Professional Communication Improved by Giving Feedback via Video
The most powerful incentive for communicating clearly comes when students generate their own ideas and understand why those ideas matter. Professor Chris Kaiser maximizes the impact of his students’ voices in the professional world by helping them to communicate clearly in writing. In 7.19 Communication in Experimental Biology, students receive asynchronous video feedback on their assignment before a one-on-meeting meeting to discuss editorial changes. Student learning shifts from a focus on a one-time product to understanding the process behind an editorial cycle that leads to effective communication of their ideas.
In order to develop a technically complex argument and think about how to present their work, students are assigned to write email briefs as though they are scientific analysts at a firm. The assignment is based on a current realistic issue related to human genomics. The class reads and discusses research papers on such issues, leading up to the email assignment. Students then have to think through a scientific problem and be able to explain their analysis. The authentic learning scenario affords students the opportunity to apply their knowledge to a realistic scenario and hone their skills in communicating the information.
First, students submit a draft of the email brief. Then within two days, students receive a video made by Professor Kaiser using Explain Everything. In the video, he marks specific parts of the student writing while explaining his feedback verbally. Based on his experience as both a professional writer and scientist, Professor Kaiser describes what to improve, strategies on how to make changes, and what those potential changes do to make the message more impactful. Students can then leverage the video feedback to prepare to meet one-on-one with Professor Kaiser the following week, before submitting a revised draft. The assignment structure gives time and space to the process of improving written communication.
Timeline of the Email Brief Assignments
The video created using Explain Everything captures the sentiment of Professor Kaiser’s feedback, as students can hear his voice as though they are having a conversation together. The video, as described by former 7.19 student Madison Sneve, allows Professor Kaiser to share his initial reactions as he marks up the draft. From Madison’s perspective, Professor Kaiser’s first reaction to the draft provides helpful insight on whether main points are coming across to the reader as intended. Then, Professor Kaiser’s explanations help to strengthen and justify the argument in a way that is easily understood.
The video feedback feels personalized, can be viewed and re-viewed by students, and facilitates the teacher-student meetings later. Students can also listen to just the audio while on-the-go, which is exactly what helped Madison Sneve to begin reflecting on revisions before actually implementing them. Overall, every student improves the quality of their written briefs as a result of this process, whether or not they started as strong writers.
From the instructor’s perspective, providing feedback verbally can be more efficient than in writing. Students receive feedback immediately, often within two days, because of the ease of recording verbal feedback. By using an iPad and pencil and speaking out loud, Professor Kaiser explains a strategy for how a student’s writing can be improved and why the suggested revisions help them to better express their ideas. Interacting with students in this manner is rewarding and fun, as students gain skills to be effective communicators.
Students might not be used to receiving video feedback on writing, and some might equate a lengthy video with the need for lots of revision. However, by explaining his feedback method in advance, Professor Kaiser sets student expectations.
Another challenge in CI-M classes is ensuring that each student receives the individualized, timely feedback that helps them develop the writing skills necessary to achieve their own goals as scientists. It is crucial to pair together the science and the writing. Through video feedback and teacher-student meetings, Professor Kaiser builds upon what excites and interests the students.
Communication is a pathway to a goal.
The mechanics of writing are important and are attached to the ideas the students are trying to convey. Writing is a powerful tool for communicating, especially when students understand the impact their writing choices have on the message they want heard. In assignments like the email brief, Professor Kaiser considers the goals of the student and explains how revisions can help students to reach those goals. He also explains to students how to present themselves as experts via writing in the professional setting.
Different stages of writing serve different purposes.
When receiving feedback, students may need explicit reminders that writing needs to be developed. Student writers may sometimes misinterpret feedback as meaning that their assignment submission is incorrect. But, as Professor Kaiser tells his students, draft submissions are not right or wrong. Drafts are one part of the writing process, and with drafts, it is most important to get all ideas on paper. Other parts of the writing process afford students the chance to refine what they say and how they say it. Later in the process is when students consider how to best organize ideas, transition across ideas, or refine the details.
Technology facilitates the feedback process.
Digital tools, such as Explain Everything and Canvas Speedgrader, can be used to give immediate feedback in different modalities (e.g., audio, video) and asynchronously. When feedback is asynchronous, students are able to “digest” the information without social pressure, and this opportunity is especially helpful when assignments build in multiple revisions. With time to reflect on the information, students can think about the revisions they want to make to their drafts. Video feedback also leads to more productive one-on-ones and conversations on the best ways for a student to convey scientific information in a professional context.