As the focus on optimizing the learning experience within online courses has sharpened, the features of Learning Management Systems (LMS) have evolved to allow for more multimodal instruction. While these features have become more sophisticated, there is still much to learn about how to best integrate them into the teaching and learning process, especially within introductory general education courses that often serve as a barrier to student success. The option to seamlessly integrate video into areas of the online classroom has become a standard feature, but how can faculty best leverage video tools? By using video both as an instructional resource and as a connection point, faculty can create a rich presence in the online classroom. While video is often used for announcements, introductions, or content clarification, it is also gaining popularity as a modality for providing grading feedback. It is also critical for distance learning administrators to understand how to best support the implementation of multimodal feedback approaches. This study explores one specific aspect of integrating video by examining student perceptions of faculty using video feedback within an online introductory writing course.
KEYWORDS: multimodal instruction, online writing instruction, grading feedback, instructor presence, video feedback, humanizing the online classroom
As the demand for online degree programs and course offerings grows, expanding enrollments in fully-online, introductory general education courses continues to garner attention. At the forefront of the traditional general education requirement are requisite written communication courses. Given the importance of writing proficiency, composition faculty have long grappled with the most effective model for giving feedback in order to facilitate skill growth and knowledge transfer. In addition, writing tends to be a point of concern with students, particularly those who are college students that are first-generation, as well as students whose primary language is not English. Many of these students report lower levels of confidence in their writing abilities. As such, it is important to be aware of student perceptions of the feedback they are receiving on their writing assignments in order to successfully facilitate learning and skill building.
Additionally, distance learning administrators often highlight the importance of meaningful, relevant feedback within the online gradebook to help students meet learning objectives. Actionable, specific feedback is paramount to the learning process, and this is particularly true in online courses where the majority of 1:1 student and faculty engagement occurs within the grading feedback. As such, those overseeing distance learning programs often have requirements regarding the need for substantive feedback, often within a certain time frame to accommodate the accelerated pacing of many online courses. Distance learning administrators need to understand ways to support faculty in their endeavor to provide specific feedback, without overburdening faculty. Leveraging multimodal features, such as video, is one potential way that faculty can provide concise feedback that is not as time consuming as detailed written annotations. For example, faculty may find that a short summary video that distills feedback intp a few key action items is less labor intensive than detailed annotations. In this way, distance learning administrators can encourage innovation in teaching practice via existing tools within the LMS.
National Louis University (NLU) serves as an example of an institution that has invested in the growth of their online program enrollment. NLU is an institution committed to providing access via innovative approaches across all facets of the institution. As a private, non-profit institution that supports a diverse student population (including a designation as a Hispanic-serving institution), NLU aims to create an educational experience aligned to their values that focus on: innovation, access, excellence, and equity. The growth in online enrollments at NLU means that the university offers multiple sections of English 101 each term. Like many institutions, NLU is continually striving to improve the student learning experience within their English courses.
NLU’s commitment to innovation results in a desire to fully leverage digital tools. For the purpose of this study, the tool of focus is the learning management system (LMS), D2L Brightspace. Within the LMS, faculty have the opportunity to experiment with various ways of providing feedback on student writing. This study begins to look for synergies in how using a multimodal approach to feedback, specifically via both written and video feedback within the LMS, influences student perceptions of the feedback process and application, as well as instructor presence.
WRITTEN AND VIDEO FEEDBACK IN ONLINE COURSES: TRENDS IN THE LITERATURE
Much of the research on video and written feedback in online and blended courses focuses on two predominant verticals: 1) social presence, humanizing the online environment, and creating a community of practice and 2) perceived effectiveness, clarity, and applicability of the feedback. While Borup, West and Thomas (2015) did not find a quantitative significant difference between video and written feedback in student perception of social presence, both instructors and students found the video feedback to include more emotional expression than written feedback and a more intimate feeling of closeness and sense of humanity. Video feedback felt more conversational for both students and faculty, although written feedback was easier for instructors to edit and was more likely to garner a student response. Comparatively, McCarthy (2015) focused on evaluating the perception of engagement, comprehension, and access for video, written, and audio feedback, as well as the workload implications for instructors. Findings indicated that student demographics impacted their preferences, with older students preferring written feedback over video, while most other demographics (international, local, male, and female) preferred video feedback. For those who preferred written feedback, familiarity was a factor. The majority of students found written and audio feedback more accessible than video feedback with download times impacting video feedback. (For the purpose of the current study, download time is not an issue, as the video tool is embedded directly into the LMS, removing the need to download videos.) Clarity of video feedback was seen as the largest advantage. Written feedback was familiar and felt the most like the feedback students were used to receiving, and it had the advantage of re-review at any time or place. Additionally, the rubrics that accompanied written feedback in this study helped students understand their performance. Written feedback was disadvantaged by the lack of detail compared to the audio and video feedback. Anson, Dannels, Laboy, and Carneiro (2016) further explored the role video feedback, specifically via screencasting and direct commentary, played in students’ perceptions of social presence and faculty connectedness. Students noted that asynchronous screencasting feedback videos influenced their relationship with their faculty in a positive way, allowing for space to create student-faculty identities in a digitally mediated environment. Likewise, Griffith and Faulconer (2022) noted the impact of embedded course videos on instructional presence and also the level of care from the faculty.
Lowenthal (2021) addresses the general preference of text over video feedback that was found in Borup, West, Thomas, and Graham’s (2014) study. This article points out the affective benefits of video, particularly in regard to the impact video can have on students taking fully online courses, a modality where students can sometimes report feeling disconnected and lonely. The authors also highlight the importance of evaluating relevance of video feedback and using it only where it makes sense to do so.
Within the literature, there are some studies specific to the teaching of writing and student perceptions of video feedback. Marshall, Love, and Scott (2020) focused specifically on graduate level writing and student perceptions of instructor feedback in both text-based and video formats. Most students preferred receiving feedback in video form, noting an increased connectedness to their instructor and perceived improvements to their content knowledge of research writing.
While many of these studies looked at student perceptions and preferences, Ketchem, Yeats, Phompheng, and Hardy (2020) conducted a mixed methods study specific to faculty perceptions of video feedback. Specifically, the researchers focused on the role of using video feedback and the relationship to social presence, faculty workload, and whether there was any improvement on end of course evaluations. Results were mixed, with some faculty noting a feeling of connectedness and engagement, while others expressed frustration around the time investment of video feedback and lack of student engagement with the videos. There was no improvement to faculty course evaluations as a result of using video feedback.
Bahula and Kay (2020) conducted a review of research published between 2009 and 2019 that analyzed formative and summative video feedback provided through screencast and/or webcam formats. The recordings averaged seven minutes of recorded time. Overall, the quality of feedback delivered via video in these studies was regarded as positive, with an increased sense of cognitive and social presence. The studies found an overall preference for video feedback over text feedback. It is noteworthy that this review found negative perceptions of video feedback due to issues related to accessibility. The requirement of headphones or a quiet space to view feedback and the inability to locate specific feedback comments resulted in negative perceptions of the video feedback. Given the time frame of this review, it is not surprising that the early use of video tools did not meet accessibility needs. The current study uses the D2L Video Note tool, which includes closed captioning and an associated transcript of the closed captions, reducing the need for headphones and to re-watch to find a specific comment.
Belt and Lowenthal (2021) conducted a synthesis of research published from 2010 to 2020. This systematic literature review cited the theory of transactional distance, community of inquiry framework, and cognitive theory of multimedia learning as lenses which guided the various research studies. This review found video was used for differing purposes and different methods (synchronous/ asynchronous, lectures, discussions, assessment, feedback, etc.). Specifically, the studies focused on how video use in asynchronous online modalities influenced social presence and affect. Social presence was most highly impacted when videos included aspects of the instructor’s personal life. These studies found varied preferences for the amount of video feedback.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
The purpose of this study was to determine students’ perceptions of feedback received on the four major writing assignments in an online introductory writing class through two different feedback formats: written summary comments and video summary comments. The study explored student perceptions about the feedback as well as their perception on whether one modality or the other was more effective in helping them apply the feedback to their revision process. Students submitted a final portfolio requiring them to revise the four essays. In addition, the study investigated whether written or video feedback influenced the students in feeling more connected to their instructor, a pivotal element in the online learning environment.
This study addresses the following research questions:
RQ1: In what ways do students perceive feedback provided in a written format versus video format?
RQ2: Did students feel more equipped to apply instructor feedback when presented in a written format or video format?
Participants were NLU students who were enrolled in the two online sections of English 101: Beginning English Composition. Total student enrollment across the two sections was 42 students. IRB approval was obtained from NLU. Enrolled students received an email sent via the faculty on behalf of the principal investigator apprising them of the research project, asking for survey participation, and clarifying that their participation (or lack thereof) would have no bearing on their course grade. The survey resulted in an N=20 for questions 1-5, but the participation dropped to an N=19 for the remaining questions. Participation was voluntary, and faculty did not know which students took the survey. Participants received informed consent at the beginning of the survey. Affirmation of their understanding and willingness to participate were required prior to engaging with the survey questions. Participants provided attestation confirming their age as 18 or older prior to participating in the survey.
In order to create an aligned approach to grading, a Faculty Protocol was developed for the two faculty teaching the course. The English 101 course has four major essay assignments called “Milestones” that are ultimately revised by the students for a final portfolio. For the purpose of the study, two of these milestone assignments received written feedback and two received video feedback using the Video Note feature in the gradebook of D2L Brightspace. The faculty protocol offered specifics about which two milestone assignments would use written summary feedback and which used video summary feedback, as well as feedback considerations based on Peter Elbow’s (1993) work. Faculty alternated their feedback modality, with milestone 1 and 3 receiving written summary feedback and milestone 2 and 4 receiving video summary feedback.
Figure 1: Faculty Protocol Feedback Instructions
In addition, faculty were instructed to use the already-existing standard course rubrics to guide feedback on course assignments. Summary comments indicating key areas of revision were discussed whether the feedback was in written or video form. The overarching philosophy of the approach to feedback was that faculty remain aligned to their usual feedback practices in that faculty should not feel overly constrained in offering feedback. The protocol also provided faculty with the study recruitment email that was sent to students.
Figure 2: Study Recruitment Email
Dear ENGL 101 Student,
It is important to National Louis University that we continue to strive to create the best learning experience possible. To that end, we are conducting a research project to explore your perceptions of the feedback you received on the essay assignments in this course. Participation in this study will include responding to a qualitative survey that should take no more than 15 minutes of your time. There is no compensation associated with your participation. As a participant in this study, confidentiality will be guaranteed for you. Your faculty will not know how you responded and your responses on the survey will have no impact on your course grade.
We are conducting the study starting on XX to conclude XX and would welcome your participation. The survey will be open from XX to XX.
Thank you for your consideration.
Figure 3: Survey Questions
The survey design focused on student perception questions using a 5-point Likert scale and consisted of three sections. Section one and two were each five questions and focused on the student’s experience with the feedback specific to either the written or video modality. Within the five questions, the first three focused on the feedback’s clarity and usability. These three questions aligned with RQ2, related to the students’ application of feedback. The second two questions in the set focused on students’ perceptions of instructor support and personal confidence, aligned to RQ1. Section three included three total questions focused on the application of feedback and the student’s perception of potential writing improvement, specific to or regardless of modality. In addition, there was a final open response question for any additional comments.
For questions 1-5, please consider the WRITTEN feedback you received on your week 1 and week 3 essay assignments.
Next, please consider the VIDEO feedback you received on your week 2 and week 4 essay assignments.
For questions 11-13, please reflect on your preferences for video or written feedback from your instructor.
Open Response: If you have any other comments about your experience with and/or preference with written or video feedback on your essay assignments in this course, please share them below.
Clarity and Applicability of Feedback
The first question of the survey focused on the ease of understanding instructor feedback. 100% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that the written feedback was easy to understand. This compared to 94.7% of students agreeing or strongly agreeing that video feedback was easy to understand. Additionally, one (5.3%) student disagreed that video feedback was easy to understand.
Questions two and three focused on students’ perceptions of applicability of feedback and whether the feedback helped the student make revisions for the final portfolio. On the question of improvement, 95% of students agreed or strongly agreed that written feedback helped them improve their writing, while nearly the same percentage (94.7%) reported that video feedback helped them improve their writing. One student (5%) disagreed that the written feedback helped them improve, while one student (5.3%) was neutral/uncertain that video feedback helped them improve. Across both modalities (written and video), 100% of the students agreed that the feedback helped them make revisions for their final project.
Perceptions of Instructor Support and Personal Confidence
Within the questions that focused on personal confidence as a writer as well as perceptions of support from the instructor, the results were the same for both written and video feedback. 100% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that the written feedback increased their confidence as a writer. Likewise, 100% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that the video feedback increased their confidence as a writer. These results were similar for the question on whether the feedback made the student feel supported. In both modalities, 100% of students agreed or strongly agreed. Additionally, the percentage of those who specifically chose strongly agreed increased slightly across both modalities.
Student Preferences for Written or Video Feedback
The final three questions focused on which modality was the most effective way for students to learn to improve their writing, and whether they perceived a difference in written or video feedback ultimately impacting their ability to improve. On question 11, “Written feedback is the most effective way for me to learn to improve my writing,” 73.3% of students agreed or strongly agreed. This same question was posed regarding video feedback, and 63.2% of students agreed or strongly agreed that video feedback is the most effective way to improve. There were reported levels of neutrality/uncertainty in both modalities, with 21% of students reporting neutrality/uncertainty of written feedback in regard to their learning, and 26.3% reporting neutrality/uncertainty of video feedback and the influence on their learning.
Finally, 89.5% of students agreed or strongly agreed that they could improve their writing regardless of the feedback modality, while 10.5% were neutral/uncertain.
The qualitative questions yielded comments that focused either instructor praise or their overall apprehension about writing:
I was very worried to take an English class. My writing skills are not very strong. I was concerned and scared. The professor made me feel confident comforted, and I’m leaving the class with added skills.
One comment specifically focused on the feedback modality:
I think video feedback is easier to understand because the professor can give more explanations and examples. I feel that video feedback can provide us with more details than written. Also, as students, we can know more about our professors. In comparison, some text feedback can be confusing. Still, both of the feedbacks were well done.
In analyzing the student response to video and written feedback, there are a few noteworthy considerations. First, there was not a significant preference for one modality of feedback over the other. When looking at the responses related to video feedback, it is important to consider that this may have been an entirely new way for students to receive feedback on their writing. As such, some of the trend of neutrality or uncertainty could be attributed to the newness of the experience and students not being used to the video feedback modality. Pacansky-Brock et al. (2020) suggests that faculty be intentional and clear when integrating a new technology, explaining to students why they are using the tool. This consideration is one that could be integrated into the Faculty Protocol. As distance learning administrators are defining a plan for implementation of these approaches, it is important that they are creating a clear path for faculty to try these tools. Such a path should include providing a space for early communication and faculty feedback to understand how video and audio tools are being used currently for grading feedback, what additional training is needed, and a commitment of support from the administration. Thisapproach also requires cross-functional collaboration with other departments, including student advising, to ensure students know how to access and apply multimodal feedback.
What is clear is that students found the feedback to be specific and intentional, regardless of modality, suggesting that students desire quality feedback that is consumable and aligned to the rubric. Often, feedback can be overwhelming, and, therefore, not actionable. In this study, the faculty created clear, actionable feedback that led students to understanding their “next best step,” which proved valuable during the revision process. The value of the Faculty Protocol and specificity around the “spirit” of the feedback should not be overlooked. A future study could look at how this grounding of the feedback process may influence the specificity and perception of the quality of feedback.
In looking at instructor presence, the data suggest that students felt supported by their instructor, regardless of feedback modality. The qualitative comments offer additional insight into the connectedness between the students and faculty in these two courses. Students reported feeling confident, comfortable, and connected to their instructor. This suggests that the videos helped humanize the online environment and influenced perceptions of instructor presence.
LIMITATIONS & AREAS OF FURTHER CONSIDERATION
The limitations of this study are the small sample and limited duration of data collection within one 8-week term. Additional research is needed to understand the ways video impacts students' perceptions of areas such as belonging, teaching efficacy, and instructor presence. The LMS used in this study, D2L Brightspace, offers Video Note features in various areas of the online classroom, including within the announcements and discussion board. Understanding how using these features throughout the course, especially coupled with multimodal feedback, may influence the learning environment is an important next step of study.
Finding ways to help students and faculty build connections with one another impacts on the overall education experience. As noted by Pacansky-Brock et al. (2020) “Instructor-student relationships lie at the heart of humanizing, serving as the connective tissue between students, engagement, and rigor. Humanizing strategies use welcoming visuals and warm asynchronous communications to establish positive first impressions, trust between the instructor and students, and a culture of care in the online environment.” While caring feedback may be one element to a community of practice that fosters connection and meaningful learning, it is one that deserves attention. This is especially true for online students in courses that tend to be either barrier courses or those that evoke anxiety. Leveraging tools in the LMS to go beyond text-based approaches, which typically feel like a one-way path of passive learning, means pushing the boundaries of the intersection of learning through multimodal, actionable feedback and optimizing digital tools.
As distance learning administrators seek ways to support faculty engagement and student success, embracing new modes for feedback is one viable option. It is not enough, however, to assume that the mere presence of a tool means faculty will use it. Distance learning leaders must be intentional about defining a strategy for implementation, including training on video and audio tools native to the LMS, allowing application practice, and sharing the value-add for students and faculty. When online learning administrators create a clear pathway for experimentation of these tools, they create an ecosystem of success for both faculty and students.
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