Incorporate Video Feedback in Teaching

In traditional educational contexts, providing meaningful feedback to students can enhance their learning and improve their learning performance. In online teaching contexts or in response to assignments submitted for formal assessment, providing written feedback is considered to be the most commonly used format.

Research shows that video feedback can effectively enhance students’ engagement. For example, Crook & Park (2012) showed that video feedback enabled the provision of rapid, accessible and engaging, generic feedback, and most staff and students agreed that video enhanced their feedback experience.

In online classes especially, students find it difficult to engage with course content, assignments, and their instructor and classmates. Video feedback allows instructors to “help students take in feedback as part of an ongoing conversation about their work instead of a personal criticism” (Thompson & Lee, 2012, p.14).

There are different formats when using video feedback:

  1. Voice-over with screencasting/screen-recording: For some complex assignments, using screencasting together with spoken commentary allows instructors to provide students with in-depth feedback and/or evaluation with a demonstration. For example when instructors use video comments for response papers and written assignments, they can zoom in and highlight the portions for discussion while scrolling through the document.
  2. Using video commentary as the feedback: Different than written feedback, the organized voice feedback with or without the instructor’s facial expressions transform  feedback into an ongoing conversation. It is easier for instructors to show appreciation, introduce new ideas, ask questions, and provide suggestions for next steps in this dynamic format.

Although video feedback has a positive impact on students’ learning, it requires that instructors spend additional time at the computer and find a quiet place to record the video. Here are some tips to mitigate those technological challenges:

  1. Become familiar with the online teaching platform and video recording devices available.  Research and test the steps to record video and upload to the platform as feedback.
  2. Prepare/organize the narration by drafting an  outline before recording the video.
  3. Review the final version of the video, and edit if necessary.

In Canvas at Emerson, instructors can add a video comment directly to an assignment submission. Here are the instructions:

  1. Click on the assignment and go to “Submission Details.”
  2. On the right side of the screen, under the “Add a comment” box, either click on “Media Comment” to record a video or audio, or click on “Attach File” to choose pre-recorded media files from your device.
  3. If you want to record video or audio, click on “Media Comment” and then click on either “video” or “audio” icon to enable the recording device. If the request for access pictured below appears, click “Allow.”
  4. Click on the red dot to record media.When finish recording, you may review and click on the “Save” button to send the media comment.




Reading and Remixing: Teaching the Self-Generating Poem

One memorable afternoon in my Digital Literature class from a couple of years ago, I introduced my students to Nick Montfort’s digital poem “Taroko Gorge.” The students watched, enchanted, as the poem’s text cascaded down the forest green page. The gentle pacing created by the gradually revealed text, together with the poem’s description of hauntingly human-like natural forces, was hypnotic. Here’s a sample of what we saw:

Shape ranges the rippling.
direct the encompassing fine cool clear —
Forests command the stones.
Ripplings hum.
Coves hold.
Stone commands the rippling.

The text continued to scroll…and scroll…and the students sensed something unusual, but couldn’t put their fingers on it. Finally, one asked if the poem has an ending at all. It does not: “Taroko Gorge” is a self-generating poem. It’s created by a single page of HTML that can run in most browsers.

This revelation—that Montfort’s text is infinite, generated by the computer from words and formulas chosen by Montfort—prompted all sorts of the questions we humanities people love. Is the poem really by Montfort? Can a computer be creative? Is the poem itself the generated words, the HTML, the interaction between the browser and the code, or the entire package? Is one instance of the generated text the same poem as another instance? Can a poem be a poem without an ending?

Rich philosophical ground aside, I want to share a particular practical benefit of exposing students to simple computer-generated texts like “Taroko Gorge.” By clicking “File,” choosing “Save page as,” and selecting HTML (or webpage) as the format, the reader of “Taroko Gorge” can download the poem’s source code. (This should be the same in just about any browser.) Open this HTML document in any text editor, and voila: you’re looking at the poem’s guts. Here’s a taste:

function cave() {
var adjs=(‘encompassing,’+choose(texture)+’,sinuous,straight,objective,arched,cool,clear,dim,driven’).split(‘,’);
var target=1+rand_range(3);
while (adjs.length>target) {

If you’re unfamiliar with code, your first thought is probably “this looks terrifying. Why would I ever show my students this?”. You may wonder how you can teach this poem when you can’t even explain how its magic is made to work. The secret? It doesn’t matter. If you bring yourself to look at the code, you’ll notice that the words meant to be inserted into the poem are fairly apparent: “sinuous, straight, objective,” etc. All that’s necessary to alter the poem is to replace these content-words with others. By doing so, you can transform the text from an ethereal nature poem to an urban wasteland, a candy kingdom, or whatever you can imagine. Yes, knowing how HTML works would allow you to understand how the poem’s syntax is generated, and even allow you to change details like font and the page’s background color. But by simply substituting some words for others, and then opening the HTML document in a browser, students can watch the new version of the poem they’ve created. On the right side of “Taroko Gorge” is a list of such remixes, which are definitely worth checking out and demonstrating in the classroom.

By showing your students that they can remix this self-generating poem, you’re not teaching them computer science. However, you are planting the seed that maybe this technology isn’t so scary after all. Maybe, just maybe, some of your students will be inspired to google HTML and learn their first few words of coding vocabulary, the better to play with the poem. This encounter with a digital text—not just looking at it, but helping create and recreate it—opens the door to a relationship with technology that is not based on fear of what seems inscrutable, but excitement at what might be possible.

One iteration of Montfort's "Taroko Gorge"
“Taroko Gorge” by Nick Montfort, 2009

Thanks to Dan Anderson at UNC-Chapel Hill for showing me and my fellow grad students “Taroko Gorge,” which inspired me to show my own students 30 minutes later.

Faculty Spotlight: Jon Honea


In this first of a series of interviews with Emerson faculty, we talk with Jon Honea about how he uses technology to enhance his teaching…

What courses do you teach?
Ecology and Conservation, Science and Politics of Water, Energy and Sustainability, Science in Translation: Environmental Science, and Too Thick to Navigate, an environmental economics course I teach with Professor Nejem Raheem.

How long have you been at Emerson?
About 9 years.

How do you use Canvas (or other technologies) in your teaching?
It holds my syllabus, course schedule, readings, and assignment descriptions, and is where students submit assignments.

What’s an example of one of your favorite assignments where you incorporate technology?
One of my favorite assignments using technology is one that I developed with other science faculty when we were participating in the Iwasaki Library’s PLANS program to promote information literacy. We focused on science literacy. I put the students in teams of about 3 and assign each team an article from a general audience publication such as a newspaper, Time, Grist, Treehugger, etc. I ask them to read the story and briefly describe it, use their favorite search engine to try to find the original science publication that was the source of the assigned article, and then evaluate whether or not the assigned article adequately represented the source publication. The groups work together on a Google Doc shared within their group and with me and then they report their conclusions to the class. I deliberately assign them publications that correctly represent the original material as well as some that don’t. I also include some that refer back to poorly executed science articles–for example one claiming that water has “memory” and holds clues to its previous environments and another that makes conclusions about human health based on a small sample size. Some originals are peer reviewed science articles, some are government agency reports, and some are studies produced by NGOs. We discuss the vetting process for publication of each type.

Kahoot! also seems to really engage the students, especially when there’s some reward for the person who ends with the highest points. It seems to motivate them to do the reading and quickly lets me know who is doing and understanding the reading.

What has been the biggest challenge in incorporating Canvas (or other technologies) into your teaching?

Canvas does not make it easy for students to see my annotations on the assignments that they submit there. I think seeing them should be an intuitive process, for example they click on their assignment and just see my comments. Instead they have to first go to the Grades section, then click on the assignment name, then click on View Feedback. I’ve found that if I don’t stop class and have a 5-10 minute tutorial, most students can’t find the feedback that they need for revising the many iterative assignments I have in my courses.

Note: There is a feature request in the Canvas Community to fix this. We encourage you to vote it up to improve the process for viewing instructor feedback in Canvas!

How does Canvas make your work easier as a teacher?

It’s useful to have a central location for class policies, assignment descriptions, and readings. It also calculates overall course grades for me. That can be tedious in a spreadsheet when I weight assignments differently.

screenshot of Jon's grading groups

Canvas Grades setup happens through the Assignments tab. Jon uses Canvas Assignment Groups to organize and weight different categories of assignments.


What’s your favorite Canvas feature?
Discussions. I post all course readings on Canvas and ask that students comment on each reading, or respond to another student’s comment, before class. This is an credit-no credit assignment that’s due before class and helps ensure students do the reading and can better participate in the class discussion.

An overview of Jon’s reading discussions in Canvas

screenshot of Jon's reading discussions

Is there anything you used to do face-to face or on paper that Canvas has made easier?
Because students submit all their assignments there, I don’t have to carry around giant, loose piles of paper anymore.

Do you have any low-tech (or no-tech) tools or activities that also work really well?
Field trips! Examples include viewing dam sites on the Shawsheen River in Andover, floating the Mystic River, and a walk from Emerson to the South End documenting differences in street tree health and numbers in different neighborhoods.

Transition to Panopto: FAQ

What should I use for streaming video, Panopto or Median?

We recommend that you start using Panopto. No time like the present!

If Median is going away, what’s going to happen to all my files in Median?

You will have to backup your files.

Can you help me?

Yes! If you would like to transfer your videos to Panopto, ITG is dedicating its Fridays to new Panopto users. We will also hold a week of Median backup parties in November. If Fridays or November don’t work, contact us at or (617) 824-8090 to schedule a time.

 How much time do I have before Median is shut down?

Uploading to Median will be disabled after winter break but you’ll be able to view and download until the end of the Spring semester.

Why are we shutting Median down?

Median was built in 2008 because there were no products available that did exactly what Emerson needed. It no longer meets the growing demands of Emerson users, so we decided to invest in a more powerful tool.

What can Panopto do that Median couldn’t?

Plenty! Panopto can be used for screencasting, collecting analytics, making video quizzes and adding captions and transcripts to videos. It has a mobile app and is fully integrated with Canvas. What’s more, Panopto has a team of software designers and engineers constantly updating it (Median hasn’t been updated since 2014).