Monthly Archives: April 2013

A new way to give feedback

My crazy spring has actually calmed down a bit, so I’ve got two things to blog about. First, in this post I’ll discuss briefly something I tried over the weekend to give better feedback to my students for their lab reports. (And at some point soon, I’d like to post about using Moodle and Learning Catalytics for using student-response systems as a formative assessment tool in my class.)

So let’s get to it. To begin, I’d like to offer a few details for context. I teach in the IB program at an international school, so the lab requirements are not really up to me. For better or worse, I have to help my students understand the rubric provided by IB for their lab reports. And I’ve struggled in the past with a few issues. I’ve never been very timely with my feedback, and I’ve never felt like I gave good feedback that students could really use to make future lab reports better.

So, I tried an idea I’ve been toying with for some time. I used my standard marking practice…I used my tablet ot mark on a student’s lab, and I filled in the rubric on paper as I went. (This lab is not going to be sent to IB, it is only a practice lab.) That’s no different from normal. But this time, I used Screen-cast-o-matic to record an .mp4 of my marking of the lab. The student then gets to see me write on her/his lab report while I gave commentary. So my typical “uncertainties?” comment got a 2 or 3 sentence explanation about what the student didn’t include and what would have been a reasonable set of uncertainties. During the recording of my feedback, I spoke to every single line on the rubric for each aspect of the criteria covered (DCP and CE). ┬áIn class today, I gave each student her/his Word document with my marking, the paper rubric and the .mp4 file with my commentary. (I did this through Moodle and the “Advanced Assignment” feature. It took about four minutes to upload them all.)

So how’d it go? I suppose I’d like to say it went well. However, I also want to reserve judgement until I can see the next lab reports to see if there really is solid improvement because of my effort here. Until then, it’s speculation and feedback from my students.

As for speculation, I suspect the students that got my feedback will actually improve. I made submitting this lab optional (and told my students I’d have a surprise for them if they submitted). Therefore, I didn’t get that many. So in some ways, I can conduct a bit of an experiment comparing students with the feedback to students without my feedback. Not perfect, but it’ll be interesting.

As for feedback from the students, I’d have to rank it up there as one of my better ideas. Ever. I’d suggest that the students that didn’t get feedback actually understood the missed opportunity based on the excitement of their peers that were listening to my feedback in class. It was their own private commentary from me. This wasn’t a typical full-class discussion where I used generalities noticed from patterns of all the lab reports. This was specific and ONLY to the student about her/his lab report.

And the entire process leads me to a few follow-up issues to discuss.

First, the timing of it all. It took almost double the amount of time to mark, because I didn’t think I could give good commentary without first looking at the student’s lab report. I didn’t want to be reading a lab report while recording. “Er…um…well… (pause)…sorry, let me re-read that sentence.” I didn’t give marks the first time I read…just enough to have a basic idea of strengths and weaknesses so I’d have a place to start. The longest commentary for a student with a full write-up took about 20 minutes of video, and about 30 minutes of time. Multiply that by five classes of 30 and you end up with an unmanagable amount of work. Luckily I don’t have five classes of 30 so I don’t have that problem. (Yes, I’m very lucky.) However, I also don’t think this is something I’ll do for every lab. I think once per semester, or even once in the early spring and once again in the fall for IB students will be my goal.

Second, the logistics of it all. As I mentioned, I used Screen-cast-o-matic. It’s freeware. It’s really easy to use. And to keep file sizes managable, I saved things with a reduced video size, rather than full-on HD. My biggest file size was maybe 20 MB. Moodle handled it just fine when I uploaded it to the student assignment. I am lucky to have a tablet to write on the student’s work. However, if I didn’t, I could still see using this technique and typing comment boxes instead. Or simply highlighting as I’m discussing.

Any other thoughts on this technique or other methods you use for giving timely and helpful feedback for lab reports?

Until next time…

Thanks.
Lowell

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