By Dominique Bourg Hacker
Dominique Bourg Hacker is the 2015-16 TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since fall 2010. Dominique is also a PhD candidate in English literary studies writing a dissertation on contemporary South African and Caribbean fiction, gardens, and environmental imaginaries.
Before my work began as Coordinator of the Online Writing Center, I knew that I wanted to integrate screencasting into the email consultants’ workload. Screencasting is a video recording of your computer screen accompanied by voice narration. My predecessor, Mike Shapiro, had experimented with the technology in Summer 2014 and the student response was overwhelmingly positive; many students stated that they would rewatch their screencast 5 or more times. The recent studies I came across, likewise, heaped more praise on screencast technologies. Chris Anson et al. found that students:
“perceived that screencast technologies facilitated personal connections; made transparent the teacher’s evaluative process, revealed the teacher’s feelings, provided visual affirmation, […and] seemed to account for students’ face-related needs (belonging, respect, and autonomy) and hence mitigated the predominant face-threatening potential of the evaluative space” (3).
Riki Thompson and Meredith Lee’s study revealed:
“that explanations within video feedback made the thought process of the reader visible, allowing [students] to identify problems. Thus, [f]eedback provided students with greater guidance about how to improve.”
I was so excited by the possibilities of helping students gain audience awareness as they heard their reader talk through how one moment was confusing or interesting while simultaneously enabling tutors to make personal connections without face-to-face interaction.
But I was faced with wondering how? How do we make screencasting a regular part of our current asynchronous instruction? What would training look like? What effect would using this technology have on the kinds of in-text comments tutors write? What pedagogical standards would we hope to meet?
In this post I hope to tackle the practical side of integrating screencasting into the UW-Madison Writing Center’s email instruction and what I learned in the process.
When our typically overwhelming demand in email instruction slowed a bit this Spring, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to train email tutors and try to blend screencasting into each tutor’s weekly shift.
In order to present a cogent plan to the tutors and make them feel confident about trying out a different tutoring method, I considered these questions:
1) What does the process of creating a screencast look like?
UW-Madison Online Writing Center tutors, as well as the entire instructional staff, are trained to respond to email drafts by first looking over the student’s assignments and concerns included in the request the student submits with their draft. After reading the draft, the tutors are asked to identify 1 or 2 important revision issues, such as if the draft is attending to the assignment requirements or if the draft’s main ideas are strong. Tutors then write a response to the students identifying specific strengths and explaining the issues they saw in the drafts by giving examples, talking about the significance of the issues, and providing revision options. Finally, tutors embed 3-4 comments in the drafts to reinforce the main lessons.
All of the hardworking grad student email tutors have developed their own efficient approach to this process, which they are scheduled to complete in 30 minutes for six page drafts. I was concerned that the length of time to create the screencast would extend beyond the 30 minute limit because tutors would need to do almost every step in the email instruction process for a screencast with the exception that they would talk through their response rather than write it up. They would need to become familiar with new software and might spend time editing their screencasts (Tutors had the ability to use any screen and audio recording software they had access to including Kaltura CaptureSpaceLite, Jing, and Camtasia Studio).
When I convened the tutors to discuss screencasting as a group, we talked about how the initial notes we made on the drafts to determine our feedback might need to be reorganized in order to limit the amount planning we would do in advance of the screencast. Too extensive of a script begged the question as to why a tutor wouldn’t just send an email response.
2) What is the relationship between the screencast and the draft the student receives?
All the email tutors agreed that a draft with embedded comments needed to be sent in addition to the screencast, but it wasn’t clear what these comments should like. Part of this question stemmed from our concern that any kind of asynchronous feedback can have the tendency to be overly directive. In order to make the feedback more dialogic, we considered posing more questions in the embedded comments as opposed to using them to cite specific examples of the issues we noticed or providing a specific revision direction.
3) What kinds of drafts are best suited for screencasts?
Students can submit drafts up to 10pgs for email instruction and the Online Writing Center sees papers and applications from disciplines across the university. After a couple of screencasts with a veteran tutor and former Online Coordinator, Jessie Gurd, we questioned whether some drafts were better for screencasts than others. Although tutors first have to check if the student is interested in a screencast based on their submission form, after that it is up to the tutor to decide if a draft should receive a screencast. Jessie and I wondered if longer assignments might be better for screencasts because there would be less of a tendency for a tutor to be directive. Scrolling through a longer assignment, might give the tutor more of an opportunity to provide a reader response as well as pose questions that might engage the student more in the revision process.
4) How does screencasting pedagogy differ from email instruction? What do best practices for screencasting look like?
We strive to make email instruction above all dialogic and collaborative. When I train email tutors, I emphasize focusing on big picture concerns, asking crucial questions, giving revision options and inviting students to self-critique. Although many of these goals are shared with our face-to-face instruction training, I wondered what additional or different goals or practices there might be in screencasting. For example, Anson et al.’s “Students’ Perceptions of Oral Screencast Responses to Their Writing: Exploring Digitally Mediated Identities” interrogates how students and teachers “perform digitally mediated pedagogical identities” (2). Screencasting provides the opportunity to play different roles. The sound of a tutor’s voice, the phrasing of suggestions, the pace of the tutor’s movement through the draft or jumps to web resources, have the ability to may make a students feel comfortable, affirmed, confident or collaborative. At its best screencasting seems to enhance the dialogic nature of feedback, but the question still remained for us as to what strategies would most enhance this outcome.
18 screencasts were completed between March and May and the response from tutors and students was overwhelmingly positive. Students said they felt like tutors were “actually talking to me” and feedback was “clear and super easy to follow; [the screencast] gave more detail through ‘vivid’ explanation.” Tutors Emily Loney and Matthew Fledderjohann both said screencasting “was a surprisingly intuitive and easy-to-manage process.” Matthew added that the process was not very different, but he did focus on “personalizing [his] thoughts more for the context of [the student’s] writing.”
In the two examples below you’ll notice how tutors, Emily Loney and Maggie Hamper, by and large keep with the format of email instruction (clearly and precisely providing specific and concrete positive feedback, and then focusing on teaching two lessons). Both videos highlight the way that tutors used screencasting to build students confidence. Maggie praises her student’s draft in her screencast and used many of her in-text comments to point out effective parts of the student’s draft.
Emily highlights her role as a interactive “relational partner” (Anson et al. 22) when she immediately speaks back to the student’s concerns about her introduction. Emily used her emedded comments to reinforce the lessons she shared during the screencast.
So many of the screencasts made this semester were really effective. From tutors building relationships with returning students by highlighting differences in draft versions to personalizing lessons about using detail in statements of purpose, tutors took advantage of screencasting to provide in-depth feedback and build rapport.
Although most of the tutors felt like they quickly adapted their email response process for screencasting, trying to keep to the 5-minute limit remains a challenge. I also continue to reflect on the relationship between the in-text comments and the screencast. I think we need to keep exploring the purpose of the embedded comments and try to answer: How do the embedded comments build on the video commentary? Are the embedded comments necessary? How do the embedded comments affect how the student feels about the feedback?
I also think it would be worthwhile to continue exploring more about the roles tutors play in the screencast and how it affects the student-tutor relationship. I wonder what strategies tutors could use to continue to destabilize power dynamics in the student-tutor relationship. In other words what practices could tutors use to negotiate, as Anson et al. suggests, “the [tutor’s] identity as evaluator […] and the sympathetic, collaborative, and affective guide and trainer” (23)?
While these questions remain, I excited that we have been able to adapt screencasting into our asynchronous feedback.
Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to hear from readers of this blog other ideas, comments, or questions you have about screencasting in writing center work.
Anson, Chris M., Deanna P. Dannels, Johanne I. Laboy, and Larissa Carneiro. ““Students’ Perceptions of Oral Screencast Responses to Their Writing: Exploring Digitally Mediated Identities.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 30.2 (2016):1-34. SAGE.Web. 20 Jan 2016.
Lee, Meredith J. and Riki Thompson. “Talking with Students through Screencasting: Experimentations with Video Feedback to Improve Student Learning.” The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. 1 (2012): n.pag. Web. 20 Jan 2016.