Kicking Instruction Up a Notch - with VoiceThread!

*This is a guest post by online educators and VoiceThreaders Candace Figg, Dave Potts, and Caitlin Munn.

Often as higher education faculty, we want to include collaborative discussion activities in our instruction to enhance our information presentation to large class sizes and provide learning environments that our digital-age learners perceive as relevant instruction.  Enter VoiceThread! The very structure of the tool facilitates a collaborative discussion where everyone gets a turn, and makes you look like the cool, hip, fabulous professor you are! And this works for K-12 teachers, too!

How We’ve Used VoiceThread

The goal in our online course, Learning in the Digital Context, is for students in their first year of university to explore various digital tools available on the Internet that help them build knowledge, collaborate, collect resources, and support learning. Through an exploration of digital citizenship, our learners select tools for their own Personal Learning Environment (PLE) that will support that learning and describe how they will maintain/update that PLE. We feature VoiceThread in our discussion of digital rights and responsibilities, and hands down, VoiceThread becomes a core tool in student PLEs, having been selected by 96% of our students.

The activity we use is simple. We provide our learners with a virtual field trip of online articles and resources to facilitate the development of their understanding of digital rights and responsibilities. Next they share their learning and understandings with their peers in the Digital Rights & Responsibilities Discussion VoiceThread. It’s proven to be an efficacious collaborative activity, engaging our learners in the consolidation of new knowledge and facilitating deeper learning.  

Our VoiceThread: Digital Rights & Responsibilities Discussion 

We have also successfully incorporated VoiceThread in our instruction to foster backchannel discussions, showcase individual student work, and collect feedback from peers. ALL of these activities are do-able in large (and small) university or K-12 classrooms!

Why We Use Voicethread

There are other collaborative discussion tools available, but we chose VoiceThread for this activity for the following reasons:

Flexibility: Incorporating mobile devices makes the instruction more interactive and accessible, breaks up the presentation of information, and increases retention by allowing learners time to process the information. Also, the VoiceThread mobile app allows students to use their own devices!

Collaborative discussion: Collaborative discussion is one of our most powerful learning activities for online and face-to-face/blended learning environments! These valuable activities give everyone a voice. In the online classroom, VoiceThread provides a way to move beyond text-based discussions to a more inclusive, engaging, and interactive means of communication because learners can choose the medium that matches their technical skills and comfort levels.

Differentiation possibilities: Obstacles to group instruction include the social dynamics of large group instruction, varying student confidence and knowledge levels, and the subsequent range of vocal participation that learners exhibit. With VoiceThread, learners who are reluctant to speak in the face-to-face classroom can comfortably respond in their medium of preference: voice, text, or video!

Opportunity for assessment: VoiceThread also provides an opportunity to conduct assessment of student learning and understanding. Learners and educators alike can also track growth and development, by comparing submissions across time-spans.

Be a VoiceThread master in your own class!

Four tips for success with VoiceThread . . . .

Plan for student success – Take time to introduce VoiceThread to your learners. Modeling how to use the technology, even to our tech-savvy digital learners in higher education, is important! Take time to do a VoiceThread activity in class so students better understand your expectations and how to navigate the tool. Guide them through the questions on the slide(s), allow them to make contributions, and discuss the final results in class. This sets the stage for independent/blended learning in future discussions.

Plan for required set-up – Think about discussions and how to stimulate them. There are many fabulous resources online to guide your construction of great discussion questions! Check out Edutopia’s  article Guidelines for Developing Juicy Discussion Questions, or the University of Wisconsin’s Teaching with Technology Online Workshop Series. Next, consider how you will set up the VoiceThread – VoiceThread’s own Getting Started tutorials are useful here.

Plan for implementation – Classroom management techniques are important, so consider the following: Will you set up groups for an in-class discussion? How will you allow time for learners to then see and hear what others have posted? What will the follow-up activity be? Will you provide in-class time for this discussion or will it be a blended learning experience where students contribute as part of their homework and return to class to build consensus of the significant points shared?

Plan for student access to VoiceThread and technology – Consider how students will access the VoiceThread and what devices students will use to access the tool.  For younger students who have never used VoiceThread, providing student access is simpler when the teacher sets up an account and makes multiple identities (one for each student). With any paid license, student accounts are included and can be automatically created via LMS integration. With VoiceThread’s iOS and Android apps, students can access VoiceThread with their own devices anywhere and any time they choose. Secondly, will you provide technology – computers in the classroom – or will they use their own devices? Will the infrastructure of your university (or school) allow this access? How will adapt if you only have access to one computer?


Now it’s your turn! Try it out!

Here are some helpful VoiceThread resources to get you started in kicking your large class instruction up a notch – with VoiceThread, of course!

VoiceThread in the Classroom, Group Participation and Community, Voicethread wiki, and Voicethread’s extensive list ofIdeas for using Voicethread.

Your guest bloggers, Candace Figg, Dave Potts, and Caitlin Munn, are all instructors in the online program of the Centre for Adult Education and Community Outreach at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Candace Figg is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Teacher Education Department, where her specialty is teaching and learning with technology; Dave Potts is a Sessional Instructor and Online Facilitator for Brock’s Faculty of Education, delivering the Teaching & Learning with Technology and Learning in Digital Contexts courses; and Caitlin Munn is a Learning Strategist at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Manitoba, where her speciality is assistive technology and strategy instruction.