Turnitin, a plagiarism software provider, launched Voice Comments, a new way for instructors to provide feedback on students’ writing, this May. Today, Turnitin’s Senior Education Manager, Jason Chu shares the ways that Voice Comments will improve personalized learning for students.
How did you first come across the idea to include voice feedback for students?
Writing instructors have told us that one of the most effective ways to provide student feedback on writing is through one-on-one conferences. And that what is valuable about the one-on-one conference is the opportunity to connect with the student through: tone of voice; explanations of feedback left on a paper; a sharing of the thought process that guided the instructor’s evaluation of a student’s work. Providing this type of feedback—in light of increasing class sizes as well as students’ decision to opt for virtual learning—has become increasingly challenging for instructors. Also, research (starting in the 70s) has continued to show the efficacy of using audio feedback to reach students. We wanted to help narrow the distance between instructor and student, and introducing a voice comment feature in Turnitin was a pedagogically-reinforced way to do just that.
Do you expect that Voice Comments will be used primarily in traditional schools or in online or blended programs?
For online and blended programs, where interaction with an instructor might be limited, the Voice Comments feature adds tremendous value. In fact, some of our users have told us that the voice feature will provide students with the only opportunity to hear their voice in their online class. That said, we think that instructors in traditional schools will also highly benefit from the added voice feature. Our users have already told us that the ability to leave voice comments is a big time saving tool (as compared to typing them out). They’ve also told us that having this feature will help them better accommodate different learning styles. Students, such as English language learners (ELL), can greatly benefit from feedback that is provided in more than one modality, and adding a voice comment accomplishes this.
What’s the psychology behind hearing the voice inflections and tone of feedback?
Instructor feedback is most effective when there is student investment in reviewing, processing, and then applying that feedback. Audio feedback has been shown to be an especially effective way to engage students. In a study by Ice, Swan, Kupczynski, and Richardson (2008), they found that students associated audio feedback with the feeling that the instructor cared more about the student. They also noted how audio feedback was associated with feelings of increased involvement and that students were “far more likely to apply content for which they received audio feedback than content for which text-based feedback was received.”
How can Voice Comments improve the way that students receive and internalize feedback from an educator?
Even as feedback on student writing has moved from the confines of paper marginalia to online services like ours that enable instructors to provide more substantive (and legible) feedback, instructors are still having to contend with the issue of students not reviewing paper feedback. One of the primary reasons why this happens is because students have difficulty interpreting their instructor’s remarks, whether this means deciphering what a “C/S” (comma splice) mark in the margin might mean to better understanding what it means when an instructor points out that a student’s “thesis” statement is not a thesis. Adding a voice comment is a way for instructors to provide necessary detail to their comments. The instructor can use the voice comment to explain why, for example, so many “C/S” marks were left and what the mark means or go into a more robust explanation of why a student’s thesis statement is not sufficient. In doing so, instructors can create greater student engagement with the feedback, helping them to process and then internalize it.
Do you expect that Voice Comments will save educators time while allowing them to give more detailed instruction?
Yes, instructors have already told us how much time they expect to save recording, rather than writing their comments. Voice Comments also allow an instructor to provide a student with more balanced feedback. For example, an instructor can use a voice comment to balance out—with tone of voice and additional explanation—some of the more critical written comments that may have been left on the paper. The critical comments are crucial for helping students to improve their writing, but students often don’t know how to interpret them. With a voice comment, instructors can balance that criticism out, facilitating the more effective uptake of written feedback.
 Ice, P., Swan, K., Kupczynski, L. & Richardson, J. (2008). The Impact of Asynchronous Audio Feedback on Teaching and Social Presence: A Survey of Current Research. In J. Luca & E. Weippl (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2008 (pp. 5646-5649). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.