Personalized Video Feedback on Speaking Skills

I'm back....missed me?

Hope so, I missed writing this blog and talking to you all very much.  I thought I'd kick things off by joining in Vicki Hollet's ELT Blog Carnival on Teaching and Learning with Video as this little tip is incredibly effective and something I often do within my own language classes, so know it works well.

In the examples I'll show you below, we are practising for the IELTS speaking exam, but you can use this edtech method of giving personalized video feedback for general speaking practice, as well as for any other type of exam.  It also works nicely for business learners practising presentations. Although it may sound a wee bit fiddly in the write-up, it actually is really simple to set up and do and takes up very little time to share with students - providing, of course, you have the right tools and equipment!

What you need:
  • A flipcam (or similar device)
  • An IWB 

Optional* but effective
  • A Student Blog
  • Smartphones 
  • Your blogging software's app downloaded on to your students' smartphones

Step 1
Record your students speaking using a FlipCam instead of an audio recorder.

Step 2
Plug your Flipcam, or alternative device, into the computer in your classroom and play this video on the IWB via your media player or other software.  (Note this doesn't work playing from YouTube - if you try to write on the video it pauses so you really need to play the video directly using what you've stored on the flipcam or via your computer's media player).

Pause frequently to discuss their communicative successes and weaknesses.  Additionally, with more serious mistakes or common errors, write these up directly on to the IWB screen and encourage your learners to collaboratively correct these with you.

You can choose to focus on either pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary issues or as I do, work on all of these, it depends on your objectives - don't forget you can colour-code your corrections if you like with the IWB pens.

Step 3
Get students who were featured in the individual videos to open up their blogger app, this allows them to click to open a new post, and to use the camera function in Blogger to take a picture of your IWB screen. They can then publish this new post directly into their student blog.

Step 4
Open up your individual student's blog post(s) to edit it the post, change the photo size if necessary and you can now upload their videos into their blog posts directly.   Alternatively, you can also load up the videos to youtube (keep them unlisted!) and then embed them into each blog post.

Now, both you and they have a permanent record of their speaking which can be reviewed for practice at their leisure or can be used to demonstrate progress over time!

What to do if you don't have a FlipCam
- you could also use your phone, but in my experience, it takes too long to upload to the computer/youtube etc.  FlipCams are really cheap (also try EBay and Amazon for secondhand ones) and they are dead simple to use, especially in class, so actually I would just recommend getting one - one of the most important functionalities is the ability to simply plug directly into the computer's USB and play right away.

What to do if you don't have an IWB
- you could upload the video into a Google Drive Presentation, and type up notes beside the video but these are extra steps that would mean not doing it in the classroom with your language learners in real-time.
- if you have a data projector, you could instead beam the video directly on to a whiteboard and then follow the same steps as above.

What to do if not all of your students have Smartphones
- get the student who does have one to be in charge of posting to Blogger/ taking the picture and uploading it to the blog.  If none of them do, take a picture with a normal digital camera and upload to a shared space you have set up for them.

What to do if you don't have a student blog
- just get the students to take a picture with their smartphones anyway, they can store the picture within their picture galleries.  However, this isn't as effective as being able to watch the video again, which is what you get by permanently storing it in a blog, so actually I would just recommend setting one up.  Blogger is really easy and as the settings allow for privacy, students have a special non-threatening place where you can store samples of their writing, set extra listening and reading tasks, along with doing nifty things like the above!


p.s. if you have any questions, or something wasn't clear in the write up, please don't hesitate to comment below - if you try this out and find this useful do feel free to share with your classroom teaching colleagues and there is no need to credit this post, simply share how to do it - however, if you are writing up an essay, article, blog post, doing a webinar, how-to video, giving a conference presentation or even creating a book of edtech activities, then please understand this blog post is a creative commons copyrighted material, therefore in all  of these cases, please provide proper citation to me as the originator and author. Thanks!

Defining GLEE

Oxford University Press has just posted a short article I recently wrote for their blog about the benefits of using gamified language educational e-tivities in the ESL classroom.  I thought I’d reactivate my blog briefly for a quick posting (I’ll be back properly once my MA’s over in September and I can't wait!) to provide you with an example of edu game play and also to explore the definition of GLEEs in a little more in depth.

Playing to learn

The three groups I had divided my adult ESL students up into stared up at the Interactive Whiteboard which showed a Spin the Wheel grammar activity which I'd found on the internet.  One of the team leaders pressed on the big red button while 3 digital avatars on screen sat patiently waiting in a row, watching the wheel go round and round until it stopped. The pointer rested on the yellow pie-piece and a pop up message then read:

A: I have decided to learn a foreign language.
Q: Have you? Which language ______.

Team Green’s group of real students huddled together. Their captain furtively whispered so the other teams wouldn’t hear them “ Is it ‘will you learn,’ ‘are you learning’ or ‘are you going to learn?”  The students argued softly about the different options on screen.  Then the digital clock started counting down from 5 seconds, letting them know that they would have to decide on an answer as soon as possible or they’d lose both the points from this question and their overall advantage.

“It’s a plan” one member said a little uncertainly. “Yes” the other agreed more confidently, “It must be B, are you learning means he already started, no, no, he decided…”

Their team leader yelled out “B” as he pressed the board in the nick of time.  A bell rang out indicating the correct answer had indeed been chosen, the screen rewarded their points and their digital avatar clapped her hands on screen and smiled.  Blazing across the board the words “Congratulations Team Green” flashed up letting them know they'd won the entire match.

The winners responded in kind, mimicking their avatar, gesturing their success to their opponents with their fists in the air. A quick burst of disappointment flitted across Abra’s face, one of the youngest Saudi girls on one of the losing teams, until she piped up excited at the possibility of a rematch “Teacher, can we play again?”

What was going on in my classroom?

We were playing a GLEE.

Gamified Language Educational e-tivities (GLEE) is a term I coined during my studies at the University of Manchester for an MA in Educational Technology & TESOL. I use this and the corresponding acronym (coincidentally a synonym for joy) because I consider the commonly recognised phrases, originating in the 1970s and earlier, of “serious games” (Abt, 1970) and “educational games” (Bock, 1969), to be confusing misnomers which do not take into account the potentiality for seriousness in normal game-play (Huizinga,1944) nor do they adequately reflect the intrinsic educational properties found within many leisure games, whether what is played is Chess, Monopoly or World of Warcraft.

In my opinion the use of the word game in both these phrases is inappropriate.  This is because games, in their essence, are entirely voluntary activities, i.e. chosen by their players out of their desire to play them (Huizinga, 1944), rather than because they are made to do something (Schiller, 1775 cited in Botturi & Loh, 2008). Conversely, even if they are enjoyed, as was described in the vignette above, classroom activities and e-tivities are generally chosen by the teacher - there is an expectation for the learners to do the exercise on the part of the teachers.

While learning may indeed occur during game-play of normal games, this learning is not a core objective of the activity - games are played for the very fun of playing them.  As St. Thomas Aquinas reflected way back in the 1300s, this fun does not carry any additional purpose, other than to meet the game’s objective through the following of the rules. So when and if an educational objective is set as the activity’s primary goal, with the secondary goal being to appear as if what the students are doing is playing a game, it is actually an alternative activity with dual objectives.

The rationale behind the definition of GLEE and GLEA

Starting at the end of the acronym, the E and A which refer to activities and e-tivities, i.e. to the environment which the experience is based upon allows us to discuss their differences much more easily.

Activities refer to paper-based, photo-copiable tasks but they also discuss role-play, simulations and physical learning experiences, such as sending students out on scavenger hunts.  The sort of thing that we, as ESL teachers, have been doing for years  - remember the Hadfields’ communicative activity books and the resource packs that come with just about every textbook these days?

E-tivities, on the other hand, are ‘short, active and interactive online learning’ Salmon (2003:1) experiences, i.e. activities that take place on digital devices, on computers, Interactive Whiteboards (IWB) and mobile equipment.

By using the adjective educational to describe this type of activity and e-tivity, we can separate out from the activities and e-tivities used in business, marketing or military settings. That also allows for the dual objectives i.e. both educational and game, to be discussed as two unique items for review.


Whenever we want to talk about the changing state of a thing we add the suffix of change, (to -ify something – think of clarify, justify, and modify). This incredibly apt neologism, which unfortunately is frequently misunderstood, refers to changing something that isn’t normally a game (e.g. learning English grammar) into something that appears as if it is one. However, they are not really games, in the way that most of us understand games.

By referring to the activities that are made to seem like they are, gamified lets us talk separately about digital and video games which may also be used in educational settings, digital play and game based learning, as well as the other blended learning activities that tend to have a more traditional (textbook pages, gap-fill, matching, multiple-choice)  approach in delivery, dynamic and appearance - without confusing their different functions.

Finally, this acronym allows us to explore the different types of educational experiences, so we can further label them appropriately, i.e. GMEE math educational, GHEE history educational and so on, and if we just want to be generic, we can also call them all GEEs: gamified educational e-tivities.

Abt, C. (1970) Serious Games. NY, USA: Viking Press.
Bock, B. (1969) For Educational Games. The Clearing House. Vol 44(1). p49
Botturi, L. & Loh, S. (2008) Once upon a game: rediscovering the roots of games in Education. In: Miller, C. (ed.) Games: Purpose and Potential in Education.  NY, USA: Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. pp 1-22
Huizinga, J. (1944) Homo Ludens: a study of the play-element in culture. Trans. R.F.C. Hull (1949) London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited.
Salmon, G. (2003). E-tivities: the key to online learning. London, UK: Kogan Page Ltd.

Image Credit: By See-ming Lee from New York, NY, USA (Happiness / 20100117.7D.02031.P1.L1.BW / SML) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

If you would like to ask anything about this definition please don’t hesitate to comment below - if you would like to read up on the benefits of using GLEEs in the language classroom and to find out where to find digital e-tivities on the internet, please travel on to the OUP blog post here.


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