Using Screen Capture Software in Student Feedback

Assessment, E-Learning


Russell Stannard
Principal Lecturer in ICT/Multimedia, University of Westminster


This case study looks at an innovative way of providing feedback to students on their written work in English Language Teaching courses. This method has already led to considerable interest in the academic world (including articles in the THES (December 2006) and The Guardian (June 2007)) and can be used by lecturers in many other disciplines.

This method is based around the idea of using ‘screen capture software’, software which basically allows you to record the screen of your computer as if you had a video camera pointed at it. Everything you do on the screen is recorded and can be played back as a video and if you have a microphone connected it will also record your voice. Though the technology has been around for many years it is only recently that its possibilities as a tool for providing student feedback have been investigated.

Background Context

Screen capture software allows you to record the screen of your computer as if you have a camera pointed right at the screen. If you have a microphone connected to your computer then your voice will also be recorded. So for example if I wanted to teach you how to create “a table” in Word, I could simply turn on the screen capture software and begin actually to make a table in Word. I could simply record myself doing this. I could also comment on what I was doing, as all my comments would be recorded too. I could then save the video and send it to you. You could play it back and listen and watch as I explain to you how to make tables in Word. You could yourself have a Word document open and jump from watching the video to actually making a table.

I realised I could extend this idea to student feedback. If students send their essays to you as Word files (or in other word processing formats) it becomes possible for you to open up their work on your computer, turn on screen capture software and begin to record yourself correcting and marking the students’ work. Remember, however, that everything you say or do will be recorded! Any words you highlight, any comments you make about students’ essays, any points of grammar you focus on or underline-whatever you do will be recorded as video. You can then send the resulting video to the student. They can listen and watch as you talk about their essays. You can for example tell students to watch the essays and re-draft their essays based on what you have said on the video.

There were several key factors that drew me towards the idea of giving “live video feedback”. Firstly it offered a possible solution to the issues around face to face contact. Research has shown that students like face to face contact as it gives the students and teachers a chance to really understand the route of many of the errors. Fregeau (1999) and Brender (1998) both point to the fact that students want face to face contact with their students. Of course the obvious problem with face to face contact is time. Could producing “video feedback” offer a solution to this problem or at least could it be a halfway house between handing back a student a written piece of work with comments on it and actually meeting the student to mark their work?

The second factor was the lack of interest in the feedback process. Several researchers have found that students take little interest in their feedback. This could be partly due to the fact that students often don’t understand the feedback we provide them with. Fregeau (1999) and Cohen Cavalcanti have pointed out that correction is often inconsistent and even contradictory. Truscott (1996) has even suggested that much of what we do with correction is a waste of time. In a quick show of hands in my class 7 out of 12 students admitted that if I don’t do anything with the feedback either in the classroom or as part of their homework, then they are unlikely to do more than quickly look over it. Zamel (1995) points out that students find feedback vague, confusing and even contradictory. Could producing “video feedback” muster up more interest in the feedback process? Could the fact that video feedback provided both visual and oral information help to overcome the misunderstandings between teacher and student that Zamel and other have commented on?

A third factor was the need to get more involved in the writing process. As Muncie (2000) writes “Feedback is seen as essential to the multiple-draft process”. An obvious answer is to collect in students’ plans and mark them, get students to peer review and support each other at different stages of the process and to programme activities that build towards draft writing. Kroll (2001) believes that planning is one of the two most important factors in the writing process. My feeling was that “video feedback” could offer a solution here. Students could send in their plans. I could open them up on my computer, turn on screen capture software and record myself talking about the plans–pointing out problems, suggesting alternatives etc.-and then send the video back to the students. The students could listen and watch and use my ideas to help them to write a better plan or first draft.

A fourth reason which motivated me is in many ways outside the scope of my own discipline of ELT but will be of great interest to many ELT writers. In the area of multimedia there is a lot of interest around the work of Richard Mayer. His work is based on the idea of “dual coding”, ie. that information is passed to us through two main channels: the ears and the eyes. Mayer’s work has shown how the combination of both the visual and oral channels produces the “deepest learning” (especially if the information from the two channels compliment each other). There is a tendency to overload the visual channels and not make enough use of the “aural channels” in multimedia. Video feedback uses both channels and I was particularly interested in trying to maximise and combine the use of both in providing feedback to my students.


There are all sorts of screen capture software products on the market. There are basically two stages to the production of the videos. Matchware is a very easy product to use and Camtasia is probably the best known product in the market. To record your computer screen you don’t need anything special. Most computers have microphones or a cheap 10 set of earphones and microphone will do. To record just requires a one or two clicks of a button. From that moment on everything on the screen is recorded and anything you say will also be recorded. It doesn’t matter what you do with your computer. You can open up different programmes, go to the Internet or begin writing. The software simply records the screen of your computer as if you have a video camera pointed at it.

Once you have made the videos you need to save them and compress them. You can play the videos back instantly to check the recording but you will need to compress them so that they can be sent to students or uploaded onto the Internet (or returned to the students in some other way). Compression is not especially difficult but you will need to consider things like the quality of the sound, the size of the screen etc. as these will all have a bearing on the file size. I have found that with either Matchware or Camtasia you can simply use the default settings. This way you don’t need to do anything. I set the screen size to *800*600 and press the button. It does however take a few minutes for the files to be compressed and converted into Windows Media Player files, which are small and easy for the students to view.

Screen capture software-I choose the Windows Media Streaming Video.

Screen capture software-I choose the Windows Media Streaming Video.

I worked with a class of 12 Chinese students on an English for Academic purposes course for my very first steps into the world of using screen capture software as a form of giving feedback. After some preparation in the class, students were asked to write an essay about the ‘Economic impact of the expansion of the Chinese economy’. Students were told to send their essays directly to me and that I would record myself correcting their work and then send back the videos. I did a demonstration for them in class and explained how they might use the videos. I pointed out that they could play, pause and rewind the videos and that it might be a good idea to listen and take notes or try and make the corrections I was suggesting directly onto their essays.

Producing the videos was much easier than I thought. I opened up their essays on my screen and began to record myself as I worked through the essays, pointing out mistakes, pointing out good areas, using the highlighter in Word to focus on mistakes. I then saved the videos, compressed them and sent them straight back to the students. There were a number of surprises.

  • I chose not to actually correct anything but just to use the highlighter tool in Word to show where the mistake was and then to say what I wanted the students to think about in order to correct the mistake
  • I found myself explaining what I thought the reason for the mistake was as well as suggesting what to think about to correct it. I said things like ‘Perhaps you thought ..’ and ‘You need to think about.’.
  • It was much easier to correct the work. You are able to talk as you correct and this actually makes the job of correction much more enjoyable as well as of course providing key information to the student. The process seemed a lot more fun and easier to do than using a pen and paper.
  • I had forgotten how powerful all the tools in Word could be. If I highlight, underline or make something bold it all comes out in the video and I hadn’t considered that before. It made the correcting process very visual and gave me all sorts of tools to work with.
  • I found my marking was rather disorganised. I hadn’t decided to focus on a specific area and I found myself correcting much more than I usually would and in a rather disorganised fashion.
  • I found myself reading the essay out aloud as I went through it and of course all that was recorded. Again this caused a problem.
  • It was easy to return the videos as the students had sent me their essays by email so as soon as I made them I sent them back the video.

The students received their videos and were told to watch them and then redraft their essays based on my feedback. The second essay would be marked in the more traditional way. In the next lesson we had an informal feedback session about the idea.

The students received their videos and were told to watch them and then redraft their essays based on my feedback. The second essay would be marked in the more traditional way. In the next lesson we had an informal feedback session about the idea.

  • The students loved the idea. All 12 students said it was an interesting way of getting feedback.
  • Some pointed out that at times I spoke very fast.
  • Some pointed out how useful that it was that I used the highlight tools etc and that I should make greater use of them.
  • Students liked the idea that they could play back the videos again and again and stop and pause them.
  • All the students had used the videos to re-draft their essays.
  • Some students felt that I shouldn’t read out the contents of their essays as I worked through them. This confused them as they were not sure when I was pointing out a mistake and when I was simply reading the content. I realised that I needed to quickly read through the essays  before turning on the screen capture software so that I didn’t find myself reading through them as I was doing the corrections.

This very first run and several more were very much an introduction to the whole idea. There were several key things that needed to be overcome to really improve the idea

  • I needed to be much clearer about what I was going to focus on. I felt it could be far more useful as a tool at the earlier stages of the writing process where I could focus more on organisation and content and less on surface errors.
  • The file sizes were a problem because all the files have to be compressed and this takes time. I needed to find ways to make the compression stage quicker
  • I needed to read the essay first so that I didn’t end up reading the essay aloud as I was marking it
  • I wanted to make more use of the tools in Word which would make the marking very visual

Later on in the course I began a second type of feedback. Students were asked to write plans for their essays and then submit them. I would then record myself giving comments on their plans using screen capture software. I used exactly the same process as before (ie. the students sent their plans to me and I opened them up on my screen and then turned on screen capture software). Some interesting things came out of it:

  • The videos were much shorter as there was not so much to comment on  and this made the compression time a lot quicker
  • I was much more focused with my feedback. I commented on the organisation and on the ideas.
  • I made as much use of the tools in Word as possible. I wrote onto their plans in a different colour and made use of the highlight tool and the bold tool.
  • One of the problems was the plans themselves. Some students gave me much more material to work with than others and this made the feedback harder or easier to do.

The students found these feedback videos useful. In a series of recorded sessions with 6 of the students it came up as a point that the stage when the videos are used is important and can make the videos more or less useful. One strange comment that came up again and again was that the students thought that the videos were a great source of “listening material”.  All felt that the videos made the whole process of feedback more interesting, they liked the fact they were both visual and oral and especially liked the fact they could be played, paused and stopped. Some students claimed they watched and listened to the videos 4 or 5 times before redrafting their essays. Some students explained that they had their essays open on the screen and jumped between watching the video and making the corrections to their work. Students felt that the corrections were very personal and that though it wasn’t exactly the same as meeting up with the teacher, it was much better than just receiving written feedback. They all said they found it easier to follow the mistakes and understand the points the teacher was making (in comparison to just pointing out mistakes in the margin).


Much more work needs to be done in this topic and indeed I am currently doing several much larger studies. Some are with students in areas other than ELT. One of the biggest problems is the organisation of the feedback. It certainly seems to help when the focus is on the plans and organisation of their work rather than just on the surface errors. Correcting surface areas can be difficult because there are often too many errors to focus and it can be difficult to really understand why the students made the mistakes.

A second problem is time. Making the videos is very fast—indeed I have found it easier and quicker to mark the work using this method than I did with traditional ways of marking. Being able to talk really makes the process enjoyable as you can provide so much more information to the students. However, compressing the videos is the problem. A long video can take four or five minutes to compress. Interestingly enough there is an easy solution to this. You can make all the correction videos first and then set up a ‘batch compression’ where you compress a number of videos at the same time. The problem with this of course is that you have to become technically more competent with the software.

What does seem clear from this very small and initial piece of work is that students find the whole process very motivating. Re-drafted essay were returned to me very quickly and students commented on feeling more motivated and interested in the process of feedback. Of course this could wear off with time.

The reaction from the academic world has been very interesting. Institutions that run distance learning courses are especially interested in the idea as it can help to overcome the problem of isolation on courses and the lack of personal contact with tutors. It would be interesting to see distance learning organisations using the idea.

Special needs groups have also pointed out that the combination of both visual and oral information can provide additional support to some of their students.

It would be interesting to do a comparative study of students using and not using the video feedback. Could we prove for example that the students pick up on more of the mistakes that the teacher pointed out? It would be interesting to see if the videos led to better re-drafts of their essays or if we could prove that students remember more of the errors that were pointed out to them.

At present my own interest is focused on how best to use the idea. I have been experimenting with using the videos for ‘classroom feedback’. So I mark the essays in the ‘traditional way’ but then produce a long ‘class feedback video’ which talks about the general problems that have come up in the class. I then send the video to all the students. This saves a lot of time in class as I don’t have to go over general problems in class time. The students also like it as they find it very useful when they go to write further essays.  They can listen and watch me talking about their last essays and use it to remind them of things they need to consider in the future.

Bibliographical References

Cohen, A.D. & Cavalcanti, M.C. (1990).’Feedback on compositions: Teacher and student verbal reports. In B. Kroll (Ed.), Second Language Writing (pp. 155-177). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fregeau, L. A. (1999). Preparing ESL students for college writing: Two case studies. The Internet TESL Journal [On-line], 5 (10).  Available:

Kroll, B. (2001). Considerations for teaching an ESL/EFL writing course. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (3rd ed.) (pp.219-232). Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle

Mayer, Richard  e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning (Pfeiffer)

Muncie, J (2000) Using written teacher feedback in EFL composition classes ELT Journal 54/1

Truscott, John. (1996). The case against grammar correction in L2 writing classes. Language Learning, 46:2, 327-369.

Zamel, V. (1985). Responding to student writing. TESOL Quarterly, 19, 79-101

You can watch some examples of Russell’s video feedback on the following web-link. 

Sources for the software

  • Camtasia
    Camtasia is probably the best known piece of softwareware. You can download a trial version here.
  • AutoScreenRecorder
    Provides a free copy of the basic tool or you can pay for the professional tool.
  • Matchware
    You can download a free copy of this software too but it only allows you to make short videos

October 2007