Sunday, 31 May 2009

Audio Feedback Revisited

I have now actually tried this out. My final year option only has half a dozen students, and this seemed to be an ideal opportunity. And I think it worked.

Firstly, it does take a bit more time. On average I have recorded about 10 minutes of commentary per essay. After working out the best way to use the digital recorder I did not have to post-edit the recording, but I still needed to listen to it, which means another 10 minutes. Administrative stuff is fairly easy, as the recorder records straight to MP3, I only need to rename the file with the student id (which I announce at the beginning of the recording). The files are around 2 MB in size. Not sure about how to distribute them yet; for the time being they're all on a CD ROM that goes with the pile of essays.

However, my feedback is obviously a lot more detailed than it would have been just in writing. I do hope that the students find this useful, and I intend to ask them what they think. They will also get a(n ultra-short) traditional feedback form, as there has to be something on paper.

This whole thing was intended as an experiment, and on occasion I might try this again (let's see what the external examiner thinks of it first!), but I do not intend to persuade the department at large to do the same. It might not suit everybody, and for larger modules it is indeed a lot more time-consuming. And I wouldn't want to get anybody to change the way they work.

To be continued...

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The use of "use" is used to make use of the use of "use"

Looking through a stack of student essays and exam scripts makes you spot patterns. One pattern that I noticed today is that of superfluous use of words such as "use", especially in sentences like "the use of evaluation is used to indicate such and such". Why not simply write "evaluation is used to indicate ...", or even "Here, evaluation indicates..." etc. Shorter, more to the point, and sounding less bloated and repetitive.

Another common pattern seems to be using the wrong verbs with abstract nouns. Hypothesis are being fortified, an author enhances a concept, and various other examples which of course now escape my mind. Next time I shall keep a list, which I can then throw back at my students in the hope that the use of this list can be used to improve their academic written use of English.

Monday, 18 May 2009


Not much going on, teaching-wise. And little time to write new blog posts, for it is marking time. And I have to get a paper finished by last week...

Once marking is out of the way, fairly normal service will resume!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Job Advertising

I've always been in favour of openness and transparency when it comes to job advertisements. In the last millennium, when I was student representative at my university's faculty council, I managed to get through a motion that professors had to openly advertise any student RA jobs (there was money in those days for students to act as kind of personal assistants, doing a variety of jobs such as photocopying, putting together reading lists, or even, in my case, programming and systems admin). Until then, they would just approach some student they knew from their own seminars or lectures and would give them the job.

Advertising jobs openly is not only good for equal opportunities, it also broadens the reach, and you might get a better candidate. I happened to be in a seminar where the professor announced that he had some money for a student to work on a bibliography project, and asked if anybody was interested. I wasn't, but at the time I knew somebody with a first degree in documentation/library science stuff, so I recommended that person. Needless to say, the professor was very happy and in the faculty council enthusiastically supported my proposal.

Now I am in the same situation: I got some money from our Learning and Teaching fund for a project on using podcasts in teaching. Part of that grant includes 60 hrs of a PG student doing some research on best practices. I could just have approached a student from our department I know, and that would have made life very easy for me. But, remembering the experience from all those years ago, I decided to advertise it to all PG students in the college (I thought that would probably sufficient for outreach, though I could have of course included all PG students at the university, which might have been fairer).

So far (deadline for applications is tomorrow) I received 8 applications from a variety of students from different subject areas within the college. I haven't yet received CVs from all of them, but I can see that early next week I will have a very difficult task at hand, deciding which of those 8 will be the lucky one. What I have seen so far is really great, there are some very good applications, which I would not have come across had I simply gone for the easy way out. No pain, no gain... Ultimately it will be very hard on those 7 who I have to reject, because I have to. Not because I want to, as all of them would probably be suitable candidates. I will also have to think of a fair way to make that decision, as I know some applicants personally, and have never heard of others. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to involve my co-applicant (Hello, Bill!), as he might bring some more detached objectivity into the equation.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Audio Feedback

Today I took part in an on-line seminar on providing feedback to students not in writing, but in audio format. The seminar itself was interesting, as people from all over the UK were participating, and there was a combination of 'chat' (written) and audio/video (mostly from the people organising it).

One project reported on an experiment where students were given audio feedback over the course of a year, and they all liked it (and so did the staff). With speaking, you can say more in the same time you'd need to write it, and it's also a richer medium -- presumably less ambiguous due to tone of voice etc. The time required to produce it is variable, from shorter to same to longer, and that probably depends on how streamlined the whole process can be made. Here is a summary of some of the advice given.

One of my seminar groups whose essays are now in my marking pile is fairly small, ideal circumstances to try it out. After consulting both the head of department and the exams officer I'll give it a go, but will have to provide a traditional feedback sheet as well. I've ordered a digital recorder (which can record straight to mp3), and will start marking their essays as soon as it has arrived.

Just need to think of a way to elicit feedback from the students to see what they thought of it. And a way to deliver it! Presumably using the dreaded WebCT. Maybe one thing it is actually useful for.