The NWU has always prided itself on its unique and cutting-edge innovations. One such innovation is the Backchat software that was developed to mark tests and assignments by giving personal feedback directly to students.
is feedback made easy
Advantages of audio feedback
Research has shown the following to be some of the many advantages of audio feedback:
How exactly does it work?
For a quick overview of how Backchat works, you can click on the icons below to watch the videos.
Backchat is distinctive in that it allows lecturers to record and distribute audio feedback on a large scale. These voice notes are individualised as feedback to every student. Lecturers can also seamlessly weave commentary with pre-recorded comments for generally repeated mistakes.
It is the brainchild of Dr Henk Louw, senior lecturer of Academic Literacy, and Juan Steyn, who provided IT support for the Faculty of Humanities at the time Backchat was developed. Henry Foulds, a former NWU lecturer, came on board to take over the software programming after Juan took on other work-related responsibilities.
“The big benefit of using pre-recorded messages is that it is a time-saving way to create good responses and explanations that can be used over and over again,” says Henk.
Where it all started
The idea for Backchat came after Henk voiced his frustrations at not being able to give students thorough feedback on vague and erroneous syntax.
“I told Juan that it would be great if one could record voice notes. Research has proven time and time again the significant benefits of voice feedback above conventional and traditional means of providing feedback such as notes on paper, among others.”
Speaking from experience as a former lecturer, Henry says a great benefit of Backchat is that it offers the opportunity for better feedback in practicals and especially in the more intricate computer programming assignments.
“Traditionally, if you wanted to create audio feedback for your students, you had to work in some kind of online learning platform system and distribute the recordings one by one, or you had to do recordings using systems not designed for feedback, but for sound.”
Henk says Backchat is user-friendly and can also be used offline and to combine pre-recorded audio snippets for those pesky repetitive errors. The user can also use a marking rubric and a class list, reducing the administrative load.
Backchat is currently in its fifth version and Henk says they have added many functions to the software.
These include a function that automatically calculates test and assignment marks, as well as a statistical function that gives the lecturer statistics about the general mistakes students make in a specific test or assignment.
Henk and Henry also present regular workshops on how to use Backchat optimally. For more information on these, contact the NWU’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.
The latest version of the Backchat software available for NWU staff and students can be requested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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In the same time spent, it is possible to provide much more input to students when lecturers speak than when they write, says Henk.
“One can easily speak at 180 to 250 words per minute (wpm) compared to 50 wpm writing by hand or typing. You can also keep talking almost indefinitely, while typing or writing tires one out a lot faster.”
Your feedback can be specific and detailed, compared to merely writing a note saying “unclear” or “ambiguous”.
A voice note where one hears a real person’s familiar voice is much more personal than a blob of ink on a page.
Audio feedback is seen as more constructive, often motivating students to revise and participate more in class.
Backchatting all the way to commercialisation
The NWU Technology Transfer and Innovation Support Office is currently in the process of supporting the commercialisation of Backchat. Once commercialised, a much wider user base will be able to use the software commercially.
Henk says they have already received interest and enquiries from other South African universities, schools and other users, as well as from potential users in the rest of Africa. Discussions are underway with commercial entities interested to license the software solution from the NWU.