‘Speaking to Students’ with Audio Feedback in Online Courses

In this post I’ll share how to give meaningful and constructive feedback to students on assignments, presentations, and other works by using voice recorded files.

imagesResearch suggests that students want specific and detailed feedback from their instructors (Balaji & Chakrabarti, 2010 ). Who wouldn’t? It is disappointing to students to receive few or no comments from their instructor after investing hours researching and writing a paper.  Even more disconcerting to some students, is receiving a below par grade with little explanation or constructive feedback—in online classes even more so given the lack of personal contact. Which is why in online classes voice feedback is much appreciated by students; most students welcome this type of response. I had one professor in grad school that provided audio feedback on our assignments, which I appreciated, and looked forward to very much even if it was not all positive. Not only did five minutes of feedback pack a lot of punch, but it felt personal, and I found myself putting extra effort into all assignments in his class. This is not to say written feedback is not valued, but voice is particularly impactful in our text-based world. Given the value to students, the time-saving  benefits to instructors, and the new tools that are easy to use, I suggest all instructors consider speaking feedback to students using recorded voice files. I’ll share how here.

Results of ‘Explanatory Feedback’ Study at Duke University
I won’t elaborate here about the value of feedback, as I delved into this topic in my last post. However before I identify feedback tools and methods I would like to share a study published recently in the Journal of Educational Psychology regarding the transfer of learning that occurs with certain types of feedback (Butler, Godbole & Marsh, 2012). The study examined the transfer of learning that occurred (or lack thereof) with three types of feedback, 1) correct answer, 2) no feedback, and 3) explanatory feedback. The learning that students absorbed was measured in three steps, recognition, recall, and application.  Results demonstrated that correct answer and explanatory feedback provided the recall level of learning among students, but explanation feedback enabled learners to better comprehend the concepts, and facilitate deeper comprehension by being able to apply the knowledge to new contexts. Next we cover how to give explanatory feedback that is rich and detailed, and goes beyond the robot grader.

The Method to Giving Audio Feedback
There may be a short learning curve to providing this type of feedback to students, but it’s very short. One might feel self-conscious at first,  but after one or two recordings, it becomes far more comfortable (Using Audio Feedback Case Study, 2010, YouTube). And the voice recording does not need to be polished or perfect—pauses are okay according to a professor at the University of New South Wales who describes the method and tool he uses in the case study video [ Learning to Teach Online series]. Though the tool he uses in the video is outdated, the method is not. In this scenario, the professor provides feedback in a voice recording after he reviews the student assignment, usually the assignment is read online or onscreen—no hard copies. The professor makes a few notes, while reviewing the student’s work, records his feedback immediately, and sends it to the student.

The Tools for Providing Audio Feedback
What better way then to provide personalized feedback than with audio. I’ve reviewed two tools below, though there are several more, the ones here are easy to use — record and send.

1) Voice Recorder App on Smart Phone. There are many apps available that are free.  I chose Voice Record Pro, form the iTunes store as it has a 4.5/5 rating. It’s easy to use. I simply open the app, hit record, then stop when I’m done, and send.

Before sending the file, I can listen to it, delete it, or save it in Dropbox, SkyDrive [other options available}.  When ready, with one click it can be sent to the student. The file is in a mp4 format which the student can download and then listen to. Easy. And the copy of the file is saved, though I suggest emailing yourself a copy in order to archive it accordingly. There are also other options available for editing and/or changing the file format.

Evernote-Logo2)  Evernote—an excellent, free app that is a favorite of mine—it does much more than provide audio feedback, but I’ll focus on using it for audio feedback in this post. One of the educators I follow on Twitter, a professor, introduced me to Evernote, in a Tweet where she explained how she discovered using the app to record a feedback for students that could be sent via email. Brilliant! The prof wrote about Evernote on her blog here.

I’ve also included screen shots of how to record a note in three easy steps.

Three Steps to Audio Feedback with Evernote:

Screen Shot
Step 1: After creating a new note for a student (sample student here is Nina),  click the mic icon, as highlighted here

Step Two:

Screen Shot 2013-04-06 at 11.25.40 AM
Step 2: Once you click the mic button you can record, then click ‘save’. You can also pause during the recording process and resume again.

Step Three:

Screen Shot 2013-04-06 at 11.26.16 AM
Step 3: This is what the message will look like after the voice recording is saved, then click on the arrow in top right hand corner.

Screen Shot 2013-04-06 at 11.26.28 AMAfter clicking the arrow, there are choices (see image); in this case email note is the method. Note the other options available that can be used for alternative instructional methods, i.e. sending a recorded message [reminder or announcement] to the class via Twitter by using the class #hashtag (if you have one).

Audio feedback is an excellent method to connect with students and provide feedback that is both constructive and meaningful, and can promote intellectual development and critical thinking. For those readers that are instructors, I do suggest giving this method a try.  You’ll see how easy it is, and how much students appreciate it.

If you have methods that have worked for you, or comments on audio feedback that might benefit others, please share!


Explanation Feedback Is Better Than Correct Answer Feedback for Promoting Transfer of Learning.  Butler, Andrew C.; Godbole, Namrata; Marsh, Elizabeth J.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Dec 17 , 2012, No Pagination Specified. doi: 10.1037/a0031026