How (and why) to use video assessments in alternative grading
They fit right in with the philosophy of the Four Pillars.
Just as there is no such thing as a single, best way to do alternative grading in a class, there is no single, best way to assess student learning. We gravitate toward timed tests and quizzes mostly because that's what we are used to. But if you read in between the Four Pillars, you'll find that many methods of assessment will work, as long as students are engaged in a loop where they are showing us what they know and using feedback to make their understanding better.
This week, I wanted to share a practice I've been using for a few years that has been a useful and helpful addition to my class’s toolbox of assessments: assessment by video. Having students make videos where they literally show what they know in a brief presentation has become easier than ever thanks to the spread of smartphones and the proliferation of simple, free video creation and sharing tools. Once the sole realm of the professor, making instructional videos is now something that anyone can do, and it can be an excellent form of assessment that fits right in with alternative grading.
Why do video assessment?
But why bother with video, when traditional written assessments can do the job and keep students involved in a feedback loop?
I started using student-created video as an assessment medium out of necessity. A few years before I got started with specifications grading, I taught an asynchronous online Calculus class. Students worked online homework problems as part of their grade, but these were graded entirely by the online system. That didn’t seem like a good indication of real understanding, so I looked for a way to give them a chance to add some depth to their answers. Turning in written solutions would have worked, but I thought it would be more interesting to have students record themselves working out their solutions on video instead.
Not only were the video solutions more interesting, they were better than written solutions. The majority of information that we communicate is nonverbal, and when a student makes a video of a calculus problem, the student’s visual presence — body language, hand gestures, handwriting size — tell me at least as much about their true understanding of and engagement with a problem as a written record does. In the end, the work was graded on correctness of the result and the quality of the explanation. Video went a long way towards improving those explanations.
Video solutions added a much-needed human dimension to the asynchronous course because I could finally see what the students looked like and hear what they sounded like. I got permission from students to take successful video solutions and make them available to the class on the LMS, giving the vibe of “presenting work at the board” and giving students the sense that they belong to a class of human beings and are not just a row in a spreadsheet.
If you want to know more about that initial experience, I wrote a paper about it a few years ago with Matt Morena and Shelly Smith, who were also using video to assess student work. Our three use cases give a pretty good perspective of how it works in a math class.
In addition to my own motivation, there are at least three reasons you might want to use video to assess student work:
To supplement traditional assessments. In an alternative-grading course, in particular, one concern many students encounter is having enough opportunities to assess the learning targets, especially near the end of the semester (like now). Offering a video alternative alongside written forms gives students flexibility and options.
To give students a different way to demonstrate skills. Some students (for example, non-native English speakers) might be disadvantaged by written assessments but the opportunity to talk through their solutions while they write might make it easier. I don’t have data on this, but it seems like being able to talk and write at the same time, and use nonverbal communication as well, makes communication clearer. Some students may prefer video just to get a break from all the writing.
To build oral communication skills. Video assessments also build the very important liberal-arts muscle of oral communication in a bite-sized way. Some instructors could even include oral communication as part of the course content itself and use videos and feedback to assess it.
How to do video assessment
When I first introduced video assessment, students filmed themselves using their phones and posted the videos to a YouTube channel that I made for the class. This worked, but it wasn’t ideal. The upload process was complicated (because of the need for multiple tools); privacy was an issue; and I didn’t like students having to deal with ads just to create and watch instructional videos.
I experimented for a while and came up with a better system, which I still use today. There are surely even better ways to do this, but here it is.
Before the technical details: To do a video problem, students email me to request one. They tell me which learning target they want to try, and I make up a new version of a problem for that target and send it back to the student. When I reply, I put the student’s name on a list along with the date that I responded. This way I have a record of who has asked for a problem.
To set up a system for managing videos:
Use Flipgrid as your video platform. Flipgrid (it recently rebranded as just Flip, but I’ll never not refer to it using its old name) is almost perfectly suited for this kind of work. It’s free to use, dead simple, accessible across all devices and through a browser, and private. And most of all, it’s entirely self-contained — students can go through the entire process of making, posting, and getting feedback on videos just using the Flipgrid app or website. Here is the Educator Toolkit if you have never used it before. A few years ago Flipgrid was acquired by Microsoft, so it integrates very well with Office and other Microsoft tools.
Set up a group in Flipgrid for your class. Once you set up an account on Flipgrid, log in and click on the +Group button to add a group, which can represent one course, or all sections of a single course, or even all of your courses.
Then click the group once it’s created to enter it. You can click on +Topic to add a “topic” which is basically a folder for grouping video content. I have a single “Topic” set up for video submissions of learning target problems:
As you can see, right now there’s one student video in the folder. The folder is set so that only the student submitting the video and I can see it, although this can be changed.
Clicking on the student’s name takes you to the video itself, where you can watch the video and leave feedback — in written form, or you can even make a short video right there, by clicking the camera icon next to the comment field.
As you can see here, this student has done a video by writing up a solution in a Google Doc and then recording a screencast, with the camera on themselves while talking through it. I’m not sure if they used Flipgrid for the recording, or if they used a third-party tool and then uploaded the recording to Flipgrid. You could do either.
The only requirements for videos, other than correctness and quality of the explanation, are that the video has to be under 5 minutes in length (practice until it’s short!), the video and audio have to be clear, and that it has to be the student doing the presentation. (It’s OK to have a friend help with the filming if needed.) If I can’t tell it’s the student doing the presenting, it needs to be redone. For me, this is sufficient, but you might want to have more stringent requirements for the video. I used to have the requirement that the student’s voice, face, and handwriting must be in frame at all times to prevent cheating. This became too restrictive for students, so I dropped it.
How to grade video assessments
Basically, you can grade video assessments like you grade anything else in an alternatively graded course:
You can not grade them at all, and instead use videos as a source of feedback; and students can use them to justify their self-assignment of a course grade.
Or, you can grade them on a two- to four-level rubric (Satisfactory/Revise, or EMRN, etc.) relative to how well the product matches up to the quality standards that you set for the work. As always, you’ll want to be clear about what you expect. My students get those standards in a specifications document that spells out exactly what a “Successful” video looks like.
If a student submits a video and it’s not “successful”, it’s easy to handle — leave a comment to the student and explain the issues, then ask them to reshoot the video. It’s quite rare in my experience to get a video that needs to be redone, though, and usually it’s for technical reasons, like I couldn’t read their handwriting or the audio was garbled.
Where video assessments fit into an alternative grading setup
In alternative grading, the main thing we care about is whether students can eventually show that they have mastered the content and concepts of the course. Points are not the point. If a student shows evidence of learning, for the most part it won’t matter what the medium is. Video can play a valuable role.
Video assessments can be part of a suite of assessments used to measure student learning. As I mentioned above, if you use timed quizzes or exams, videos are an excellent way to give students options that have less time pressure.
You might also use videos as their own separate category of assessments, particularly if oral communication is one of the objectives of the course. In fact, the ease with which videos can now be made and shared might prompt you to add something like “I can communicate the concepts and methods of this subject in oral form” as one of your learning targets, then use videos to assess it.
Pro tips for using video assessments
Two suggestions for you if you decide to try this yourself:
Limit the number of submissions students can make in a week. This is just good practice for any kind of assessment in an alt-grading course to keep the workload manageable. I limit my students to two videos per week.
Require that students do videos one at a time, finishing their most recently-requested problem before they can request a new one. Otherwise it’s possible for a student to request multiple problems at the same time, turn some (or none) of them in during a given week, while requesting more problems in the meanwhile. I’ve learned the hard way that without a “one at a time” policy it becomes impossible to keep track of who is doing what.
The word “assessment” means literally “to sit down with”. So when we assess students, it should be like pulling up a chair next to them and having them show us what they know. Videos can be a great way to make assessments feel a little more like this.
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I've been using video assessments for years - in American Sign Language courses. It is an excellent way to see how they're doing and give feedback on specific aspects of their work. It's fun to think of how this can be done across other courses as well. I'll add it to my linguistics course in the spring - I think.
In my constant tinkering, I have gone almost exclusively with video assessments in my classes this semester. Is it better than my old traditional approaches? Yes. Do I need to tone it down and mix with other forms of assessments? Yes.
In case it's helpful (and you aren't using Flipgrid), here's a little video production guide I provide for my students. It's got a CC license, so use/share freely: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1c9cebOLfStPpYgUs1JYAOE_rH4K7_gz5/view?usp=share_link