How Much Feedback Can You Give? (or Take?)

Feedback is a word associated with very ambivalent feelings.

By and large, students need it and seek it. Faculty are loath to give it.

Admittedly, from the students’ perspective, getting feedback is often one of the best and easiest ways to make adequate changes and improve on performance.

For them, feedback should be prompt, relevant and easy to take on board.

On the contrary, from the academics’ perspective, providing feedback is often an extra burden to an already heavy workload and often translates into a painful and tedious activity.

No wonder so many universities score low on feedback on the National Student Survey. We are no execption.

Yet, providing useful, personal and detailed feedback is – or should be – a core activity of any teacher or supervisor who wishes his/her students to do well. So how does one reconcile two apparently conflicting demands?

I found my answer to this question some time ago, as I stumbled upon a blog post almost accidentally.

As it often happens with any serendipitous event, I have soon lost track of the original post, so I’m unable to give explicit credit to its author. But I’m happy to share its wisdom further.

The post suggested a (at least for me) radically different approach to giving feedback. It was an approach that would allow me to give plenty of valuable feedback to each of my students in a relatively short time and with comparatively little effort.

The students, in turn, would enjoy the novelty but most importantly, they would get the benefit of a very detailed and personal feedback on their written work that did not require them to decipher my handwriting or figure out what I had meant exactly with those funny scribbles of mine on their paper.

So, what was this magic bullet, then?


Video feedback.

And here is a short video-clip of a real case example of feedback I provided to one of my PhD students on her first year report (the clip is published with my student’s permission):

Cool, isn’t it?

I have become a great enthusiast of this approach because it offers lots of advantages compared to more traditional approaches. Some of the most obvious ones are listed here:

  • I can record the video any time it suits me without arranging a meeting with the student (this is especially useful when one of us is away and arranging for a Skype call may prove difficult)
  • I can provide lots of useful verbal feedback that would probably take me ten times longer if I had to write it all down
  • The student can watch the video whenever it suits him/her
  • the student can watch the video as many times and s/he wants to or needs to
  • I still have the option of adding written feedback on the original document (either through annotations on the doc or pdf file as in my example about or through handwritten annotation using a smart pen on tablet)

So, how does it work in practice?

Well… the way I do it is as follows: the student sends me a report, a chapter draft or any written document that I am supposed to read and provide feedback on. I read the document and take quick notes as I go along, often annotating the pdf or doc file directly. I decide what I want to say in my feedback: I typically start with some general points and then move on to some very specific issues. And finally, I hit the record button on my screencast software.

If a 5-min video is enough for your purposes, the easiest thing is to download and install some free software that allows you to take a screen-capture of your computer screen. When I started off, I used Jing ( ): it is very intuitive and easy to use. You launch the program, open the student’s report, select the area on your screen that you want to capture and start recording. Once finished, Jing provides a number of different ways to share your videos, including copying the link to it straight into your clipboard. You can then send the link to the video via email, save the recorded file on your computer or even upload it to to share further.

Jing’s only limitation is time. You cannot record videos longer than 5 minutes (although of course you are free to record as many 5-min videos as you want).

If you feel more adventurous or need longer recording capacity, you may consider more professional packages. The video clip above was taken with Camtasia Studio ( ), a video recording and editing suite. Camtasia is not free, but its capabilities are amazing. (In fact, I have started using Camtasia also for producing high quality videos for purposes other than giving feedback.)

Admittedly, the learning curve with using Camtasia is much steeper at first, but once you grasp the basics you can record, save and export your videos in a matter of minutes.

I’m sure there are plenty of other software out there for you to choose from. These are just a couple of examples that work well for me.

Have I gone away from providing feedback in traditional face-to-face meetings? No. But video feedback has come extremely handy on lots of occasions.

Of course, like everything you do for the first time, providing video feedback may take you a while to get used to, but the time you save in the long run is definitely worthwhile the initial hussle.

So, if you are an academic struggling with finding the time to give your students valuable and detailed feedback, why not give it a try?

And if you are a student who would love to receive video feedback from your supervisors, why not share this post with your them?

I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.

PS Oh, and if you happen to be the author of the blog post I mention, please know that I’m hugely grateful to you (you know who you are!).

9 thoughts on “How Much Feedback Can You Give? (or Take?)

  1. Y. Prior

    Hi – great post and I really agree with the value of feedback and I did not realize that the scores in this area are so low. But it makes sense. However, I do not really care for the video feedback idea – for a few reasons. Here are a couple. First, not all people are well spoken – and I think translating and grasping what was said could sometimes be a problem – especially with accents or speed of speech – or pronunciation. You may be Mrs. Smooth – but not all area. Also, this may appeal to audio learners more than others – and I think more folks need to see it in print.

    And do you really still add scribbles and are there really hand written papers still? Well I thought everything was done on the computer these days – and speaking of that, have you ever used Track Changes in Word? Well it is pretty amazing – and it is another reason I do not really think the video feedback would work for me (IMHO 😉 ) – because track changes allows the mentor to give feedback while reading the paper – with one click they can insert the comments right at the spot it relates to – and the student can read it anytime they want – and it provides feedback that is “prompt, relevant and easy to take on board” – in fact, when I edit papers for students – the track changes are amazing because you can say “see comment 24” – and then keep moving on. And as a student under mentors who use track changes, well I have learned so much from those little bubbles that get packed with edit ideas and improvements. That is, when mentors know how to give feedback!! So when the mentor does have this skill – I have soaked it up and benefitted. And so I think the problem is that not all professors, teachers, or mentors know HOW TO GIVE feedback – and many of the brilliant ones just are not always gifted at teaching and coaching students along. Some are more wired for writing text books or adding to the lit – or who knows – but sadly, many people take key positions when they simply were not called to teach.

    In closing, I still think it is great idea and if the video feedback works for you- and many others – well that is an awesome way to use the tech that is available!! I also bet that for some folks, it provides a nice warm, personal feel that sometimes gets lost with all the paper exchanging….

    thanks for the idea- and for noting the importance of feedback – – 🙂

    1. Marialuisa Aliotta Post author

      Yes, I totally agree, not everyone is good at teaching, or coaching or providing feedback. And I’m not arguing for a moment that technology can offset any of the above. I also make extensive use of track changes in Word and similar tools in pdf documents as well. I then send the student both the annotated file and the video where I say more than I could if I had to annotate every single word. As you say, this adds a touch of personal feel that would be lost otherwise. But I do agree, that not everyone would like this way of giving or getting feedback. And that’s ok too.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. Frauke Moebius

    I love the idea of using video for feedback. As a student I would adore getting this kind of feedback and attention.
    I just wanted to mention another screencapture program that I use with a very low fee for unlimited video length: I think even in the free version it allows up to 15 minutes of video. I use it for my coaching videos.
    Thanks again for a great idea on feedback!
    – Frauke

  3. Fariba Haghighi

    Amazing! I liked it so much. Thanks so much, Dr. Aliotta for sharing your experience with us. It is a great approach. However, I think the way of giving feedback should be matched to our students’ cognitive strategies, if they are used to get written or visual feedback, I mean. Or in the other hand, sometimes in my own students I have realized that when I give them ready corrections, they don’t consider them carefully. Just giving a quick look and passing the point. On the contrary, the signs with no written words attract their attention more and they reflect on it to find the reason of highlighting or underlining parts. Of course, the level of the students also would be important in selecting the way of giving feedback. For PhD students or undergraduate students it would make a difference, I think.
    Any way, I liked your video feedback and the software you introduced. I will try them of course to see how they work.

    1. Marialuisa Aliotta Post author

      Yes, Fariba, you are absolutely right and the mode of feedback delivery should also take into account the students’ stage and their preferred learning strategies.

      I have used video feedback both with undergraduate and postgraduate students and always with very positive… feedback from them. But, of course, preferences vary and other people may not like this approach.

      Let us know how it goes if you decide to try this out.

  4. Chantal

    Wow, simple and efficient, once we master the technology. I have found that many older academics have a really heavy hard time with using new tools; many just want to focus on the work and end up digging themselves a grave of late and confusing pile of so many different things to do, to mark, to write, to process, etc. (should all “etc.” be italicized? It is a Latin word (abbreviation)). When I approached some of them (a good number of them) with software suggestions I provoke a panic; they either don’t even try it, or when they do, for some reason, it never works for them and makes their resistance to try other suggestions even stronger. Many are running against the clock, hoping to end their career without having to deal with too many new tools that are supposed to make our life easier, running in a vicious circle, becoming less available for their student while, with their seniority, they should be there even more before they retire.

    1. Marialuisa Aliotta Post author

      Hi Chantal, Yes I know what you mean. I guess I will join the crowd of those academics in a few years’ time…

      …and then I too will not want to have anything to do with new technologies 🙂

      And yes, etc. should be in italics 🙂


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