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No More Grading In Your Pajamas: Using Video to Provide Feedback on Assignments

Zara Risoldi Cochrane, PharmD, MS, FASCP School of Pharmacy and Health Professions - Creighton University

As the assignment deadline draws near, you begin to do the math in your head.  If you have a 12 page paper, multiplied by 185 students, and it takes you 2 minutes to read each page…how long until your eyes cross from all this grading?!

As educators, we’re challenged to provide thoughtful, high-quality feedback on assignments for an increasing number of students in a timely fashion.  On one hand, it’s important that we provide students with feedback quickly, so they can incorporate our comments into future assignments.  On the other hand, if we want our feedback to be meaningful and individualized, it takes a significant amount of faculty time to grade.

In our online course, we hypothesized that providing recorded video feedback on students’ assignments would reduce faculty grading time compared to traditional grading using written feedback.  At the same time, we believed that video feedback could simulate face-to-face interactions with our distance learners and improve the overall student experience.

The Project

Instructors in our course have traditionally provided written feedback and commentary on students’ assignments in addition to completing a standardized grading rubric.  A typical paper received ten to twelve written comments from the grader, added to the document using the “Track Changes” function in Microsoft Word.  This allowed for graders to provide highly individualized feedback for each student, but was incredibly time-consuming.

Because grading took so long, students had to wait at least three weeks to receive feedback and their assignment grade; by this time, they’d already begun working on other major course assignments.  By developing a mechanism to improve the grading efficiency of faculty members, we felt we could reduce the “lag time” students experienced, reinforcing their learning and allowing them to incorporate feedback into later assignments.

Our faculty proposed that recording one thorough video comment to students with formative feedback on their written assignment might be more efficient than adding multiple written comments throughout the document.  To record video comments, we used Speed Grader, a mobile application that is integrated into our learning management system and allows faculty to grade “on the go”.  (If your learning management system doesn’t have built-in multimedia comments, you can accomplish the same thing using your favorite video capture software or even YouTube.)  When assignment grades were released, students viewed their video feedback in the course site along with the grading rubric.

To assess the impact of video feedback on students’ written assignments, we randomized half the class to receive traditional feedback (n=99) and half to receive video feedback (n=74) on the two major assignments in our course.  Grading time for each method was ranked and compared using the Mann-Whitney test.

The results were dramatic: by implementing video feedback, we decreased faculty grading time by 50%.  Instructors spent 28 minutes per assignment using the traditional method, compared to just 14 minutes using video feedback (p<0.001).

But grading time is only part of the equation; we had to test the effect of video feedback on the student’s educational experience.  We believed that online learners would find video feedback more constructive and personalized than traditional written feedback, since they would be able to see the faculty grader and observe non-verbal communication in the recording.

To test this hypothesis, we surveyed students regarding their perceptions of the feedback they received.  In both groups, the vast majority of students found their feedback to be constructive, valuable, and personalized.  After reviewing the feedback on their assignments, a higher percentage of students in the video feedback group (64%) felt more comfortable approaching an instructor to ask questions compared to students in the traditional feedback group (51%).  We attributed this to the simulated “face-to-face” interaction with faculty that students in the video feedback group received.

Students also had very positive things to say about video feedback in the course evaluations:

“Thank you very much for the video feedback for the two major written assignments. I found them very helpful. It was nice to receive personalized feedback, especially after working so hard on the projects!”
“I liked the video feedback on the papers.  I felt the videos were especially helpful in my learning.”

Overall, our research project demonstrated that video feedback can significantly decrease the amount of faculty time needed to grade written assignments without decreasing student satisfaction.  Based on this, we implemented video feedback for all students in our course moving forward, with an estimated time savings of 88 hours each semester.

Best Practices for Effective Video Feedback

So what does a video comment look like, anyway?  What should it include?   While feedback will vary based on the needs of the course and the instructor’s style, we suggest a few best practices for creating high quality, meaningful video feedback.

Greet the student by name, and introduce yourself.

Convey a friendly, collegial demeanor, and let students know the feedback you are about to provide is personalized to them.  And while we’d like to think our students all recognize us, that headshot on the course website may have been taken 20 years (or 20 pounds!) ago.

Tell students what to expect.

Provide a statement of purpose, giving the student some sense of direction that the video will be taking.  This can be as simple as saying, “I just finished grading your assignment, and I wanted to give you some feedback on how you did.”

Remember that your video should provide formative, rather than summative, feedback. Students already have a score or grade on the assignment that will give summative feedback on how they performed.

Refer to feedback on previous course assignments.

When applicable, reference feedback you’ve given to students on their previous assignments.  This is a good way to gauge their progress over the course of the semester, and to really personalize their video based on how well they were able to incorporate that feedback you’ve already given them.

In our course, we ask instructors to go back and re-watch the video feedback that students were given on the first major written assignment as they’re grading the second one.

Identify concrete examples of how the student can improve.

Students appreciate specific, tangible things that they can do to advance their skills (or, perhaps more to the point, to improve their grade).  It’s important to identify concrete examples of things that the student can improve upon.

Give students examples from their own assignment, or tell them how you would have handled the same topic or problem.  Suggest resources that are available through your course or your institution, and point students toward places they can go for more information.

Be aware of your environment.

Make sure you’re well-lit in the video, and think about the workspace you’re using.  Is there anything on your desk or in your background that you wouldn’t want students to see?  (Hence, no more grading in your pajamas.)

Try to minimize distractions while you’re recording video feedback, and stay away from high-traffic or noisy areas.

Trying Out Video Feedback

While we use video feedback for written assignments in our course, we truly believe it can be applied to a variety of courses and assignments.  As we’ve traveled the country, we’ve heard from faculty eager to test out video feedback on oral presentations, group projects, and more.  If you have students practice a skill in your course, you can use video feedback to demonstrate proper technique, or to point out steps the student may have missed.  We met a voice teacher who loved the idea of using video feedback to demonstrate the correct notes or phrasing in a piece of music.

Have you used video feedback in your course, or do you have an innovative way to use this tool?  Leave a comment below and let us know!

Resources and Additional Readings

Gallien, T. & Oomen-Early, J. (2008). Personalized versus collective instructor feedback in the online courseroom: Does type of feedback affect student satisfaction, academic performance and perceived connectedness with the instructor? International Journal on E-Learning, 7(3), 463-476.

Orlando, J. (2011, March 23). Improve feedback with audio and video commentary. Retrieved from


Dr. Amy Friedman Wilson was co-primary investigator of the research project, and was instrumental in the development of this work.  This blog is based, in part, on a presentation made at the 2016 Lilly Conference in Austin, TX.

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