TEACHING AT PITT: Weekly feedback videos can enhance engagement in remote teaching


If a swiftly completed weekly measure could make nearly 90 percent of your students feel an enhanced sense of your presence in a course and make nearly 70 percent of your students feel more motivated to achieve in the course, would you take that step?

Consider recording and posting short weekly feedback videos for your students. Our article explains what this surprisingly easy — and even fun — measure entails, why it is a good choice for your course, and how to implement it effectively in enhancing student engagement.

What is a weekly feedback video?

Assistant Professor George Dougherty, who directs the Master of Public Policy and Management Program at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, has been making weekly videos for his online courses for several years. He sees them primarily as a tool that “increases students’ willingness to get in touch and to be engaged with you and with the material, so that they are far more likely to reach out if they get stuck.” 

A weekly feedback video is also an opportunity to speak to your students in a very personal and direct way that forges a human connection while conveying the important message that you are present and connecting with them and their work. It can “pull together themes, ideas and lingering questions” or “provide further instruction or a resource on a topic that had previously been discussed” (Hummel, et al., 2018, 490-91).  

Indeed, these videos can serve a wide variety of functions in your course. Two or three of the following ideas per video will usually be enough to reach the ideal length of about three minutes (Bialowas and Steimel 2019, 356):

  • Supply a note about a common error or issue in recent papers or assignments; address it globally to reinforce any individual feedback that you provide.

  • Articulate one or two very specific, achievable, but appropriately challenging goals for the coming week.

  • Praise high points in student performance from the previous week’s discussions or other work, perhaps including a statement about how those accomplishments will support next week’s work.

  • Preview assignments, readings, lectures or activities planned for the next week; consider something in the style of a teaser, with just enough information to whet the students’ appetite for what comes next, heightening their curiosity.

  • Remind students about overall course goals and how the week’s work served them, or remind students about upcoming assignments or deadlines.

  • Offer a short, simple study tip; an interesting article on the web; or a trivia question that you will answer at the beginning of the next class session.

However, style is at least as important as substance in these videos. Regardless of what content you include, focus on being warm, friendly and approachable. Remember that this is an opportunity to make a genuine connection with your students.

Why are weekly feedback videos educationally effective?

“It’s almost,” Dougherty says, “like having a conversation with each individual student.”

Research corroborates Dougherty’s direct observations, showing that weekly feedback videos enhance two important categories of presence. In fact, 88 percent of students in one study agreed that they “helped to increase the presence of the instructor” (Bialowas and Steimel 2019, 356).

A student’s learning experience — which plays a big role in their learning in every course — is influenced by three parts: teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence. Weekly feedback videos are thought to augment the first two.

Teaching presence includes fostering learning outcomes that are personally meaningful for students, and research demonstrates that having a visibly active instructor correlates to students’ sense of connectedness to the material (Shea, et al., 2005). The result is an increase in students’ perceptions that they are supported and included. Simply put, a video of an instructor just being human and authentic can powerfully humanize a course and aid in establishing teaching presence.

Social presence is how students and teachers project their personal characteristics by giving a sense of themselves as real people. A weekly feedback video — attaching more personality to your digital presence — “has been reported to make an instructor feel even more ‘real’ and present to students,” thus enhancing social as well as teaching presence (Bialowas and Steimel 2019, 355). And an associated study reported that 69.9 percent of students felt more motivated as a result of seeing these regular video contributions from their instructors (Bialowas and Steimel 2019, 357).

With one study showing that the ideal periodicity for feedback videos is weekly — and that more frequent videos might actually be counterproductive — this research-based practice is among the simplest ways to yield positive results (Bialowas and Steimel 2019, 356).

How do you plan and create an effective weekly feedback video?

If you have never created an asynchronous video of yourself before (one that your students can view whenever is convenient for them, instead of during your designated class time like a Zoom session), it may feel a bit daunting. However, it is actually quite simple.

Hardware: You will need a webcam and a microphone. If you have been teaching via Zoom, you already have these things. They may be built into your computer, or they may be plugged into it. Either way, it is likely you have your hardware setup working already.

Software: You have some options on this front. You will need software to record your video, software to edit your video if desired, and software to distribute your video to your students. We’ve put together a page of information about the software choices for each of these steps. The short answer, however, is that for a video as simple as a few minutes of you talking to your camera, the easiest solution is to just use Panopto for all three. 

Some tips on how to execute this well: 

  • Make sure that your face is lit well. You want your students to be able to read your facial expressions easily in a video like this, in which the point is to create a personal connection. Try setting yourself up to record so that there is a window (during the day) or a lamp behind your camera.

  • Place your webcam at eye level and try to look at it as you speak. If your webcam is built into the top of your laptop, this may involve adding a few books under your laptop to raise it up. This will give your students the feeling of having a conversation with you face to face, making eye contact.

  • If you are nervous about remembering what you want to say, write a script — and then do not actually read from it unless you feel confident that you have the ability to sound spontaneous and personable while doing so. Dougherty writes out his first few lines as a kind of warm up but then speaks extemporaneously from “my list of the two or three main points that I’m going to make.”

  • Finally, be personable! Emote! Use all the verbal and facial exclamation points! Video flattens emotion, so if you speak as if you were in person, you will come across as a bit flat; amp things up a bit! Pay attention to your facial expressions — it can be hard to remember to use them when you are looking at a camera lens instead of a person. And pay attention to your verbal inflection — bring to mind how you speak when you’re reading a storybook to a small child, and you will be on the right track.

“These videos make the class more fun for me,” Dougherty concludes. “The students get a better sense of who I am, so I’ve become much more approachable. And then they do reach out.”

For additional resources on this topic, please consult the references below, consult the Teaching Center Website and our video resource round-up page for tips on educational video in general, and visit Teaching Support to arrange for a consultation.

  • Bialowas, Anne, and Sarah Steimel (2019). Less is more: Use of video to address the problem of teacher immediacy and presence in online courses. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 31(2): 354-64.

  • Hummel, Robin, Genevieve Lowry, Troy Pinkney, and Laura Zadoff (2018). An inquiry into creating and supporting engagement in online courses. In Handbook of Research on Student-Centered Strategies in Online Adult Learning Environments, ed. Carlton J. Fitzgerald, Simona Laurian-Fitzgerald, and Carmen Popa, 482-93. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

  • Shea, P., Swan, K., Li, C. S., & Pickett, A. (2005). Developing learning community in online asynchronous college courses: The role of teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 9(4): 59–82.

J. D. Wright is a teaching consultant with the University Center for Teaching and Learning.  Sera Thornton is a learning scientist and teaching consultant with the University Center for Teaching and Learning.