Enhancing the Virtual Classroom: Communicating with VoiceThread
Online education has the necessary advantage of technology
to overcome the challenges one encounters outside the traditional classroom.
One challenge is how to enable students and instructors with a method of
communication that compares to, or if possible, exceeds the kind of student interaction
one finds in the classroom. VoiceThread, an online communication tool, is an excellent example of how to use technology to meet this challenge.
In a nutshell VoiceThread allows users to conduct group conversations while viewing or presenting a multimedia slide show. When using VoiceThread, students create an online identity to view a presentation by either an instructor or a fellow student. They are then free to make text comments, embed audio comments by using a microphone or the telephone, or even use their own webcams to make video comments.
There is perhaps a legitimate argument to be made that this kind of communication really doesn’t capture the dynamics of a real-time classroom discussion. Yet with this weakness comes the opportunity for strength in new, perhaps unexpected, domains. For instance, VoiceThread allows instructors to monitor the conversation and nudge it toward the fulfillment of educational objectives (i.e., “You make an interesting point, can you relate it to last weeks assigned reading?”). In addition, VoiceThread allows instructors to pick those comments that they feel are most helpful and make them the only viewable comments and control the conversation in a way that is impossible to do in a classroom.
VoiceThread also grants students some exceptional communication tools to make the dreaded group project a much more collaborative and enjoyable experience for all. For instance, traditional group presentations have the potential for group tension, as some students fear that the group’s final project does not reflect their individual contribution. With VoiceThread, individual work is plainly attributed to each student. Ideally all students would use this tool to develop exceptional presentations but should that not be the case, each student is granted full ownership of their distinct contribution.
Here at CTLT we have begun pilot-testing this tool with some positive results. One class used VoiceThread to facilitate a discussion on an assigned reading while another used the application for preparing group presentations.
Online education might not be for everyone. But new technologies like VoiceThread give both instructors and students opportunities that simply weren’t previously available. To learn more about VoiceThread please visit http://voicethread.com/.