Using Audio Feedback for Assessment
This guide presents an introduction to audio feedback as a tool in teaching and learning in FE/HE. Drawing on previous research and case studies in the field, this guide discusses models of audio feedback and the potential of using audio over other methods of delivering feedback, as well as any notable drawbacks.
The use of audio feedback raises some initial questions which this guide aims to answer:
- What are the benefits of audio feedback over written or verbal feedback?
- Are there any specialist skills that need to be learned?
- Is it time/cost effective?
- How do students feel about audio feedback?
Why use audio feedback?
According to the National Student Survey (HEFCE, 2007) student feedback from tutors and assessors impacts heavily on student satisfaction.
Some research into the effects of student feedback on their development has brought up themes of staff effort gone to waste and students not digesting feedback, therefore hindering their development (Hartley and Skelton, 2002). As a result numerous case studies have investigated the potential for successful audio feedback to be an improvement on written feedback in the perception of students and assessors.
Themes that have been mentioned throughout these case studies, that help define this improvement include:
- Communicating on a more personal level
- The ability to present tone
- Motivating students
- Informing students how to improve
- Forcing students to listen to all of the feedback, not selecting only the sections they desire
- Providing an alternative to often ineligible handwriting
Although a number of research papers have been published on the benefits of audio feedback, the concept is still in its infancy.
Types of audio feedback
Audio feedback can be presented and delivered in a variety of ways. To keep things simple the types of audio feedback can be divided into three main categories.
- Audio only - A digital audio file such as an MP3 or WAV file using Audacity or similar.
- Asynchronous Audio-Visual - Embedded audio files in documents, such as Words docs or PDFs.
- Synchronous Audio-Video - Moving Image and audio together, such as video footage or screencasts using Jing or Camtasia.
Based on (Chiang, 2009)
Choosing one of these types of feedback will generally depend on two things, the level of time and technical involvement you wish to embark in, and the suitability for the type of assessment and the needs of the student. Audio feedback does not have to be delivered in the traditional one-to-one feedback interaction, in fact studies have shown that audio feedback given by more than one assessor and for more than one student at a time in group work scenarios has proved successful (Emery, R and Atkinson, A, 2009).
Are there any drawbacks?
The obvious difference in providing audio feedback over written feedback is the extra time involved in the practices around speaking the words. Simple editing perhaps, rendering of files and delivery all add extra time over composing written notes and the traditional method of returning work with feedback to students.
A final report of the JISC-funded Sounds Good project found that feedback could be made quicker compared to written feedback in circumstances where;
- The assessor is comfortable with the technology.
- The assessor writes or types slowly but records his/her speech quickly.
- A substantial amount of feedback is given.
- A quick and easy method of delivering the audio file to the student is available.
(Rotherham, B. 2008)
What technical knowledge do I need to know?
Surprisingly, very little. You will however need the following equipment.
- A microphone and recording device. This could be the built-in microphone on a laptop computer or a digital dictaphone. If you record your audio files remotely, i.e. not directly to your computer, you will need to be able to transfer them to your PC to edit (if necessary) and transcode them to a suitable format.
- Recording, editing and encoding* software (if recording to a computer). You may not wish to do all three but you will certainly need to record into a program.
* encoding means converting your recordings into deliverable file types such as MP3.
If you plan on creating Asynchronous Audio-Visual feedback (see above), then programs such as word will allow you to record directly and will negate the need for any editing or transcoding.
For advice on how to create audio feedback please read advice the document Audio Feedback - A How-To Guide which gives step-by-step instructions on creating audio feedback within Microsoft Word documents.
Audacity is a recommended program which is freely downloadable and performs basic recording editing and transcoding. Our advice document Creating an Audio Podcast contains instructions on recording and editing using Audacity.
Here are a few tips and general rules worth noting when producing digital audio files for audio feedback.
- Export your recordings as MP3 files. This will make the file sizes smaller and easier to deliver. As a rule of thumb 128kbps will do fine.
- Export your recordings as mono files. This will halve the file size of a stereo file which is not necessary for these types of recordings.
- Focus on the quality of the feedback as opposed to the quality of the recording. As long as the recording is coherent and not unpleasant to listen to
- Structure your feedback. Prepare in advance the areas you will discuss to help you cover all the points you intend to make. Unlike written feedback, it can be tricky to insert missing sections into digital audio files.
- Try to stay positive. Even when providing criticism it is important to end points on a positive note
- Speak clearly. Try to avoid mumbling or sounding disinterested
- Make explicit how the feedback can contribute to the student evelopment
There are a number of ways to deliver digital audio files to students but the two most important concerns are privacy and simplicity. Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) can provide a safe and easy to access platform acting as a virtual interface between staff and students. Always check the privacy settings thoroughly before uploading any student feedback files.
For further advice, please read our Audio Feedback - A How-To Guide which offers a practical, simple to follow set of instructions for creating audio feedback files, and delivering them to students in MS Word.
References and Recommended Papers
Chaing, Dr. I-Chant Andrea (2009). Which Audio Feedback is best?: Optimising audio feedback to maximise student and staff experience. Aberystwyth University
Bunyan, N, King, D & McGugan, S (2008). Does it make a difference? Replacing text with audio feedback. Practice and Evidence of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Vol. 3, No.2, pp. 125 - 163
Merry, S & Orsmond, P (2007) Students' Attitudes to and Usage of Academic Feedback Provided Via Audio Files. Bioscience Education ejournal, Vol. 11.
Rotherham, B. (2008) Sounds Good: Quicker, better assessment using audio feedback. A JISC funded project, Jan - July 2008. http://jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/programme_users_and_innovation/soundsgood.aspx