Leveraging Technology to Provide Oral Feedback on Writing Assignments


By Nathan Hall

[This article was first printed in the Fall 2015 issue of TEAL News.]

A recent government survey in the UK on teacher workload found that marking took up the largest amount of an instructor’s time outside of the classroom. An ideal solution to this problem would be to reduce the amount of time it takes to comment on student work while increasing the quality and quantity of that feedback. For myself, the journey to solve this problem started while in my MA TESOL program. One of the instructors audio recorded his comments on our work one week when there were multiple assignments to mark. Surprisingly, I found the feedback much deeper and far more extensive than any of the written comments I had received in the course to that point. At that time, I was teaching a writing course and was getting a large amount of student work to mark, and I wondered if giving recorded oral feedback may be a solution. I set up a small test assignment where students wrote a simple two-paragraph reflection on a subject. They gave me their assignments on paper, which I read over and wrote numbers next to the areas I felt needed some work. I then audio recorded myself giving feedback on their writing by referencing the numbers written on their papers. I gave the assignments back to the students along with links to their audio recordings and sent them off to the computer lab. Arriving at the lab, I was surprised at how the students immediately grabbed a pen and took notes directly on their papers while listening to my comments. Most of the students listened to the comments more than once before rewriting their paragraphs based on the feedback.

Building on that success, as small a sample as it was, I decided to explore what research had to say on the subject. At that time, studies focusing on English language classrooms and recorded oral feedback were limited, but by expanding the subject matter, I was able to find a few larger studies. The first study followed 53 ESOL students in New Zealand over 16 weeks. Students were divided into three focus groups based on the type of feedback they would receive on their written work: written and oral, written only, and limited feedback. After completing four writing tasks, the study found that direct oral feedback together with direct written feedback had a greater impact on improving accuracy than written feedback on its own (Bitchener, Young, & Cameron, 2005). The second study involved 14 post-graduate students who were studying in a distance course from a UK university. Each student completed eighteen 1500 word essays; nine of the essays were given written feedback and the other nine received oral feedback via a five-minute video (screencast). Not only did these students mostly prefer the recorded oral feedback to written, but teachers found it saved valuable marking time. To give an equivalent of 35 minutes of written feedback, only five minutes of screencasting was needed (Edwards, Dujardin, & Williams, 2012). The third study, which was the largest, involved 111 individuals in 11 groups of students at a Norwegian University. Instructors used screencasts to give feedback, instructions, and messages to students. They found it improved clarity and allowed students to review the information, while saving the teacher’s time by refining their instructions. Students mentioned that “video comments are regarded as being more precise and nuanced than written feedback” (Mathisen, 2012).

Following my personal success, along with what I had learned from the above studies, I now use screencasting to record short feedback videos for my students. This involves getting the written work in a digital format so it can be viewed on a computer screen, and it also allows me to add short written comments. This requires a few tools that are either free or inexpensive. Here are the basic things you will need:

  • Screencasting software: There are a number of free online and offline tools; it is just a matter of personal taste.
    • QuickTime Player: If you are an Apple Macintosh (Mac) user, you can use QuickTime Player, which comes preinstalled on the computer. Simply locate it in your Applications folder and choose to create a ‘New Screen Recording’ from the ‘File’ menu. You can choose to use the built-in microphone or you can add a USB microphone for greater clarity.
    • Jing (techsmith.com/jing): This is a free software from TechSmith that works on both Mac and Microsoft Windows (Windows) operating systems. It is limited to a 5-minute recording, but is simple to use and quick to learn.
    • CamStudio (https://portableapps.com/apps/utilities/camstudio_portable): This is a Windows only application that can be installed for free on any USB drive, including thumb drives. This allows users to record screencasts on Windows computers that do not have screencasting software preinstalled. It is free and fairly simple to use.
    • Screencast-O-Matic (screencast-o-matic.com): This is an online webtool that allows Mac or Windows users to record screencasts without installing any software on their computers. It does use Java, which some company computers have turned off. Simply go to the website and launch the application from there. You can then download the final video or store it online.
  • Document creation and annotation: There are also many ways of displaying and annotating documents and scanned images. Here is what is readily available on all platforms.
    • Microsoft Word: This is available on both Mac and Windows platforms for a fee. Most schools and students have access to it and are comfortable using it. Both the instructor and student can use the Comment tool to add written feedback and replies. The biggest problem with this is making sure you are still working from the same document. If you have the document on a network folder, you can each open the same document and work from there. If you have to email documents back and forth, this can become a problem.
    • OneDrive (onedrive.com): This is a cloud service hosted by Microsoft that works on any computer with internet access. You need to sign up for a free account, but OneDrive offers plenty of free space with that account. You can share Microsoft Office documents with anyone without the problem of emailing back and forth. You can also create, read, and add comments to documents without having Microsoft Office installed on your computer. Simply use the Word Online option within OneDrive.
    • Google Drive (drive.google.com ): This is another cloud service, only this one is hosted by Google and works with all computers with internet access. It also requires a free account, but if a student already has a Google account, such as Gmail, this is already available to them without registering again. Documents are hosted online and can be commented on and shared with other users. There are also options for Google account holders to connect to free services such as Kaizena (www.kaizena.com) that allow for voice commenting.
    • Apache OpenOffice Writer (openoffice.org): This is a free, open source word processor that is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac. It is compatible with Microsoft Office documents and can also be used to add written comments. It has the same problem as Microsoft Word in that users need to email documents back and forth, but for students that have limited income, this is a great free option. There is also a USB drive version available for users to run from a thumb drive. This is great if a student needs to use a public computer and doesn’t have access to a word processor.
  • Video or audio sharing: Once a teacher has created a screencast or audio recording, that file needs to be shared with the student. There are a number of ways to do that.
    • Class website or LMS: If the class already has an online site, the teacher can share the file with the student through that site. This is one of the simplest ways and keeps an ongoing record of the student’s work.
    • Cloud host: Using a host such as Google Drive or OneDrive, a teacher can upload the file and then share the link with the student. This also keeps an ongoing portfolio of the student’s work, but is less integrated than a class site. Only the teacher needs to have an account with the cloud service, since the shared link is accessible from anyone who receives the link.
    • Email: This is not a great option since the size of video files are often quite large and can cause problems with end users. Audio files are not as large and may not be as much of a problem.
    • YouTube (youtube.com): Teachers can upload and share their videos using this Google-owned site if they have a Google account. You must make sure to set the video as ‘Unlisted’ or the student would need also have a Google account.
    • SendVid (sendvid.com): This is another video hosting site similar to YouTube, but does not require registration. Uploaded files are always private, accessible only by those who have the link. End users can also download the file for offline viewing.

Once you have decided on the tools that work best for your situation, you will need to give it a test run. Choose something small to work on such as a short paragraph or something the students have already done and received feedback on. This takes away some of the stress of getting through a large document while still getting used to the process. Open the document in your preferred document viewer and annotation tool. If the work was handwritten, you may need to scan the document first using a photocopier or flatbed scanner. Read through the document and look for areas you would like to comment on, but don’t make any large comments on the document itself. Personally, I try to find the key things I would like my students to work on such as a spelling or grammar item, a formatting problem, or a genre issue. I then add a short identifying comment such as, “informal language,” or, “sentence structure” in the area or areas that need work. I then turn on the screencasting software and talk the student through the comments, trying to connect to things we have done in class that will help them make the connection. For example, if we have been working on complex sentence structures and the student is still struggling with it in their writing, I would talk through the reasons why their sentence doesn’t work as a complex sentence, and direct them to the work we have done in class on that subject. If I feel they need more examples of what I am talking about, I may create another document that I can pull up while in the middle of my screencast to show them while talking them through it. Essentially, this becomes another instructional moment that is more directed at each student without having to meet with that student one-on-one. Once my video is done, I simply upload it to the site I am using with the class and share the link with the student.

While the time to do this might take you longer than expected at first, the process becomes more streamlined over time. As mentioned earlier, give this a short run the first couple of times before attempting to use it on a longer writing assignment. Make sure you get feedback from the students on how they feel the system works for them. It may be that some students are not as comfortable with this way of getting feedback and you may need to make adjustments for them. In one of my classes, one student liked the oral feedback, but had limited access to the internet. She did have a personal MP3 player which she took with her on the long bus rides to and from classes. As a result, I would copy my comments directly to her music player when she was in class, and I gave her a printed copy of my comments so she could look at things on her commute. This didn’t take any extra work for me and fit the student better than using video comments. Other things to consider are privacy issues with cloud based storage, especially in places where laws tightly restrict it. Sharing the video or audio files directly with students may be necessary in those cases. You can also use sites that don’t require registration, but make sure no personal data is in the document itself.

While this method did take a bit of learning on my part, the savings of time over the long term has been incredibly valuable. It has been encouraging to receive positive comments from students regarding their access to me. I’ve also had to be more precise in my instruction as I place students directly in the centre of their own learning. It’s hasn’t always been easy, but it has definitely been worth it.


Bitchener, J., Young, S., and Cameron, D. (2005). The effect of different types of corrective feedback on ESL student writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 14. 191-205.

Edwards, K., Dujardin, A., and Williams, N. (2012). Screencast feedback for essays on a distance learning MA in Professional Communication: An action research project. Journal of Academic Writing, 2(1). 95-126.

Mathisen, P. (2012). Video feedback in higher education – A contribution to improving the quality of written feedback. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 7(2). 97-116.

Biographical Information

From the Fall 2015 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Nathan Hall has worked for Douglas College as an EAP and TESOL instructor and is an advocate for the proper use of educational technology in the language classroom. He is also an avid blogger and Twitter user in the areas of language teaching and educational technology. You can find out more at https://about.me/nathanghall


This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Hall, N. (2015, Fall). Leveraging technology to provide oral feedback on writing assignments. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BCTeal-Newsletter-Fall-2015-Final-2.pdf




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