Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Positioning and New Media (and how I am feeding back to students)

I've been experimenting for some time with 'feeding back' to students using video. In fact, this practice grew directly out of my experiences of doing this blog, particulary where I use CamStudio to capture me writing using the inking tools in Microsoft Office. I've found that I can 'get through' to students more effectively in this way than by using text; they seem to actually respond to the comments made and develop their work more effectively (which, after all, is the whole point of 'feedback'). Whilst I don't want to say 'everyone should do it', I am interested in why (if it is more effective) video is effective, and how it might work.

My initial thoughts are that there is something more gentle about the video as opposed to text, both in its creation and in its viewing. The writing of text feedback to students is not top of my list of 'favourite aspects of the job', and sometimes the irritation I feel doing the task can seep into the content of what I write. I don't think I'm alone.

So instead, I imagine the student is sat in front of me. I relax. With their work (in Word format) in front of me, with the Word inking tools on, and with CamStudio recording what I do, I read through their text line-by-line, making marks as I do so. I'm very relaxed because I know that sometimes I'll make a mark only to change my mind. I do this in silence (I record my voice later). I can think and really engage with what might be going on with the student. I've even been known to doodle as I do it. CamStudio records the process I go through: it captures boredom, irritation, thoughts, ideas, changes of mind, revisions, recommendations, etc.

I then speed up the video in MovieMaker - because it's far too slow in real-time (I learnt this from doing my improvisations!); and no feedback video should really be longer than 5 minutes. I then record a voice-over which is often surprisingly easy, because I've done all the thinking as I marked-up the document. Job done. I render it and stick in Dropbox for the student.

I've done this a lot now. I have the following reflections on it:

  1. The experience involves a number of different types of communication: speech, visual: in fact, this is very similar to the rich feedback of face-to-face.
  2. The student has some vicarious insight into the experience of reading their own work through the eyes of the teacher.
  3. The teacher, in revealing their experience, is less of an authority figure, and more like another human being who's experience can be inspected.
  4. As a result the general experience is less threatening.

All of those things might be useful, but they don't in themselves explain why these experiences occur.

My sense is that there's something about the way students are 'positioned' by video feedback as opposed to text. Good positioning means empowering the 'social self' (Harre's Self-3). That can be done through creating a context where a greater connection can be made between psychological 'storylines' (intentionality) and illocationary acts. (This I think is the same as the structural coupling between Luhmann's Psychic and Social systems). What's in the 'position' that enables this? Well, I think that openness of the video, the ambiguous nature of its connotative communication (as opposed to the denotative communication of text feedback), the vulnerability that the teacher exposes and the greater empathy that results all can have a systemic explanation which can go some way to accounting for the experience.

But at the bottom of it all, there's something more richly sensual about the whole thing. The rich range of triggers as the video shows the pen passing over the learner's document ("that's my document they're talking about!"), and the voice of the teacher, all do something to the state of the observer. It may be that the route to the connecting of illocutionary acts to storyline (of psychic systems to social systems) lies in this twiddling of the 'sensual knobs' (an unfortunate phrase, but not inaccurate!) in rich communication.

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