Cheating in Online Courses

How do you prevent students from cheating in an online course? We come across a number of posts every week discussing strategies, explaining how students can google answers to multiple choice tests, pay other people to act as them during an online exam and even write papers for them.

When instructors don’t see or hear students during a course, the ability to cheat increases dramatically. Others have come to this same conclusion, but the solutions they promote involve various strategies previously found in books by George Orwell. These strategies usually involve 360 degree webcam monitoring, locking down student browsers, and other ideas born from a dystopian view of education. These ideas are based on flawed assumptions about course and assessment design that may have been true ten years ago but no longer apply today.

Assumption 1: Courses are either face-to-face, human exchanges or online and impersonal correspondences.

Assumption 2: Auto-graded, short answer tests and written papers are the centerpieces of online assessment.

These assumptions may have been true when universities first started their online programs, but now they are relics of the limits imposed by technology decades ago. Technology has changed since the era of the correspondence course, but our mindsets haven’t caught up to these changes.

De-bunking Assumption #1

Most of these academic dishonesty issues arise from anonymity and impersonal course design. In a face-to-face course, student comments are not anonymous and impersonal, but in online correspondence they can be. With VoiceThread, courses can be both online and face-to-face. When students are required to speak up and express their opinions, apply their knowledge, and literally discuss course content instead of typing on a text-based message board, anonymity goes away. Students who cheat in an online course rely on the fact that their instructor doesn’t know their point of view, their style of communicating ideas or their personality. If you are just a student ID on a course roster, it’s easy to copy/paste answers or find someone to type original answers for you in exchange for money. To accomplish this type of cheating in a VoiceThread based course, that student would need to find a look-a-like who had the time to participate and engage in class discussions throughout the semester.

De-bunking Assumption #2

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with short-answer tests or long-form research papers, but they also don’t need to be impersonal and exclusively text-based. When an instructor creates a short-answer test with VoiceThread, they can ask follow-up questions, explore and examine student comments and genuinely assess their understanding. VoiceThread empowers instructors to create assessments that are Google-proof through the use of authentic, human dialogue. Basic facts are the foundation of all higher-order thinking, so knowledge of these facts can be assessed through questions requiring application and synthesis. If a student can Google an answer, the question wasn’t assessing understanding in the first place. In a traditional class, students can cram and temporarily memorize facts which subverts the learning goals the same way Googling an answer does.



Students can only use a paper-writing service when they are being evaluated solely on the final product. If the instructor never sees the previous drafts, never discusses changes, never probes the evolving concepts with the student, ghost writers have an opportunity to thrive. When students plan, create, and revise over time in a transparent environment like VoiceThread, ghost writers are excluded from the conversation.

The age of the correspondence course is over. Online courses in this decade can be human, relationship-oriented learning experiences and VoiceThread can help.



New Direct, Private and Threaded Comments

We recently released 3 new commenting features for our VoiceThreaders to use! Now, instructors can reply directly to students, give private feedback or enable threaded conversations on their content. Here is a breakdown of each new commenting feature.

1. Direct reply to a comment

If you are the owner or editor of a VoiceThread, you are able to insert a comment directly after someone else’s comment on your slide.  This allows you to help guide the conversation and give feedback directly to your participants. To do this, click on the direct reply icon inside a person’s comment window.


You’ll then see your own Identity image appear as a preview in the conversation channel so you can see where the comment will be inserted, and you’ll see the name of the person to whom you are replying in the comment fan at the bottom of the VoiceThread. Select the option you want to use, and then record your comment normally.




After you have saved your comment, you’ll see that new comment appear in the conversation channel in the correct location.


2. Private reply to a comment

The private reply feature allows you to start a private, two-way conversation with someone who has commented on a VoiceThread.  Private comments are represented by a round Identity image with a padlock icon.  To start a new private conversation or add to an existing one, click on the private reply button inside a person’s comment window.  It looks like a padlock.


You’ll then see your own Identity image appear as a preview in the conversation channel so you can see where the comment will be inserted, and you’ll see the name of the person to whom you are replying in the comment fan at the bottom of the VoiceThread.  Select the option you want to use, and then record your comment normally.


After you have saved your comment, you’ll see that new comment appear in the conversation channel. As you and the other person in your private conversation interact, you’ll see that conversation connected by a white line.  No one else will be able to see this conversation.


Note: K-12 students are not permitted to private reply to anyone other than teachers in their own school.  To disable private commenting for your students, have your VoiceThread Administrator adjust this preference in your Manager Settings.

3. Threaded Comments

If you own a VoiceThread and you are using an upgraded VoiceThread license, you can turn on threaded commenting in your VoiceThread settings.  This allows your participants to start a separate comment thread that branches from the main conversation channel.  These comments are represented by a round Identity image.  To start a new threaded conversation, click on the threaded comment button inside a person’s comment window.


You’ll then see your own Identity image appear as a preview in the conversation channel so you can see where the comment will be inserted, and you’ll see the name of the person to whom you are replying in the comment fan at the bottom of the VoiceThread.  Select the option you want to use, and then record your comment normally.


After you have saved your comment, you’ll see that new comment appear in the conversation channel. As more people contribute to the threaded conversation, you’ll see those comments connected by a white line.


Note: There can only be one threaded conversation per root comment.  If threaded commenting is enabled, then direct reply commenting is not available.

*Free-account holders cannot enable threaded commenting on their own VoiceThreads.


Let us know what you think in the comments below!

3 Ways to Turn Debates into Learning Opportunities

Political debate season is heating up. So how do educators turn the debates into learning opportunities? Here are some ideas about engaging your students with VoiceThread:

Idea #1

Analyze the debates to build enthusiasm for global issues. Each political debate centers around issues like economics, poverty, immigration or climate change. If your students watch the debates, they can practice their communication skills and critical thinking by researching and presenting their own ideas about these topics. Politics can be a gateway for learning about science, math, community service and more. Here’s how that might look:

Idea #2

Teachers across the globe work with their students to write persuasive essays, present ideas and create evidence-based arguments. If you have ever worked on these skills, ask your students to debate topics that matter to them. Here’s a student debate via VoiceThread:

Idea #3

Your students may not vote in the 2016 election, but they will vote for the rest of their lives. Have they thought about why they will vote for one candidate over another? Let students express their feelings about which candidates they support and why. Here’s a VoiceThread about role models that you can watch to get some ideas:


If you have designed a lesson like this using other tools, try it on a VoiceThread this year and hear the difference your students’ voices make. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

VoiceThread: An Online Counterpart to the Traditional Design Studio

This is a guest post by design instructor and VoiceThreader, Jody Lawrence.

I integrated VoiceThread into my freshman design studio to facilitate instructor and peer critiques, and to promote student dialogue and networking with practicing designers around the country. The students embraced the technology as an enhancement to their in-person studio experience, sharing that the tool introduced continuity to their learning throughout the week, and improved the quality of scheduled, in-class time. As an unexpected outcome, implementing this online tool subsequently transformed how students seek instructional and peer feedback about their design solutions. My experience suggests that VoiceThread has benefits that extend beyond its use as an effective method for design critique, and serves to complement the rigor of a traditional design studio.

If you are reading this blog, you already have an idea about the impact that VoiceThread is making to education.  VoiceThread is dissolving the walls of traditional learning environments, enhancing the educational experience for educators and learners alike.  I set out to explore VoiceThread as a change agent within my own discipline; design. The experience resulted in engaging students in unexpected and positive ways, and it expanded my beliefs about online design education.  This post shares how implementing VoiceThread as method for critique has enhanced the learning experience for my design students, and the surprising results of incorporating it into my teaching.

Design studios are unique from other classrooms as spaces where solutions manifest by students engaging an in-depth process of design, involving research, discourse, and the act of making. The studio is the core to any design program. The learning that happens in studio often unfolds within the walls of the studio environment. Design studios are typically centered around in-person model of interactive scaffolding, discourse, and critiques between student and instructor.  Local professionals often enter this model as visitors. Technology within this model have surfaced primarily as a means for production; presentation layout and printing, digital rendering, and modeling (physical and computer-based).

VoiceThread initially captured my interest as an online method to enhance this model, and to promote the dynamic and frequent exchange of ideas needed for design education. The program supports uploading a variety of visual media used by designers, and the built-in tools of a “thread” allow you to discuss the media in a way that mimics being present. Providing descriptive, verbal feedback about design development while drawing on images of the work is compatible with the formative assessment activities that occur in studio.  These attributes make the benefits of the activity almost indistinguishable from in-person design discourse.

I first integrated VoiceThread as an online method to connect students from two sections of an interior design studio.  I set up randomized, small-group threads and invited the students to voluntarily critique each other outside of class. The program readily engaged students and resulted in a high level of participation.  Administering the threads allowed me to monitor and mediate the process.  Controlling the activity in this way took time, but it was worth it; the initial setup proved to be a one time affair, it yielded a guided platform to introduce the technology to students, and allowed me to gain trust in VoiceThread as a critiquing platform.  The critiques that ensued were meaningful, productive, and richly descriptive discussions.  The students enjoyed that they could accomplish all this on their own time and gave them a virtual space to share the development of their ideas.  Also, they liked having an alternative way to participate in the formative assessment of their projects. As an added benefit, monitoring the discussions allowed me to assess the application of knowledge and vocabulary of the student critics.

The experience of using VoiceThread was so positive that I extended its use to broader formative assessment with outsider visitors.  These are often time consuming and difficult to organize because they traditionally occur on-site and in-person.  The asynchronous attributes of VoiceThread made it easy to connect with professionals from all over the world. Rather than having to be present at a specific time and location to contribute, critics could comment at their own convenience and students could review feedback privately and repeatedly.  Post-critique surveys revealed that the critiques were convenient, effective, and enjoyable.  The professionals shared that VoiceThread allowed them to participate despite their geographical and scheduling constraints.  The students shared a desire to have more VoiceThread critiques with professionals because it made them feel connected to industry and because the conversations were not isolated to a single afternoon.

The accretive nature of VoiceThread was an unexpected benefit to using the program.  Students, instructors, and/or critics can upload additional developments of work and continue discussions as long as the thread is active. An idle thread can either be simply disregarded or exhausted by archiving it as digital video file. This longitudinal model of formative assessment to a design studio is powerful, and is useful for any project-based course.  The ability to revisit any past critique is informative to both instructors and students, and promotes post-project reflection. One professional who participated in the outside critiques commented on this in the post-critique survey:

“The advantage of VoiceThread is that everyone can have a record of the development process as it happened, allowing for further study and review as well as allowing access to such information anywhere and anytime. The fact that multiple reviews from many individuals are recorded is a benefit to everyone involved in the exchange of information.”

Perhaps the most surprising benefit of implementing VoiceThread into my studio has been the after effects of introducing it to the students.  I observed a decline in email communication from students shortly after the initial introductory activity, which was synchronous to an increase in student-generated VoiceThreads.  Students organically adopted the tool as a primary way to solicit feedback outside of studio.  One student praised the tool by sharing, “This online program allows us to view the work of other students across different sections and is allowing us to get feedback out of class without wasting valuable class time.”  For design studios that meet twice a week with intervening gaps of time, the autonomy of this feedback has been a significant improvement to the fluidity of their learning.  The verbal method results in far more descriptive feedback than in written form, and mimics dialogue that happens naturally in person. I believe that this is an attractive aspect to my design students. In subsequent design studios, my VoiceThread-experienced students have continued to use it as a resource that enhances their learning. I find this to be an exceptional metric.

My interest in VoiceThread started with a hunch and resulted in an instructional learning experience that allowed me to discover and witness the benefits to the traditional model of design education.  VoiceThread is an effective resource for reinforcing continual and descriptive discourse during the design process, facilitating design critique, improving communication, and for broadening student exposure to industry professionals. This illustrates how design educators can readily integrate online sources into design education to enhance teaching and learning. As an area for further study, I postulate that the VoiceThread critique is comparable to its traditional, in-person counterpart; equally able to facilitate the growth of learning designers.

About the author

Jody Lawrence is a Doctoral Student at the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. Jody is an experienced design studio instructor with Master’s degrees in Architecture and Teaching. Jody’s scholarly interests stem from a diverse integration of disciplines, including teaching and learning, architecture and design, and the integration of online platforms. She is currently developing research that examines school contexts that foster creative instruction. She is also collaborating on several projects that explore online technology as a catalyst for extending the traditional design studio.

Adding Multiple Group Admins

You can now add multiple admins to manage your VoiceThread groups! Take your groups to the next level by adding your teaching assistant, other teachers from your department, or even students as admins. Only teachers can create groups, but once you have created the group you can promote any of the members to admin status.

-If you work in a support role in your school district or higher ed institution, you can now create groups and promote faculty members as admins.

-If you want to give your students the responsibility of managing their group for Project-Based Learning, you can now promote them as well.

You are automatically the administrator for any Group you create.  If you would like someone else to have the same abilities to add members, remove members, manage the content in the Group, and delete it when necessary, you can just add that other person as an administrator, as well.

First, you’ll need to add that person as a member of your Group.  Once he or she is a member, follow these steps to promote that person to the administrator role:

-Find the person in your list of Group members.

-Click on the pencil icon next to the person’s name.

-Click “Admin” to instantly give the person that role.


If you need to remove admin access from someone, you can follow the same steps, but click “Member” to demote the person from the Admin role to Member.

To learn more about using groups in VoiceThread, check out this short tutorial and share it with your students:

VoiceThread Tips for the First Day of Class

Sure, VoiceThread is great for big projects and deep learning discussions during the heart of the academic year, but it can also help with the small and simple early semester stuff. Whether you are an instructor on the higher ed level meeting your new students, or a middle school teacher meeting your new parents, an introduction VoiceThread will help bring the human element back to your digital communication.

With VoiceThread, you can easily record an introduction via your webcam and share it with students or parents and get to know each other without having to schedule meetings. Here’s an example of how an intro might look:

Direct link:

Instead of taking valuable time at the beginning of your first class going over the syllabus, you can upload your docs to a VoiceThread and let students listen when they have time. This way, you can use that first class to dive right into content that can hook your students on your subject. Here’s an example of a professor who did just that:

Direct Link:

We’d love to know how you use VoiceThread to start your semester off, so leave a comment below and share your ideas!

Are your students better than spammers?

While it can be easy to get students to comment on each others’ work, it is not always easy to get them to leave thoughtful, quality comments. Frequently, the student commenters mean well and they try to be encouraging, but their feedback to each other is lacking real substance. They might simply leave a comment like: “nice job, Mike!” or “Interesting post, Debbie!” but add no real value to the discussion.

On this blog, we get bombarded with spam comments every day. They are always nice and usually very generic. Here are a few actual spam comment from this week:

Your blogs usually include a lot of really up to date info. Where do you come up with this? Just declaring you are very imaginative. Thanks again

~Random Spammer selling watches

Thanks for writing this. I really feel as though I know so much more about this than I did before. Your blog really brought some things to light that I never would have thought about before reading it. You should continue this, Im sure most people would agree youve got a gift.

~Random Spammer selling who knows what

Image source:

Spammers write comments like these so they can post them on any blog about any topic. There is no real connection to the post itself, just fluff. Often, our student-to-student comments are just as generic as the comments left by spammers. They are nice enough, but very light on substance and lacking any evidence that the course content was absorbed. So how do we create an environment where student comments add value to the conversations in our courses?

One solution would be to make class participation a much larger percentage of the grade. Typically, participation is a minor portion of a student’s grade; maybe 5 or 10 percent. What if participation replaced some of our traditional, formal assessments and made up 70 or 80 percent of their grade? If students were given a rubric explaining the difference between quality and spam and they knew their grade depended on quality interaction, based on deep reading, understanding, research and feedback would that help?

Now, no one who reads this post is going to be graded, but this could be a great opportunity to model quality comments for your students. Are you up to the challenge of leaving a quality comment that adds value to this conversation? Try modeling what you want your students to do below in our comment section. We’d love to know some of your strategies for improving the discourse around your content!

The Hidden Power of Asynchronous Learning

How do you define the word “learning”?

If a student passes a test by cramming the day before, but they can’t remember the concepts months later, can we truly say they have “learned” the material? We know that when students cram for an exam, the information they consume is not going to be stored in long-term memory. To transfer information from their short-term to their long-term memory, students need repeated interaction with concepts over time. From this perspective, students who pass an exam by cramming are not learning much more than students who fail an exam. This phenomenon is caused by what Hermann Ebbinghaus called “The Forgetting Curve”.



Traditionally, students have attempted to capture information shared during a live class by taking notes. We know that students’ note taking ability varies greatly and the students who most need to review and reflect on the information may not be the best at copying notes with great fidelity.

If you create content on a VoiceThread, however, students can go back to review and reflect on your content exactly as it was delivered. If they review for the exam days, or even weeks later, they will also have the ability to ask questions right on the slides you created.

Spaced repetition and reflection are just some of the many benefits of asynchronous learning on VoiceThread. Educators who flip their class enjoy the benefits of this method, but we’d like to know how you design spaced repetition into your lessons. Leave us a comment below and share your secrets about building memory reconsolidation into your course design!


Teaching Music Online with VoiceThread (part 2)

This is a guest post by music educator and VoiceThreader, Eric Lindsay.

A few weeks ago I wrote a guest blog post about the media-rich capabilities in VoiceThread for online music learning. This is a follow-up entry with three quick ideas for teachers interested in bumping up the audio and video production quality of their online presentations.

TIP 1: Premix your Voiceovers

Want to enhance the cinematic qualities of your slides? You can transform your discussion of a famous piece, political speech, or other audio recording by using some or part of it as background to your talking track. This eliminates the sometimes awkward pauses between an artifact and your discussion of it. I often use this technique when I want to create a running analysis of a piece of music, or whether I want to intersperse talking points with media examples.

Using an open-source audio editor like Audacity (Mac/Windows, free), you can record a voiceover on one track, drag in an audio file from your desktop, and use fade in/fade out controls to create smooth transitions between the recording and your lecture. When you’re done, export your session as a .mp3 and add it to a VoiceThread slide as a media upload.

Tip 1Figure 1 Premixing Audio in Audacity.

TIP 2: Intersperse Slides With Videos and Screencasts

Everyone’s heard a variation on the adage about more “showing” and less “telling” in their instruction. If you feel like your VoiceThreads are doing too much of the latter, throw in some videos—that you’ve made on your phone or tablet, or a screencast of an application—of you demonstrating something that they can experiment with on their own. We do a lot of composing in my courses, so I’ll often share out a file (Garageband is shown below) before the unit goes live and offer some ideas for listening to or creatively extending the material in my lecture.

For screencasting, I use Screenflow 5 (Mac, $99) because I find the tools for creating desktop videos and enhancing them with call-outs, transitions, voiceover effects and more are really intuitive. However, there are several others that are worth exploring: Adobe Captivate, Camtasia Studio, Screenr, Jing and others. Whichever tool you use, you’ll be exporting your tutorial as a video file (.mp4 or .mov) and uploading it to VoiceThread as a movie that you can arrange in your presentation as though it were just another slide.

Tip 2Figure 2 Creating a screencast using Screenflow 5.

TIP 3: Don’t Lose Your Animation

One of the first discoveries people have when trying out VoiceThread is that their slide animations get lost when they upload their decks. Perhaps you have the most genius PowerPoint slide build ever. Maybe you just don’t want to rearrange content in the slides that have layering effects. If this really bums you out, you can create a workaround by saving a particular slide as a movie file.

Tip 3Figure 3 Exporting slides as movies in PowerPoint.

Track down the slide with the animation you want to keep. Change any animation that’s activated “By Click” to “After Previous” and approximate how many seconds you’ll need between animations for your voiceover. Set this as the “Delay” between events, then practice your timings in slideshow mode. When you think your timings are pretty good, isolate this slide by deleting all the others (at least temporarily) and selecting “Save as Movie” under the file menu. Upload the movie file of this slide to your VoiceThread and record your voiceover online as a voice comment. Because of the trial-and-error involved, I wouldn’t recommend doing this for simple effects, mostly because you’re a teacher and you likely have more pressing things to do, but at least you can know that animation is available to you for those “special moments” in your decks.

Got any other tips? I’d love to hear them.

Check out excerpts from the “Digital Audio” unit of the Music in Multimedia course, which offers some additional recording best practices:

Eric Lindsay is a composer and lecturer at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he teaches courses in digital composition and music in media. His music includes various approaches to concert music, opera, interactive electronics, sound installation, and mixed media. His music and activities can be followed at @ericcomposer or his website,

Using VoiceThread in Religion Class

This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Michelle Reagan.

I use a variety of EdTech tools in my blended classroom, but my absolute favorite is VoiceThread. Not only is it the most user friendly, it does something that is essential in a religion classroom: It allows us to continue to build relationships in cyberspace.

Teachers are ultimately in the business of forging relationships: We bond with students, we communicate with parents and we enable youth to become personally invested in their education. As a religion teacher, the ability to create personal connections is even more fundamental. I am called go beyond an intellectual level. I strive to make my students women of a deep, personal faith. Initially, I thought that in a blended classroom, maintaining the critical bond of fellowship would be a challenge.

Helping student with her VT script

Technology is innately impersonal, or so I thought. Then I found VoiceThread. I love student presentations, but they devour class time. I began using VoiceThread as a tool for “flipped class presentations.” I wanted my students to give presentations reflecting on images of Church. Using VoiceThread, my students gave traditional oral presentations, but they took place in the cloud.

I required a minimum of three comments on classmate VoiceThreads giving me the opportunity to educate students on appropriate online sharing, something today’s youth desperately need. But what sets VoiceThread apart, is the students’ voices. The ability to hear the student explain her idea of church with support of her own artwork, created that personal connection that is vital to developing fellowship in a religion classroom. Here’s a sample from my first VoiceThread class:

Mary’s VoiceThread

None of the relationship was lost. In fact, for me, the personal connection was enhanced. I was able to watch each VoiceThread at a time when I could focus my full attention on each presentation. There were no distractions that take place when students present in the classroom: Bells, calls from the office, inattentive peers. VoiceThread allows me to be totally present to the student, even though we’re not in the same room.

The other benefit of using VoiceThread for presentations and discussions is that it puts all students on a level playing field. My students wanted to make video reflections to review what they learned. We shared their videos using VoiceThread and invited students to comment voluntarily about a discussion we had in class. I was pleasantly surprised when the comments started to appear. They did not come from the girls who always raise their hands in class. Rather, the “quiet students” were commenting on VoiceThread. It allows students who don’t feel confident speaking in class to have a voice. Students who never spoke a word in class were posting multiple comments on their peer’s videos.

For me, teaching is about building relationships that help students bond with their faith. In a digital age, teachers need tools that allow students to forge real connections in a virtual world. For me, VoiceThread is that tool.

Helping student make her voicethread public


About the author

Michelle Reagan has been a high school teacher in the Diocese of Orange for over 10 years. She currently teaches sophomore religion at Rosary Academy in Fullerton, CA. Her passion for using technology to ignite her students’ faith has made her a frequent presenter at Diocesan professional development events. You can find her on twitter at @foleyreagan.