My Test Run with Audio Feedback

audio feedbackI don’t think I’m alone when I say I struggle with grading. Providing personalized and thorough feedback is critical in an online course, but it can also be time consuming, especially when you have a large class.

Recorded feedback, audio and video, is gaining popularity as a way to increase instructor presence, save time spent grading, and provide students with clearer comments.

I’ve been feeling the pressure to try this lately as the topic has come up several times in #IOLchat. I wasn’t sure what would be involved or how to get started, but quickly found a lot of options and educators sharing their tips and recommendations.

Explore Recording Methods

My search for audio recording options resulted in a longer list than I had anticipated. From web-based tools to software downloads here are a few approaches you may want to consider:

  • Google Apps: Are you already using Google Drive with your students? If so, adding voice comments to their documents is possible by enabling a voice comments app. The TeachBytes blog features a brief tutorial of the set-up process and how to record.
  • Microsoft Office: JISC Digital Media’s Audio Feedback – A How-to Guide  walks you through the process of adding a sound file to a Word document, as well as how to record from within a document. Northwestern Michigan College provides similar guidance for PowerPoint.
  • Screencasts: Free tools like Jing  and Screecast-O-Matic offer both video and audio elements, recording your computer screen and voice as you share feedback with your students. Professor Martha Smith documented her use of Jing to provide feedback on weekly homework assignments and class projects.
  • Audacity: For those who want more flexibility in what they can do with their recordings, Audacity may be a good option. It’s free to download, but requires a few extra steps to set up on your computer. There are a lot of options for recording, editing, and exporting sound files in different formats (e.g., WAV, MP3).
  • Mobile Apps: Evernote, already a popular tool among educators for note-taking and sharing resources, also has an audio recording tool and can be used from a mobile device. Educator Debbie Morrison shares her three steps to provide audio feedback with Evernote. Professor Doug Ward recommends iAnnotate to add voice comments to PDFs, along with other tips in his Grading with Voice on an iPad article.
  • Your Learning Management System (LMS): You may not need to add any of these options to your workflow if your school’s LMS already has voice comment capabilities. The Canvas LMS’s Integrated Media Recorder is one example. This tool allows instructors to create audio and video messages, which can be added to assignments, discussions, and personal communication, from within the system.

Try PowerPoint’s Audio Option

The course in which I wanted to implement audio feedback is completely asynchronous, and one assignment in particular was my target: a recorded interview with a professional in the field of instructional design. The students provide a written summary of the interview they conduct, along with an audio file (usually an MP3). It’s always nice to hear their voices in these recordings – it helps them move from names on a roster or in a discussion forum to students in a class.

I gave my students a heads-up via class announcement that I was going to try this approach, and then reviewed my technology options with a few requirements in mind. I wanted to:

  • Create an audio-only response, mirroring the assignment submission
  • Share the course’s text-based grading rubric for the assignment
  • Attach my recording to the “comments” area of this assignment in my LMS’s grade book
  • Avoid adding a lot of tutorials and troubleshooting to my schedule.

PowerPoint (PPT) seemed like a no-brainer to me; I’ve got a lot of experience with this particular program and it would allow me to present the rubric (in table format on a slide), as well as record and embed an audio file. It was also possible to add PPT as an attachment in my LMS.


1. Open PPT and add the assignment information and rubric table to a new slide. Name and save the file so that you will be able to easily retrieve it later.

2. When ready to record your feedback, click on Insert in the main toolbar, then select Sound and Music and Record Sound… from the dropdown menus as pictured below.










3. From the Record Sound screen, check that your input device and input source are selected based on the microphone you want to use (built-in vs. an external headset).

record sound








4. Click the red Record button and begin speaking. (You will see the small timer below the buttons begin to advance.) When you are finished speaking, click Stop to end the recording.

record stop





5. Click Save at the bottom of the Record Sound screen to add your recording to the slide. You’ll see a brief “exporting movie” window, then a speaker icon like the one below will appear on your slide. This may appear as a small image, but you can enlarge it as you would any other image in PPT.

speaker icon






6. Save your work and upload the file per your LMS capabilities, or send as an email attachment. Include basic instructions to students, such as “open the file and click on the speaker icon to listen to my recorded feedback.” A screenshot of one of my final slides appears below.

audio feedback PPT







Lessons Learned

While I already had experience with PowerPoint, there was still a learning curve to this project. In my quest for a quick solution to increase online presence and personalize student feedback I learned a few things.

  • Privacy issues exist. This hadn’t occurred to me until I read someone else’s concerns on a blog post. It’s important to think about where and how your recordings are stored, what kinds of personally identifying information they may contain about your students, and who has access to them. Some web-based applications, for example, store recordings on their servers.
  • File size is a factor: My experiment with PPT resulted in some fairly large files (from 18MB to a whopping 44MB). These weren’t too large to be uploaded to the LMS, but could be inconvenient for downloading by the students. I need to explore settings and other options to significantly reduce file size.
  • Practice makes perfect. The process was easier after creating the first recording and slide. Developing a template for assignment feedback is helpful. I also got more comfortable with what I was going to say each time.
  • Balance efficient with effective. I may have actually added steps to my grading process, instead of streamlining as I had hoped, but the results could be worth it.

Get Started

If you are interested in launching your own audio feedback initiative, use these tips to get ready:

  • Choose your technology. Look at the capabilities of the applications you already know how to use. Think about what your students are using as well, and aim for a finished product that can be easily played or viewed across operating systems and browsers.
  • Test your equipment. You’ll need a microphone to capture your voice and may already have alternatives in the form of built-in mics and earbuds/headsets. Try out what you have available to see if computer settings need to be adjusted, and listen to the recordings they create to see if one is of better quality than the others.
  • Start small. My initial plan included trying multiple methods to record feedback and comparing the results and student preferences. But after my own procrastination and an already packed schedule, I ended up just using one method and one assignment. Next term I can expand on this, but it got me started.
  • Go for it. Prepare as best you can and then give it a try. It may not work. That’s the case with any new technology you might want to add to your courses. Consider this initial effort a pilot test, and make notes along the way about what works well and not so well.
  • Evaluate and adjust. Ask your students what they think about your audio recorded feedback on assignments. This can give you useful information related to not only online presence, but also technology issues. The jury is still out on my PPT slides, but I hope to update you soon!

Don’t forget that your school may also be able to assist you with a rage of multimedia projects, including audio feedback. Check with the faculty development group, and teaching and learning centers, to find out what is available. Many institutions are actively supporting instructors with services that include software access and one-on-one assistance from a media specialist.

Have you tried adding audio recordings to your course? Tell us more about your favorite tools and recommendations for getting started.

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog