Last week, I did a little experiment: Instead of offering written feedback on my students’ essay drafts, I recorded screencasts.
It was fun and took about the same amount of time — five to eight minutes — as typing comments in Google Docs.
Here’s an example. Note: The screencast is five minutes long, but you’ll get the gist within the first minute. Don’t feel like you need to watch the whole thing. It’s not particularly scintillating! Also, the volume is a little low.
I made sure to ask my students what they thought of the screencast idea. All but two students preferred getting oral comments. They liked that I was thinking through their paper, trying to make sense of their ideas.
On the other hand, students noted that screencasts — especially short ones — cannot offer specific, targeted feedback. If my purpose is to give general comments about a paper’s focus and organization, then the screencast is perfect. If my goal is to talk grammar, it’s best to go the written route.
One of my students said, “Why don’t you do both?” Very funny. He doesn’t understand the English teacher’s paper load.
But it does get me thinking. It makes sense that I read a student’s essay three times: once for content (screencast), once for grammar (written comments), and once to grade (highlighting a rubric). When combined with a student’s peer editor and online writing mentor, that’s sufficient support in a typical two-week essay window.
Plus, the screencasts are more human. They give students the feeling that a real person — not just an English teacher — is reading their work. I think it’s a great way to communicate care.