For years, I’ve been laboriously slaving over student papers, trying to read the often-terrible handwriting; to interpret the sense of my student’s mind; and then try to get 1-3 recognizable sentences out of a paragraph of mess.

The wiki this year improved matters substantially.  For the first two thirds of the year, I just had to read egregious sentences without also having to slog my way through the scribbles. And I could edit them with a click of an “edit” button.  But that didn’t give me the ability to explain WHY I was making the change. Students definitely felt put-upon to have changes made, without knowing what the reasons for the change were.

Then Shelly turned me on to a different way to use Jing from TechSmith.  The last few days, I’ve been going into the wiki, starting up Jing, and making short 3-5 minute videos explaining to students how to edit and expand their work.  The videos aren’t terrifically large, around 20-30 MB, but because of how our wiki usernames work it would violate student privacy to post them here — you’d know the names of my students, and see their work. That would probably get me in trouble.

Even so, I did about 17 such videos today, and the evidence is that the ideas I recorded are having some initial effect.  It’s strong feedback, and it’s more or less instant — one kid edited his page at 8:18pm tonight, and by 9:00pm he had commentary back.  It looks like he’s already made a few changes to his page.

Five minutes turns out to be not enough time to correct every problem with their writing.  It’s enough to point out a recurring mistake — a comma splice, for example, appeared eight times in one student’s paragraph.  To help him out, I rearranged a few sentences and converted two of his comma splices to periods. Then I suggested that he change the next few on his own.  Another student got several reminders about including dates or year-references or place-names in her writing — at least one per paragraph.

I like that the feedback is semipermanent.  The students can delete the videos from the pages, but I keep the master files on my computer, and I could create links to them.  I think I’ll also make up some videos that explain common grammatical errors, like comma splices.  Then I can post those to the wiki, too, and include links from student pages to the explanatory videos.  I could also include trackbacks, so that if you’re trying to figure out comma splices, I can explain how to fix those in a video, and a nearby links-list will take you to some pages with uncorrected comma splices that you can correct for practice.

All that is going to take time, and templates, and tools I don’t have in Apple’s WikiServer software.  Maybe in the next edition.  In the meantime, the videos are a hit.