Talking about audio feedback

I’ve been teaching digital media at Deakin University for a few years now, and when Dr Adam Brown suggested I give audio feedback to my digital media students, my Inner Critic literally laughed out loud. And then began hammering me (and my confidence) with impossible questions. What would I say for three to five minutes? How would I stand the sound of my own voice? And, most crucially, what will the students think?

It turns out the students actually think audio feedback is pretty good. Anecdotally, I’ve noted students’ responses to receiving audio feedback ranging from sheer delight to mild disinterest. Many students replay their audio feedback more than once, allowing them greater clarity around the suggested improvements, which in many case results in tangible consolidation of subsequent submissions.

Thumbs Up

Yes! By Sally Brandon

There’s no doubt that recording individualised audio feedback is more labour-intensive than other marking methods. My audio feedback ranges anywhere from three minutes to over 10 minutes, depending on the requirements of the submission and/or the quality of the work. I might speak for just as long responding to a student who has submitted very high-quality work as a student whose work requires considerable improvement. In both instances, the goal is to assist the student to continue developing their work going forward. One minute of audio feedback has been likened to 100 words of written text (Gould & Day, 2013, p.556) so you can probably guess which option is more time intensive – and which offers the student the most depth and detail.

Why audio feedback is so good

 To clarify, I’m talking here about a marker’s response to a student’s assessible work, in which ‘feedback is a process that starts with the provision of a comment and ends with generating improved academic output’ (Esterhazy & Damşa 2019, p.263). I’m specifically referring to my experience with digital media submissions including blogs, podcasts and short videos, but the feedback methodology is easily transferable across disciplines. When narrating the feedback, I record directly into Audacity on my Macbook using the inbuilt microphone. At the start of each recording, I greet each student by name, then introduce myself as I understand that ‘greater personalisation’ (Gould & Day 2013, p.562) assists in improving scholarly work. I recommend that students have the relevant submission open or accessible so they can more easily track specific comments.

My audio feedback follows the assessment marking rubric for the task. I watch/listen/read and take notes on things done well, and where improvements were possible, citing relevant examples, unit resources, or best practice as a benchmark. Some of the criteria elements require little attention (for example, the ability to conform to word length and media duration requirements are usually fairly clear cut), but I am able to customise my response to provide greater focus and depth of feedback on areas where students need further clarification or where skills are emerging much more so than I could inserting qualitative comments in a pre-designed rubric. Additionally, when portfolio items, critical responses or personal reflections need a tighter focus, invariably my feedback provides suggestions for reframing the response, sometimes recalling past examples – anonymously of course – that have approached a similar topic in a more nuanced or more satisfying way. When required, I offer advice or examples on more seamless ways of integrating research into the submission in order to create more substantiated but still engaging submissions. And I always thank the student for listening at the end of the recording.

So, is it worth it?

Absolutely. According to one study, ‘a clear majority of students (92%) expressed that audio feedback contributed to their learning’ (Gould 2013, p.558). There are many benefits: foremost, a greater sense of connection and rapport between teacher and student that often translates into increased engagement and accountability. I can’t stress the importance of this enough when teaching online or particularly in cases of Emergency Remote Teaching. As well as creating a dialogue with students, audio feedback enhances learner autonomy, a sense of mastery, and the ability to be self-directed and work independently towards identified goals (Nicol and MacFarlane-Dick 2006, p.200).

I am not an expert, although I do have 20 years’ experience as a digital media industry practitioner, writer and lifelong learner. Seeing connections, joining the dots, realising opportunities is my ‘superpower’.  My audio feedback approach draws on my experience of editing, workshopping, and collaboration and has evolved to become something of a personalised narrative in response to each submission. The rubric is a framework that measures the agreed standards, but I weave technique, encouragement, and sometimes the odd dog bark, into my recording. I believe detailed audio feedback authenticates and rewards scholarly and creative efforts. There is a visible strengthening of students’ work through the provision of comprehensive, actionable comments. I’m not suggesting that my feedback alone is responsible for this – student-centred learning plays a massive part in this outcome, as does being seen and heard.

Speaking from experience

Studying alone, studying online, studying when your health and well-being is not at its finest, studying as a mature aged student with a family and a job, or all of the above? The academic world – either Cloud-based or campus-oriented – can be daunting, so demystifying ‘the culture of higher education and discipline learning’ (Kift & Moody 2009, p.2) is essential. Audio feedback goes a long way towards achieving this.

Many students experience ‘heightened stress and anxiety regarding academic and professional expectations and fear of failure’ (Gould & Day 2013, p.554). I know I did during my post-graduate years. Damn you, Inner Critic! I think that for the most part, students want to improve and that qualitative feedback ‘provides the foundations for learner autonomy and a framework for high achievement’ (Gould & Day 2013, p. 555). The real value of my industry experience – and as an academic – can best be expressed through audio commentary, not ticks and crosses. It’s part marking, part mentoring, with an end goal of allowing students ‘to appreciate the similarities and differences between the appropriate standards for any given work, and the qualities of the work itself’ (Boud and Molloy 2012, p. 6).

Audio feedback is not for everyone

There are naturally some limitations to providing audio feedback. According to Gould and Day ‘8% felt that it did not help at all.’ (2013, p.558). This is, of course, disheartening, sometimes even depressing, but overall has the potential to be motivating. What am I missing here? What could I do differently?

Anecdotally, some students find it hard to locate the audio feedback file in the assessment folder when accessing their grades via mobile phone. On occasion, a student may react to the notion of constructive criticism of any kind with a ‘persistent, albeit subdued, resistance to feedback’ (Vehviläinen 2009, p.185). In other words, they simply won’t listen.

No thanks

Thanks, but no thanks by Sally Brandon

Listening to an audio recording does not suit some learning styles. For instance, learners who prefer kinaesthetic information or who are visual learners. Students with a disability that impacts auditory processing may not enjoy the experience (in a few such instances I’ve employed written feedback instead), and some may not even be able to access the audio recording (in which can alternative feedback approaches are adopted).

Additionally, audio feedback alone cannot accommodate links to additional resources such as scholarly sources or articles, or reference guides, which always need to be added with brief text comments in conjunction with the audio file (although I will typically draw attention to these text links in my audio narration).

One student responded to my feedback with surprise that I didn’t sound more enthusiastic when narrating the (very positive) feedback I recorded for one of their tasks. I listened back to the recording. They were right. I sounded exhausted. But when the tone of the delivery figures in the overall meaning made by the student, a less than dynamic audio recording may be misinterpreted by some students as a lack of positivity toward their work by the marker.

More Coffee

Just add more coffee by Sally Brandon

I took this valuable feedback on board and now ensure that I take enough breaks (and drink enough coffee) through the marking process to ensure a consistently energised tone.

A loop of continuous improvement – for all

Just for fun, I listened to the very first audio feedback I ever recorded for a student, some three years ago. You can sense the hesitation in my voice, you can literally hear me thinking. I’m labouring to get it right, to offer something insightful. I notice the click of the pause button while I wait for inspiration to strike or think of some genuine encouragement. I stumble, I start again, but I go forward. The process of audio feedback has a meta quality about it. Just like anything, creating audio feedback is a process that continues to be refined by responses from my students and my peers.  I’m still not a massive fan of the sound of my own voice but these days, I can easily talk for minutes at a time, gesturing to subtle refinements, critical concepts, and important examples that I hope can elevate a student’s work. And like anything, I’m still learning by doing. Thanks for listening.

 

References

Boud, D and Molloy, E 2013 ‘Rethinking models of feedback for learning: the challenge of design’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38:6, 698-712, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2012.691462

Esterhazy, R and Damşa, C 2019 ‘Unpacking the feedback process: an analysis of undergraduate students’ interactional meaning-making of feedback comments’, Studies in Higher Education, 44:2, 260-274, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2017.1359249

Gould, J and Day, P 2013 ‘Hearing you loud and clear: student perspectives of audio feedback in higher education’ Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education Vol. 38, No. 5, 554–566, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2012.660131

Kift, S and Moody, K 2009 Harnessing assessment and feedback in the first year to support learning success, engagement and retention. ATN Assessment Conference, RMIT University.

Nicol, DJ and Macfarlane-Dick, D 2006. ‘Formative assessment and self regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice’ Studies in Higher Education, 31, no. 2: 199–218, DOI: 10.1080/03075070600572090

Vehviläinen, S 2009 ‘Problems in the Research Problem: Critical Feedback and Resistance in Academic Supervision’ Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 53(2):185-201 DOI: 10.1080/00313830902757592

 

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