students’ have given me feedback on this process and 100% of those who responded to my request for comment have suggested that this method of receiving feedback is preferable for them. One of them reported that hearing my comments on his draft allowed him to “hear how I think”. This comment reminded me of the thinking aloud protocol, which is a way for experts to model thinking practices to novices (Durning et al. 2014). This insight led to a slight change in how I structured the feedback, where I now “think” my way through the piece, even pausing to tell the student that I’m struggling to put into words an impression or feeling that I experienced while reading. I try to make it as “real time” as possible, imagining that I’m speaking to the student directly.

I record to .mp3 at a sample rate of 44 K/Hz and a bit rate of 128 kbit/s, which offers decent audio quality at a low enough file size to make emailing feasible. This is my basic process for recording audio feedback:

  1. Read through the entire document, making mental notes of the most important points I want to make
  2. Go back to the beginning of the document and start the recorder
  3. Greet the student and identify the piece I’m commenting on
  4. Provide an overview of my thoughts on the document in it’s entirety (structure, headings, logical flow, etc.)
  5. Work through the different sections of the document (e.g. Introduction, Method, Results, etc.), providing more detailed thoughts on the section, pausing the recorder between sections to give myself time to identify specific points I want to make
  6. End with a summing up of what was done well and the 3-5 major points that need to be addressed
  7. Stop the recorder, rename the audio file (student name – course code – title) and email it to the student