Last week my life was filled with grades, scoring, more grades, parent phone calls about grades, and even grades other teachers were giving students (one of the joys of being a Division Chair, you see).   We issued final exams before our winter break, and, as I've written recently, mine didn't go exactly as planned.  But now it is time to somehow summarize all that students have learned in one letter.

Even though I had a lot of students choose not to do my final exam project (30, to be exact--a number that was whittled down to 13 after giving them more time to complete it after break), I refused to let their only source of feedback on this project be a virtually meaningless letter on a piece of paper they receive in the mail next to the phrase, "Final Exam."   So I decided I would screencast their feedback on their final exam projects.  I also decided to screencast because talking out my feedback would take a little less time than typing feedback on each one of their blogs, which was where their projects were located.  I used SnagIt for the majority of my screencasts, mainly for the simple reason that I paid for it when Jing Pro went away and it was already installed on my Windows machine at home, where I was doing most of my screencasting.  However, I also used Screenr, a free web-based screencasting tool, for any ones I had to finish up at school (where we run Linux and SnagIt or any other Windows-only tool wasn't going to work).  

Below is an example of a screencast I made using SnagIt:

After recording each screencast (which I tried to keep between 2-3 minutes), I then privately sent each student the link to theirs in Edmodo via direct post. (For the ones I made with SnagIt, I uploaded the MP4 file up first and then was able to generate a link from that location.) I had students watch them in class, and then fix whatever needed fixing on their projects in the two days we had between the day we came back from winter break and the day my grades were due in the office.

I expected that students would view the videos, fix what was wrong, and that would be the end of that.  But it wasn't the end.  It was only the beginning.

All last week I noticed a subtle shift in the attitudes of some students.  Students that I had verbally tangled with throughout first semester were civil to me, polite to me, joking with me, and much more willing to work.  Students that had not said a single word to me in person during the first semester had come up and asked me question after question on the labs and projects we are now doing to launch the second semester.

It was like dealing with a new group of students at times.

It may have been they all got a needed recharge over break and are ready to start the new semester with renewed vigor.  But I think at least some of the change I saw was due to some of the feedback I left in their screencasts.  If you viewed the example above, you'd see that I got to personalize their feedback to them, and got to talk to them about their own skills and progress.  I took the opportunity that screencasting provided me to talk to them as people, telling them what I appreciated about their efforts during the semester as well as what I would like to see them focus on during the second semester.   This may be why the one young lady from whom I got nothing but pushback over every thing I did or said is now much more willing to work with me; during her screencast I got to talk to her about how much I appreciated her talent for writing and the way her brain made unique connections.  It may be why a young man in my Biology classes is now joking with me and talking to me this semester rather than sitting in an apathetic funk at his desk, because in his screencast I told him he was better than what he showed me on his blog--much better.

You see, I got to say things to them that I never get the chance to say during the hustle and bustle of a busy class period, where my class sizes are bursting at the seams and it's all I can do just to make sure no one harms themselves or others during the 50 small minutes I see them a day. And I think that, even though I wasn't talking to my students face-to-face, it helped to build relationships with them: they finally knew what I actually thought instead of having to guess from 50 minutes of time with me a day where I have to divide my time between many students.

When I asked my students if they would like me to continue screencasting their feedback, the overwhelming response was positive.  You better believe I'm going to keep doing it, if these are the types of changes I can get out of a classroom just by screencasting feedback, just by giving them 2-3 minutes of my undivided electronic attention.

I know that lately there's been a lot of pushback against edtech, with much of the concern being that people use the technology tools just for the sake of using them without concern for the sound pedagogy that should be in place when deciding to use a certain tool in the classroom.

What could be more a part of that "sound pedagogy" than building relationships with your students?



01/13/2013 08:06

This is awesome! I had not thought about how the voice of the teacher giving feedback on their work so personally would alter the relationships - but it makes sense. And they can play it more than once to hear how great they are. Every student needs to hear that and having it recorded is so powerful. I love this idea.

01/13/2013 09:19

Jess, neither had I until after I did it. I also realized that this was much better than typing feedback because then students could hear the tone in which I said it. I also noticed that students actually paid attention to what I said, and really honored this type of feedback. I also made it a point to praise effort and tried to point out what exactly they did that was good (I always try to not foster any more fixed mindsets).

01/14/2013 15:31

I encountered a big change similarly when I decided to make students iterate their website designs until they improved. I think it has something to do with their belief the work is inauthentic and throwaway. When they believe that, their work is slipshod. They have never had a studio course where they create real objects for value except for elementary school art. When it dawns on them that their work has intrinsic value, their attitude changes because they want its value to be as high as possible.

This last semester, students that took it seriously and worked to complete something to give their families for the holiday were very happy.

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