Riki Thompson: Inquiry and Dialogue

Last updated: November 17, 2016

Riki Thompson

Dr. Riki Thompson
Assistant Professor
University of Washington, Tacoma Campus


Dr. Riki Thompson is an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of Washington Tacoma campus. Her primary research focuses on the relationship between language, identity, and communication. Dr. Thompson believes in the power of inquiry and dialogue to motivate active learning.

“Inquiry and dialogue are foundational to my pedagogical practice. Because I believe that individuals learn best when they are interested in discovering answers to personally relevant questions, my teaching relies on active learning strategies. As an advocate for active learning, I look to the classroom as a social space where ideas can be shared and different points of view can be discussed, allowing students to find their own voice and make meaningful connections between content and the real world. To facilitate learning, I ask questions to get a better sense of what students are thinking and echo back what I think I hear them saying.”

To aid active learning through conversation and collaboration, Thompson experiments with learning technologies like Catalyst Web Tools –including GoPost. Recently, she discovered a new tool to provide richer feedback on students’ essay drafts, which effectively expanded and enhanced the writing conference process.

Problem: Marks in Margin Are Too Limited, Discouraging

After several years of using margin and end comments to respond to papers, Thompson wondered whether there might be a better method. She was not satisfied with the traditional approach–sometimes margin comments were too much, and other times, not enough. Marking and commenting directly on drafts made it too easy to mark everything rather than highlight a few key points for the student to focus on. Thompson notes that “Too many comments overwhelm the students.” On the other hand, short margin comments are also problematic in that they often fail to provide enough substance to articulate the problem successfully.

Thompson wanted the feedback process to be more conversational and less intimidating for students. Attending a conference on teaching and learning, she happened to discover a tool that she could adapt for her purposes: Jing.

Solution: Jing and Conversational Feedback

Jing is developed by TechSmith to enable screen capture and narration. Thompson wanted a tool that would allow her to both comment on student’s essays and give the students a more immediate feel for the impact of their writing on the reader.

Jing’s free version allows Thompson to record five minutes of audio commentary on a student’s work, highlighting text on the screen as it is displayed. Jing then saves the commentary as a flash video that Thompson uploads to students’ Collect It drop boxes. Students can watch the video as many times as they like, listening to the feedback that is discussed as the instructor scrolls through the highlighted electronic document.

Initially Thompson found some drawbacks to using Jing – it required onscreen reading and she needed to be in a quiet space to record commentary. It was also difficult to get out of the habit of working with a hard copy so Thompson found herself making comments on a paper version and using that as a basis for her Jing commentary. Initially, the process was time-consuming. But the student reaction was very positive:

“They really liked it. They felt as if I was talking with them about their paper – by hearing my voice, they could hear that I was providing a much more friendly review rather than harsh critique.”

Thompson also felt she was better able to articulate her response through using Jing rather than traditional margin feedback.

Lessons Learned

Thompson found that Jing helped her to better describe to her students the questions and responses that their writing evoked. By making the feedback process more conversational, Jing extends the writing conference and emphasizes the dialogic nature of writing and rewriting. The positive student response encouraged her to be innovative in addressing the drawbacks. For example, she found that noise-cancelling headsets allow her to record commentary from anywhere and with adaptation to the process, it takes less time. The 5-minute time limit on the free version also helped Thompson to focus on the major issues rather than minor punctuation problems.