How can teachers better engage students? It’s a common question that is often asked and I may have found one tool that could help: VoiceThread. VoiceThread is like a high-tech discussion or as Mary Bart, editor of Faculty Focus, wrote, "[It's] a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos." Users may type responses or they may include webcam videos or voice-recorded discussions. Myra George, an English instructor from Milwaukee Area Technical College, explained a plethora of ways in which to use VoiceThread. She focused on two main areas: teacher-created threads and student-created threads (“The Faculty Minute...”). Teacher-created threads could be questions posed on a discussion board (and students would respond by typing or a voice or webcam recording); reading journals (a place where students can comment on what they've read and leave their thoughts); videos of lectures (students wouldn't have to respond, but it could be uploaded as a resource for students); and teachers could prepare slides with text, images, videos or even PowerPoint slides as a kind of lecture or a supplemental resource as well (“The Faculty Minute...”). Students could also create discussion boards or prompts; they could post presentations (this could be a PowerPoint presentation or other form of slides); or they could even post a speech (“The Faculty Minute...”). Another suggestion from Bart is to have a growing lecture because "discussion in VoiceThread is attached to the lecture itself, which can then be used for the next class, [so] students are adding to the lecture, which grows from class to class."
However, Bart commented, "Typically, the instructor loads his or her narrative slides and students can then add their comments at any point within the lecture." That seems to be the most common use of VoiceThread, but the capabilities seem extensive, especially if one is willing to allow the learners to begin threads or lead learning activities. Sometimes our students have even better ideas than we do, so giving them the freedom to flex their creative muscles (perhaps even getting into some of Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences and allowing students to approach a task from an area of strength) could produce unique results that encourage learning in a way the teacher hadn't thought of before.
There are some factors that would need to be addressed before incorporating VoiceThread, however. One of them is the fact that every user would need an account, so if you were beginning to use this resource in your course, you would need to plan time for students to register. Secondly, if you are using the free account, you are only allowed "3 minutes of phone commenting, 5 VoiceThreads with up to 50 slides each, and unlimited voice and text comments" (“VoiceThread…”). If you want more capabilities and space, you would have to invest something close to $80-$100 per year or $15-$20 a month depending on your needs. (Note: there are other prices for schools and company subscriptions. See the VoiceThread website for more details.) Thirdly, there would be a learning curve for participants as there is with any new kind of tool incorporated into a course; therefore, you would need to plan some time to allow users to familiarize themselves and become more comfortable with the tool.
Nevertheless, VoiceThread does address some of the previous concerns of asynchronous learning. Stefan Hrastinski wrote, "If e-learners seldom meet face-to-face and teachers mainly rely on asynchronous e-learning, students might feel isolated and not part of learning communities, which is essential for collaboration and learning" (53). However, Bart wrote, "Students find that the ability to see and hear their instructor and classmates [in VoiceThread] improves the sense of social presence of others in the classroom." Likewise Bart states that it is easier to understand the nuances of the communication because you are able to hear the voice tones. To me, those are two major pluses for VoiceThread along with the fact that "asynchronous communication increases a person's ability to process information" (Hrastinski 53). That has been a long-known advantage of asynchronous e-learning; the recipient has more time to process the information and comprehend the message because the author isn't expecting an immediate reply. Hrastinski said, "[W]hen discussing complex issues, in which time for reflection is needed, it seems preferable to switch to asynchronous e-learning..." (55). VoiceThread can help you do just that and do it in a way that is more engaging than an old-fashioned written discussion board.
Bart, Mary. "Pump up Your Online Discussions with VoiceThread." Faculty Focus. Magna Publications, 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/asynchronous-learning-and-trends/pump-up-your-online-discussions-with-voicethread/>.
Hrastinski, Stefan. "Asynchronous & Synchronous E-Learning." EDUCAUSE Quarterly 31.4 (2008): 51-55. ERIC. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.
“The Faculty Minute: Introducing VoiceThread with Myra George.” Faculty Focus. Milwaukee Area Technical College. 12 July 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohGLoaAN2jw>
"VoiceThread - Support - How To - Free." VoiceThread - Support - How To - Free. VoiceThread, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://voicethread.com/support/howto/Account_Types/Free>.