Tips from Pros: Voice Feedback for Better Learning

Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of providing voice feedback on student work. Phil Ice did one of the first studies of voice feedback, comparing text to voice in a graduate education course. The students surveyed after the course showed a strong interest in voice feedback, with 26 preferring voice over text and 4 expressing no preference. Nobody expressed a preference for text over voice.

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Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of providing voice feedback on student work. Phil Ice did one of the first studies of voice feedback, comparing text to voice in a graduate education course. The students surveyed after the course showed a strong interest in voice feedback, with 26 preferring voice over text and 4 expressing no preference. Nobody expressed a preference for text over voice. A number of themes emerged from these and other studies on the benefits of voice feedback: Increased content retention. Students believed that they retained audio feedback better than text feedback, and interestingly, students also believed that they retained content to which the audio feedback was related better than content for which they received text feedback. These opinions were supported by the observation that students incorporated audio feedback three times more often than text feedback in their final assignments. Increased instructor caring. Studies have shown that the number-one trait that students want in an instructor is care for their learning, and voice feedback has been proven to convey a better sense of care for the student than text feedback because it is perceived to be more personal than text. More feedback in less time. Faculty provide far more feedback in far less time using voice. Mostly, this is because we can speak much faster than we can type. But we also tend to pay more attention to text comments to eliminate grammatical errors, partly because it looks bad to grade students down for what we do ourselves. More expressive language. Faculty were also found to be using five times as many adjectives with voice feedback than with text feedback. Use of adjectives is associated with more expressive language, which keys in to our emotional centers, the centers that really pay attention.   Improved ability to understand nuance. The most common theme expressed in semistructured interviews was that students could understand nuances in a faculty member's feedback much better when it was given by voice. Less isolation and more motivation. Online education can be an isolating experience. Without the sight of fellow learners in a classroom, an online student can feel like he or she is on an island. Traditional text feedback can add to this experience by giving the impression that it is coming from a computer rather than a human being. The presence of voice reminds students that the teacher is a human being, and as a result makes them feel less isolated and more motivated to participate in the class. Students consider the work more deeply. Studies that build on the work of Ice suggest that students reflect on their work and the feedback more in voice form than text form. One study found that a far greater number of students take notes on faculty feedback when it is given in voice form. Related to this is the observation that faculty tend to give more advice in voice form, which tends to make the feedback more useful to the students, leading them to pay attention more (Bhagat, 2012). How to provide voice feedback There are two ways to provide voice feedback to students. The first is to embed the comments directly into the student's assignment. The second is to record the comments to a cloud-based sound repository and then provide the student with a link to that file to play online. Both methods are fairly simple. The advantage of the first is that it takes a bit less time and connects the feedback directly to the assignment, so there is no problem with losing the connection later. The disadvantage of the first is that it can lead to large files that some learning management systems might not be able to transfer. Take a look at this tutorial demonstrating both techniques for providing voice feedback to students: https://youtu.be/FCBh2LHIv4o. Best practices Text comments. While screencasting feedback may be best used for higher-order conceptual issues, text-margin comments are still best for lower-level writing issues (Ice, 2007). If a faculty member wants to simply correct a spelling error for the student, then it should be done in a text comment. This provides students with an easy reference to the problem, and there is little need for nuance in feedback when simply pointing out the incorrect form of “their.” Editing. Faculty should not worry about editing out linguistic pauses or errors in their feedback by rerecording it. Editing will cause the time commitment to explode, and it is unnecessary. We do not edit out the “ums” and “ahs” in our face-to-face conversations. If we misspeak, we simply follow it up with a correction. We are used to listening through the various linguistic pauses and corrections that are a normal part of our speech, so they do not bother us. ADA. One common question among faculty is whether ADA issues arise with voice feedback. The Americans with Disability Act (1990) requires institutions to make “reasonable” accommodations for students who self-identify with a learning issue. Faculty should inform students at the beginning of class that they are using voice feedback. This allows any student who has an ADA issue, such as a hearing problem, to notify the faculty member. The faculty member can then simply go back to using the same text feedback that the student would have been given otherwise. Resources Bhagat, J. (2012). Using audio feedback to help students improve their work. Warrington's Works Research Festival, July 2012. Ice, P. (2007). Using asynchronous audio feedback to enhance teaching presence and students' sense of community. The Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(2), 3-25.