Making the Grade
Aly experimented with making quick screencast videos to provide feedback to her students instead of marking up their papers with red ink. The response from students? "Magical."
Aly Tapp is a technology support specialist and English teacher at York Suburban School District in York County, Pennsylvania. She taught English for nine years before being named the district’s technology integration coach, which was a position required of all districts by a Pennsylvania state grant called Classrooms for the Future (CFF). The grant provided laptops and other technology in schools, as well as professional development in how to best utilize digital technologies for learning.
The Experiment: Grading With Screencasting
As an experiment, Aly tried out a new way of assessing student work — screencasting. Instead of collecting printed papers, she asked students to write their essays in Google Docs and then share their papers with her so she could view them online. Then, instead of scribbling marks in the margins of printed papers, Aly opened each student's paper in Google Docs, highlighted text and inserted comments to clarify her thoughts.
Once she had her comments formatted, she turned on Jing to record her voice and screen and she scrolled through the paper, talked through her comments, and pointed to items with her mouse. Right after recording, she uploaded the finished recording to Screencast.com and simply copied and pasted the resulting link directly into the Google Doc.
Results: More Student Reflection
As an additional experiment, Aly had her students watch the videos in class. After students listened to their personalized screencast, they wrote a 10 minute reflection in the Google Doc. "They were engaged, and I was impressed with their dedication to the task," Aly said. "As I watched, I couldn't help but remember the way that I used to provide feedback. Students would receive their graded papers, flip past the comments I had scribbled in the margin, glance at the final grade, and then forget all about it."
"I knew that the written comments were incomplete," Aly said. "I always knew there was more I wanted to convey to them about their writing."
While it took her about 10 minutes to grade each paper, Aly said the response from her students made it worth the extra time and effort. “It wasn’t just that they liked it--the vast majority liked it—it was that most students LOVED the feedback and were eager for more. For an English teacher, this is magical!”
Aly said the students really responded well to the reflection task. “I was amazed at how focused and thoughtful they were in their reflection,” she said. “Their faces while writing were worth a million.”
Creating a Community
Using Google Docs has helped Aly’s students collaborate, and screencasting has helped them provide meaningful feedback to each other as well. Aly has challenged her students to reflect in ways other than writing. “I’ll ask them to read a piece and analyze it verbally while recording with Jing. It challenges them to express their thoughts on a piece in a new way,” she said.
Aly also loves that her students can create their own screencast presentations so that she can review them on her own and not spend three or four days of class time on presentations. “It forces students to be brief, focused, and have a planned script.”
In addition to her personal blog, Aly maintains a class assignment blog for parents to follow. She also set up a text message service that sends reminders to her students about the upcoming week’s assignments on Sundays. “Technology allows for so much more class community,” Aly said.