Faculty Focus


Pump up Your Online Discussions with VoiceThread

At its best, the discussion board can be the heart and soul of the online classroom. But it’s not always easy getting students to make the type of contributions you expect. The comments can be rather flat, not very insightful, and more often than not, it feels like some students just fill the minimum number of posts stipulated in your syllabus.

But a funny thing happened in John Orlando’s courses when he started using VoiceThread — students began posting more than what was required, and they were far more engaged. In addition, he says, students reported that they enjoyed sharing their thoughts on what they were learning.

A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos. It allows users to navigate slides and leave comments in five ways – using voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video. Typically, the instructor loads his or her narrative slides and students can then add their comments at any point within the lecture.

In a recent online seminar, Orlando, instructional resource manager at the Norwich University School of Graduate Studies, provided examples of VoiceThreads, and explained how to create one for your course.

According to Orlando, the advantages of using VoiceThread for your online discussions include:

  • Student driven discussion: Discussion originates from the students themselves, and thus students tend to bring more of themselves into the conversation. Discussion is freer and more open, touching on a wider variety of issues.
  • A growing lecture: Discussion in a traditional online forum never leaves the classroom.
    The class is archived and discussion forums are wiped clean for the next group, meaning
    that the insights are lost. But because discussion in VoiceThread is attached to the lecture itself, which can then be used for the next class, students are adding to the lecture, which grows from class to class. Students contribute to an ongoing conversation with future classes.
  • Improved social presence: Students find that the ability to see and hear their instructor and classmates improves the sense of social presence of others in the classroom.
  • Better understanding of nuance: Students are better able to understand the nuances of discussion when they can hear the tone in someone’s voice.
  • Student projects: VoiceThread is a great way for students to deliver projects and solicit feedback from others.

The seminar also included a demonstration of VideoAnt, which allows users to make text-based annotations to online videos, and advice on how to use digital storytelling to help personalize the learning experience.