James Tsatsaronis, LaTrobe University
Student Engagement and Belonging
In my role as a teaching-focussed academic, one of the stickier issues that I and my colleagues often face is maintaining student engagement in our subjects. This issue seems well recognised in the literature, with a deluge of books and hundreds of articles published within the last 10 years dedicated to this topic (Harper, 2010; Lowe, 2023; Robinson, 2012). I’ve always felt that student engagement is influenced by how connected the student feels to the subject or subject coordinator and to what degree they feel they “belong” to the subject community. The literature seems to support this, as a commonly used definition of student engagement published by Fredricks et al. (2004) refers to student “emotional engagement” as their sense of belonging in the course (p.63).
Building a Connection in Online Spaces
Trying to foster this sense of belonging is fiendishly tricky, and only seems to have gotten harder in recent years. The impact of the COVID pandemic and other drivers resulted in fewer on-campus classes at many universities (Sankey, 2021). In many cases, these classes have been replaced with online synchronous or asynchronous learning activities. Building student belonging, particularly between students and teachers, in online environments is a known challenge (Dumford & Miller, 2018). Missing those opportunities to talk with students within classes, ignite their passions and foster connection all seems harder when classes are online and/or asynchronous. However, a chance discussion with a colleague alerted me to a potential way to mitigate this lost connection. They pointed out that the Turnitin Studio had an embedded tool for recording audio feedback, and that this might be a good method to maintain student engagement through feedback.
Recorded Audio Feedback
Using recorded audio feedback for assessments is not a new approach, although it may be underutilised. A survey of 4268 Australian university students recently showed that only 4.5% had received audio feedback comments through a digital recording either singly or in combination with other feedback modes (Ryan et al., 2019). This study also showed that students perceive digitally recorded audio feedback as being significantly more detailed and personalised to them, relative to rubrics and handwritten/electronic comments (Ryan et al., 2019). The type of language used in recorded audio feedback may be different to written feedback, Nemec and Dintzner (2016) note that audio feedback incorporated significantly fewer words associated with negative emotions, and significantly more certainty words and words associated with cognitive process.
What do students think of it?
We set out to add to these studies and explore how students perceive recorded audio feedback at a finer level. Surveying and semi-structured interviews supported previous findings that students find recorded audio feedback clear and easy to understand, convenient, and also more personal than written feedback (Tsatsaronis et al., 2022). Thematic analysis of the text responses and surveys transcripts indicated that students had different expectations receiving recorded audio feedback, specifically that they thought it should be easier for staff to provide and perhaps make for “quicker returns to students to help with future assessments”. An aspect I found most interesting was that some students mentioned having a difference in their emotional response to the feedback. Some described hearing the markers voice as helping “soften the blow” of hearing critique delivered in this way. One student mentioned:
I feel that audio feedback felt less condescending than regular written feedback, not being able to hear the tone of the feedback personally made it feel a little condescending.
Taken together, recorded audio is unlikely to be a silver bullet for student engagement, but might help foster improved connection between students and teachers in an online or blended environment. This connection would, hopefully, promote more belonging to the learning community in the subject and help mitigate student anxieties and negative emotions when receiving critique of their assessment.
Dumford, A. D., & Miller, A. L. (2018). Online learning in higher education: exploring advantages and disadvantages for engagement. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 30(3), 452-465. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12528-018-9179-z
Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School Engagement: Potential of the Concept, State of the Evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59-109. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543074001059
Harper, S. R. (2010). Student Engagement in Higher Education Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations. Hoboken : Taylor and Francis.
Lowe, T. (2023). Advancing student engagement in Higher Education : reflection, critique and challenge. London : Routledge.
Nemec, E. C., & Dintzner, M. (2016). Comparison of audio versus written feedback on writing assignments. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 8(2), 155-159. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2015.12.009
Robinson, C. (2012). Exploring student engagement in Higher Education theory, context and practice. Bradford : Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Ryan, T., Henderson, M., & Phillips, M. (2019). Feedback modes matter: Comparing student perceptions of digital and non-digital feedback modes in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(3), 1507-1523. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12749
Sankey, M. (2021). Returning to lectures in 2021: An ACODE Whitepaper. Canberra, Australia: Australasian Council on Open Distance and eLearning (ACODE)
Tsatsaronis, J. A., Binger, K. J., & Durand, F. M. (2022). Recorded audio feedback: bridging the chasm between educator and student in online assessment Reconnecting relationships through technology. Proceedings of the 39th International Conference on Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education, ASCILITE 2022, Sydney.