Screencast commentary for formative feedback


Dr Bill Soden from the Department of Education used screen capture tools to create digital formative feedback via video commentary for taught Masters students in option modules in Language Education. This screencast feedback (SCFB) approach provided explanatory, personalised feedback which helped to mitigate emotional issues around critical comments while at the same time encouraging deeper engagement.

Key words: screencast; feed forward; depth of feedback; formative work.

Aims and Objectives

First term option modules (20 students max) provide a perfect opportunity for international taught Masters students in Education to receive formative feedback on their first attempts at academic writing. Since summative assessment is in the form of documented essays (4-5000 words) and these students have little or no prior experience of the critical academic writing expected of them, this is a key feedback event. Written feedback has a number of recognised limitations which can be magnified for inexperienced international student writers: illegibility of handwritten comments; use of terms which require unpacking; tendency to be impersonal and to indicate problems without helping the writer understand how to improve.

This initiative aimed to:

  • Overcome issues of legibility by using digital text/commentary.
  • Provide more detailed explanatory feedback than written end comments.
  • Create a more personal connection between the tutor-marker and student.
  • Engage students with feedback to enable it to feed forward to future work.


The formative feedback was based on ‘mini-assignments’ with feedback delivered via the Yorkshare VLE.

  • The video commentaries provided a reader response to student work, picking out positives while showing the student where problems were in the text, and explaining how to address them in an encouraging tone.
  • The video commentaries could be downloaded and re-visited as many times as required.
  • Students were encouraged to take notes and asked to discuss their feedback in class and to ask further follow up questions via a Google Form; the tutor used responses to write FAQs in which persistent issues were identified and addressed.


A standard assignment submission point for students to upload their work was set up in the VLE. The tutor then accessed the students’ work in Grade Centre and used the Grade Centre tools (Crocodoc viewer) to highlight and annotate texts before making a video recording. Annotations included some short word box comments in the margins of the text.

Snagit screencapture software was used (other freely available software such as Screen-cast-o-matic are also ideal and the University’s Replay system can also be used) to record a commentary while the tutor moved the cursor around to focus on different aspects and parts of the text.  An mp4 (video file) was saved to the tutor’s Google Drive for reference and the video file then uploaded in the Grade Centre as an attachment. Students accessed feedback via the same submission point they used to upload their written work; they were able to see their own feedback only and could download and view it locally.


  • Engagement with the feedback has been notable; a number of students in a follow up focus group reported viewing their feedback several times in order to make notes and grasp all the detail. The video commentary could not be read through quickly and put to one side but appeared to ‘force’ student engagement as they reviewed the commentary to be sure they grasped the points made.
  • Feedback from students is always positive, and the feeling that the tutor is speaking directly to them makes it a positive experience for many, despite the fact that much of the feedback inevitably focuses on problems with academic writing and writing from sources for the first time.
  • This SCFB approach involves unrehearsed 5 minute recordings which, with recent developments in the technology, can be saved and made available in the VLE very quickly. If video alone is used it could save time over writing even half the amount of detail in written comments. Time is not necessarily saved if some margin comments are added to texts, but students also benefit from these and they help the marker navigate through the text when making the video.
  • There is a ‘showing’ as well as ‘telling’ element to SCFB, so paragraphs can be moved around on screen, and revisions to content can be made as the tutor explains them. Depth of feedback was achieved by explaining several key issues with a piece of work rather than superficially indicating many. Selected language errors, for example, could be highlighted and short explanations given to remind students of why they were making mistakes and what rules to apply to carry out their own corrections

Some issues with feedback to these groups were not necessarily resolved by the initiative:

  • Where serious issues of cut and paste plagiarism emerged, for example, these still demanded individual meetings with the student.
  • The initiative revolved around one piece of student writing, and without some kind of summative mark that encouraged use of feedback in revisions for future tasks, the impact on the uptake of feedback was reduced and difficult to measure.

Transferable lessons

The screencast feedback approach can be used formatively in other contexts. Colleagues have used this in Distance Learning (Social Policy and Social Work) where face to face meetings are more difficult to set up, and it has been identified as appropriate where small teams of tutors give feedback to smaller cohorts (e.g. Health Sciences Midwifery). Where supervisors have to give feedback on student drafts of dissertations or research chapters (at undergraduate/graduate/PhD levels) the approach can be time saving for tutor and student-videos can be easily shared via Google Drive. One tutor using this approach has commented on potential for saving time, in that 3 minutes of clear explanation in a video can sometimes obviate the need for a 1:1 meeting, or help to make such meetings more efficient by focusing the student’s questions.

The SCFB approach works well with essay style tasks but could work equally well with tasks that involve other digital artefacts, e.g., use of spreadsheets (Accountancy) or digital posters, art and design, music scores etc.

The SCFB approach would not be feasible with very large cohorts in the same way that individual personalised written feedback may not be appropriate. The approach seems less applicable to summative feedback situations where moderation and external examining requires that texts can be quickly reviewed, and markers write feedback for multiple audiences.

Next Steps

Case study last updated: April 2016