Audio Assessment Feedback

In 2007 I hit upon an idea to use a different approach to way that I gave feedback to my students about their assessments.  What I had observed for years was that most students would only look at the bottom line (their mark) when they received an assessment back and that reading the comments was overlooked.

This was frustrating for me as at times I would write nearly a page of notes that was aimed at giving my students the information that they need to make improvements in the future.  As a result of them not making use of the written feed back many of them would continue to make the same mistakes over again, until I spoke with them individually.  In a busy classroom and with lots going on this was not really an effective or efficient approach.

So I hit upon the idea of giving my students an audio file.  I figured that since the students used mp3 players all of the time to listen, to music that this might be accepted reasonably well.

I did a bit of research and at the time the only reference that I could find was to a college in Canada, where a teacher had been using the concept since the early 1990’s using audio tape.  Some years later there had been a small study done and the response to the concept was overwhelmingly positive.  That sounded like a good reason to try it for myself to me.

So to get started I down loaded a free software called ‘Audacity’ (link) that would allow me to make my recording and then save it in mp3 format.  Audacity is easy to install and easy to use but you will need to purchase a mic.  I decided on a combined headset and microphone.

I then marked the work in the usual way but instead of writing comments I spoke to the work, making suggestions and giving praise in the usual way.  The idea was to speak for no more than 4 to 5 minutes.  One of the key benefits is and was, that you can say a lot more in 4 minutes than you can write in that amount of time, you can address individual aspects of the work more closely and you can use the inflection in your voice to good effect.

With the assistance of our IT technical staff we were able to create secure folders for each student on their school computer account.  When the file was ready it was saved in their folder and was ready for them to listen to.  Other alternatives would be to supply the file on a thumb drive or another cheap media device.

So when the students received their assessment work back, they now only had a marks sheet without written comments.  The process of getting the feedback was explained, the students then either used their own head phones or borrowed a set that I had, opened the mp3 file and listened in.

The results were amazing and I am not overstating this.  Yes the idea was new and a bit different but when you see students carefully scanning their returned work, listening intently and then shortly after coming up and telling you that they are now just making some alterations to their next assessment based on the feedback that they have just received, well what more could you want.

The process also resulted in better outcomes for most. Marks went up and I was getting nagged for the next audio instalment.

When I started out I didn’t really take into account which students would directly benefit and why, as it was just an experiment. However later I could see that the students who had poorer literacy skills were targeted nicely by this approach but without a doubt all of the students benefited.

Since then I have continued to use 'audio assessment' with about two assessments per student per semester, mixing it up with the more traditional marking styles that I use.  The idea here is to keep the concept new and give my students different types of feedback. 

Each year I have also conducted a short survey with the students to gauge the thoughts and opinions.  Overwhelmingly the response has been positive and seen as a preferred method of receiving constructive feedback for the work done in my teaching area.

It seems that the idea has grown as a concept worldwide and there are now a number of studies and papers about the concept.  So with this in mind I have attached some links below.

So to sum up; If you're looking for a different way to give feed back to your students about their work or just their general progress I would encourage you to give this idea a go.  I would amazed if you and/or your students were disappointed.


Reflections on using digital audio to give assessment feedback 

Does providing academic feedback to students via mp3 audio files 

Sounds Good: Quicker, better assessment using audio feedback

Using audio email feedback in formative assessment



  Copyright: Ross de Hoog 2012              switch menu by