Talking Feedback: Using video to radically change essay marking by Emma Mayhew

On this day, exactly two years ago, I sat in my study staring at Blackboard. 212 little green symbols were showing in Grade Centre. 212 3,500 word essays needed to be marked in the next three weeks. And they didn’t just need marks. Each of them needed a page of rich, detailed feedback, often crucial to student attainment and important to student satisfaction. In the HE sector higher student numbers and increasing student expectations look set to intensify further the pressure to deliver numerous pieces of outstanding feedback within an increasingly tighter timeframe but a tiny number of us are looking at this differently. After years of marking over 200 essays at Christmas and over 200 at Easter I finally decided to radically change the delivery of feedback to students. Encouraged by the work of the ASSET project, a few pioneers in the sector and the success of my own screencast suite, I turned to screen capture technology. In December 2013, 25 students on one of my Part 3 modules didn’t get their normal A4 feedback sheet on Grade Centre. Instead they received their own individual 6-10 minute MP4 file via Blackboard. Each video showed my face and my cursor circling essay text as I talked through their coursework in detail…


…and follow on questionnaires revealed overwhelming student support. From 20 respondents, 18 said that video feedback was better than written feedback and 17 said they would prefer video feedback next time. At least two key themes emerged from student feedback:

Clarity-Students see markers highlighting specific sections of text as they comment while face to face contact reduces scope for misunderstanding and increase the sense of individual attention.

Depth- It takes me one hour to mark and provide written feedback on a 3,500 word essay. Video feedback didn’t actually save me any time. I still spent one hour on each essay but here is the difference-my written feedback contains an average of around 350-400 words. My video feedback contains an average of around 170 words per minute so that’s around 1,360 words in a typical 8 minute video feedback recording. This is 3 to 4 times more than students would normally receive and explains why 18 questionnaire respondents said that they received much more detailed feedback than they typically would via written comments.

OK I can’t mark in my pyjamas anymore but I’m willing to sacrifice this because my small scale study suggests that using simple screen capture software to create video feedback does allow us to give much more in-depth, personal and very specific feedback at no extra cost to staff time.

For further information on how to use free and simple screen capture software to create video feedback please click on my 90 second screencast (, part of a range of 1-2 minute ‘How to’ videos on the Reading GRASS screen capture website (

Goodbye Word; hello floating islands, dolphins and rainbows by Dr Emma Mayhew

So you’re a lecturer at Reading and you find yourself going over and over information in handbooks, course outlines, books and journals with students-anything from tricky academic concepts to essay writing and ECFs. Of course it’s difficult in an age of information overload. Really important stuff gets lost and sometimes it’s hard to make our voice heard amongst all of the noise surrounding students. What’s the solution? Maybe written information isn’t the only vehicle of choice. We know that students respond brilliantly to visual information. A few of us at Reading have been focusing on exactly that. We’ve started using incredibly simple and entirely free ‘screencapture’ software, like Jing, to record what we’re doing on our screens. We’ve added audio to these short videos and occasionally even webcam footage of our Emma Mayhew1faces. Some of us have even moved beyond PowerPoint and had a huge amount of fun (yes….fun!) with new, massively eye-catching and versatile presentation tools like Prezi (and this is where the floating islands, dolphins and rainbows come in) or Powtoon-and the makers really aren’t overselling their product when they describe it as “awesome”.


But will students engage with information delivered in this way? Yes they will and I know this because last Autumn I made a suite of ten 3-5 minute screencasts using Prezi on a whole range of topics-writing a great essay, marking criteria, academic and pastoral help, pre-arrival information and more. They have been viewed over 2,300 times by our students and I’m not even counting my staff training screencasts, one minute module summaries, animated quizzes, video essay feedback and conference paper summaries which bring my views to nearly 4,000 in the last 12 months…and it’s not just me! Cindy Becker and David Nutt have also seen a great response.

We’re so passionate about screencapture that the three of us have just launched the TLDF funded ‘GRASS’ project to support colleagues who would like to try this out for themselves. If you’d like to know more please click on the floating island below to watch our 90 second clip, visit or subscribe to our new website which is full of examples and ‘how to’ videos , come along and see us all speaking at the CQSD showcase on 19th November at 13:00 but most importantly, book on our first ‘Lunch and Learn’ session via Employee Self Service on Friday 28th November at 13:00 in Palmer 103. We’ll be outlining our experiences and offering training at this event which includes a free buffet lunch and range of our own HOMEMADE CAKES! Goodbye Word and hello exciting, creative possibilities.

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