Grade assignments quickly by recording screencapture videos
This eureka moment saved me hours of work and also impressed my students
When I made brief screen recordings of me actually using my students’ projects, I gave them feedback in a way that mattered to them.
This particular assignment asked them to create their own web pages from scratch, i.e. coding basic HTML and CSS to produce two or three pages, designed intentionally and interlinked.
My task was to click around their site and grade them on how it appeared to me and also on how easy or difficult I found it from a usability standpoint.
The whole course was about online interactivity, so it was important that they be able to see exactly what a user experienced, like whether or not images loaded as expected or whether multimedia functioned properly.
It was late. I was tired, but I promised my students I’d return their assignments by the next class, so I thought, there’s gotta be a better way to grade these things than writing a bunch of explanatory notes. I wish I could just chat with each one of them, tell them what I thought out loud in a conversation and I’d be done in about an hour.
Then I realized, hey, this laptop does a few tricks. What if I did just speak my thoughts out loud and recorded them using this QuickTime thing? I’d seen a QuickTime demo at some point in the past but hadn’t yet any real need for its recording feature, until right now.
The next day, super refreshed, I looked up a couple of YouTube videos on recording with QuickTime to refresh my memory, even found some of my own notes from when I learned about this before, then I opened each project in my browser and began recording my screen. To demonstrate the exact way that their work appeared to me, I navigated their page elements with my mouse and cursor and keyboard, all while I spoke out loud about what I saw, what I thought was well done or what I found confusing using voiceover.
And I didn’t worry one bit about making my recordings perfect. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to make these too professional or polished. I did each video in just one take, unconcerned if I committed the occasional misspoken phrase or if I stuttered a bit. I just relaxed and I got through it, keeping each examination to about four or five minutes.
For my 13 students, the whole recording process took me about 90 minutes (over two sittings) but I anticipated spending even more time than that if I was going to write out my feedback. So I’d say that this amounted to less work, especially because I would’ve taken time to make sure my written words were grammatically correct and perfectly punctuated.
I finished all the videos a day before our next class meeting so they each had time to review them and were prepared to discuss them in person. This also saved me class time because most of them preferred to discuss their own mistakes with me privately after class or during my office hours.
I knew that I’d have to execute this in a way that protected their work from public availability so I took advantage of YouTube’s privacy settings. I kept the videos private for each student by uploading the files to my YouTube account as a new unlisted channel, yet granting viewing access to only one single email address per video, matching videos with each student respectively. In practice, I think many students were comfortable showing their evaluations among one another because that helped them compare notes and learn more about their common pitfalls and my most helpful tips.
When I do it again this fall semester, what I’ll do different is spell out exactly how my feedback aligns with the criteria that I set up in the grading rubric. Although I’d described to them in detail the most important parts of the assignment on which I’d base my evaluation, I laid out my expectations verbally in class as I did demos and answered their questions. I think it’ll be more fair to my new students if they see my requirements written out formally.
As teachers we come up with some of our best ideas on the fly, probably because this work is inspiration in itself. So another lesson I learned is that it’s smart to incorporate skills that otherwise served a different purpose by repurposing them into current work. Back when I first learned about the feature, I wrote out step by step instructions about how to record the screen because I knew that I would need it someday and wouldn’t want to scramble around for instructions while I was pressed for time. That’s a still-developing practice of mine that I had to learn the hard way.
Here are those instructions I mentioned: “Produce Screencasts on a Mac”. I outline the basic steps to take and smart tips to follow when recording your screen. My example refers directly to QuickTime but the overall way to prepare can apply to any screen recording tool or service.