You may or may not have heard about a new(ish?) technology tutors and educators are using to give writers feedback.
Screencasting? That thing that UCWbL tutor Edward E. is so pumped about?
Yes. Screencasting. That thing Edward E. is so pumped about.
Screencasting is an asynchronous method of giving writers feedback. The tutor reads the paper and makes notes on what they want to respond to. Then, they record audio of their voice and video of their computer screen as they talk through their response, usually using the screen to point out specific sections of the writer’s writing or to pull up helpful resources.
Edward E. asked a few tutors, including me, in the Spring if they would be interested in doing a sort of trial training with Screencasting. He chose three essays for these tutors to respond to and met with us individually once to explain how the process would go down, and then again after each mock appointment to talk about how things went.
Attempt (and Failure) 1
My first trial was awful. For lack of a more eloquent way of expressing my inability to deal, I freaked out. I have a history of being initially overwhelmed by new and unfamiliar tasks without a defined workflow. While this is something I’ve definitely gotten better at, I’m still similarly plagued with distress when confronted with new tasks when I let anxiety get the better of me.
I left the writing center and went to a separate room (for those of you familiar with the UCWbL, the media room) to be able to record without being interrupted or distracted by other appointments. Edward was giving us an hour to complete each appointment and assured me he took much less time himself to conduct one (thinking about this only further freaked me out about my own incompetency). When trying to log into the gmail, youtube, and screencast accounts necessary for uploading my feedback, I kept being blocked out because I couldn’t keep my passwords straight. I ended up getting frustrated, as I do, and pushing this step to the end. I was also confused about why I needed these accounts…couldn’t I just send my recording to Edward? Why is it on youtube? What’s gmail (just kidding. I obviously know what gmail is)? Of course, Edward had answers to these questions. I was merely irked in the midst of my first time using this technology.
I took way too long to prepare for the actual screencast. I read the paper once completely through, and then went back and handwrote notes so I could view them while recording and they wouldn’t show up on the screen, which the writer would see. I don’t handwrite very often anymore, so this process felt particularly time-consuming. I was anxious about recording and not knowing what I wanted to say once I started, so my notes were incredibly extensive. Finally feeling “ready” to record my screencast, I looked down to see pages of scrawling, unscaffolded notes, and then up at the computer to see I had ten minutes till the end of my hour.
Attempts 2 and 3
Accepting I was not going to be able to finish the screencast, Edward and I decided I would simply move on to the next two essays during my upcoming sessions. A week later I found myself again in the media room. Things weren’t the smoothest, but they were smoother. I found the essay and guidelines on digication and logged into the screencasting, gmail, and youtube accounts. I think that many tutors who first encounter this technology will similarly find that it is difficult to not compare the process to written feedback—I wanted to stick with what was comfortable and first write what I wanted to say to the writer. Thus, my notes were overly extensive—I was worried about not being able to remember what I wanted to say. They became more of a distraction than an aid, similar to overpreparing notecards for a presentation. I felt like I was reading a written feedback to the screencast, not making the most of the affordances that this medium could offer that written feedback couldn’t.
Despite these bumps, I completed the screencast in just over an hour. I felt okay about my feedback; I know I’ve done better. Because the technology was new, my attention was split between giving the best feedback I could and using screencasting software. This only became less of a problem in the third session. I learned to take less notes before starting my recording, one of the most important things I learned about screencasting. This was difficult for me, however, because I’m so accustomed to feeling more prepared by writing more.
After my third screencast session, I began to feel like I was getting it. I could convey meaning in a way that I couldn’t in a written feedback—through the tone of my voice and just being able to say more. I liked being able to look at resources “with” the writer by showing them websites and how to navigate to the pages and resources I thought would be useful to them. The kinds of appointments I’m used to—face-to-face, written feedback, and online realtime—have certainly equipped me with valuable and transferable skills to make the most of new means of giving feedback. It makes sense that when we’re confronted with a new technology, we want to compare it to what we know, but be prepared to develop new skills to be able to meet the demands and take advantage of the affordances of new technologies.
Advice for Future Screencasters
For those of you who anticipate using screencasting to provide feedback in the future, I do have a few specific suggestions for you. Trust yourself! You’ve likely talked through someone’s writing with them before, so be confident in your ability to communicate your thoughts and suggestions. In other words, don’t feel like you need to write down everything you want to say, like I did at first. It’s helpful to make notes of where in the document something you’d like to talk about appears, and then a key phrase to remind you what it was you wanted to explain to the reader.
I also suggest making the most of the pause function while Screencasting! I initially felt pressure to record the entire screencast in one go, but I’ve found it much more effective to record the video in chunks, tackling one theme at a time.
I’ve only heard good things from writers who have received feedback in the form of a screencast. Have any of you ever received or given feedback in the form of a screencast? How did it go? What did you think? I’d love to hear your responses in the comments below!