The Multi-Faceted Uses of VoiceThread for Online Undergraduate Instruction

This is a guest post by Susan Bertolino, University Professor and VoiceThreader.

Online education is a part of the college experience. More departments are choosing to include online classes in their course schedule. Many instructors are trained to use Web Ex as a mode of conducting synchronous learning, in which college students meet with their instructor via the internet for class discussion, questions, outlines of assignments and other necessary components of active learning. Yet problems arise with this method. Some students have difficult schedules that cannot allow for certain meeting times. Some students have quirky home Wi-Fi connections, so they do their online work at the college computer lab, where they sit next to other students who use the lab to check Facebook and go on Tumblr instead of doing coursework. How does the online instructor address these problems when the emails come in, saying I work every night, I have to pick up my kids, the lab is crazy busy at that time, my roommate uses the computer for his online class at that time—the list goes on.

Our program decided to address these issues by dispensing with synchronous learning entirely. We use Voicethread as our one common tool, along with Temple University’s Blackboard system that is available for all instructors and students. The advantages are enormous:

* Students choose when they will log into the assignment along with the background material necessary to complete their work.

* Students can choose to record or videotape any comments. (They can also write their comments, but I personally discourage it as I use Voicethread for the interactive benefits.)

* Second language learners can practice speaking their English in a non-threatening environment.

* Voicethread builds community. Once students get used to using the tool, they begin to relax and open up. They see each other online, so they feel they are building relationships with each other, just as they would in an in-person classroom.

* Students who refuse to talk in class feel less pressure when they need to speak, as they are discussing the text on their own terms. Often the shyest students excel with Voicethread.

* Students can comment directly on assignments and powerpoints.

* With a free account, students can create 5 voicethreads. Some students choose this instead of commenting on the comment Voicethread. It is up to the instructor whether he or she is comfortable with separate voicethreads, depending on the assignment.

* The tool is easy to use. Common glitches may come from an outdated flash player; bad Wi-Fi or too many people are accessing the same voicethread.

I use Voicethread with my online and in person classes, as I believe in using educational technology in the classroom. Too many people think of technology as consumption along with instant gratification. It is one thing to write a tweet. It is another to respond to an assignment with page numbers from the text along with personal insights into specific information. Good technology keeps our minds active. Once the student gets used to the format, it all works out. By the final assignment, I don’t get any email that tells me the tool is inaccessible. They know what to do.

I’m including some work from my fall semester of 2014. One combines one of my in-person classes with my online class. I created this assignment as a response to Stud Terkel’s Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. The first Voicethread assignment asked the students to interview a full-time worker; the second section asked them to reply more about the book Working by Studs Terkel. I deleted some of the answers for the sake of brevity. I also included an interview with my husband as an entertaining way to model the first half of the assignment.

The second assignment pertains to The Death and Life of American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Only my online students participated. It is based on a powerpoint I created on some of the chapters in the texts. Students were asked to comment on key images, using specific terminology from the text.

You will see that Voicethread allows for a lot of teacher commentary to explain the powerpoint. I alternated from comments I created for my summer class to new ones I made for my fall semester one. Both voicethread assignments show how some students choose to use the web camera while others preferred the audio recording. For the powerpoint assignment, I gave them the option to choose; however, for the interview, I asked the students to videotape their interview unless they had a reason not to do so, and that problem needed to be discussed with me.

I hope I have given an overview of how Voicethread works in online classes along with the more traditional classroom format. Speaking for myself, it has opened up my teaching tremendously. Students left the course with better critical thinking skills and a sense of accomplishment on how to use educational software. Voicethread creates a positive teaching tool for any class environment. I encourage all educators to give it a go!

Susan Bertolino has taught in the Intellectual Heritage Program for the past ten years at Temple University. Before moving to Philadelphia, she was a bilingual classroom and resource teacher for K-8 in Chicago–Spanish is her second language. She loves using educational technology in various modes as she thinks it addresses the three primary learning styles: auditory, visual and tactile.

10 responses to “The Multi-Faceted Uses of VoiceThread for Online Undergraduate Instruction

  1. I just want to add that I needed to make a copy of the Voicethread you see on Jane Jacobs, as I cannot show student comments to a larger audience due to privacy issues. The other voice thread had fewer slides, but it was far more complex as it had two classes participating, along with people that they interviewed. It is a bit confusing, plus we didn’t want to violate privacy.

    Please feel free to contact me with questions on how we use Voicethread at Temple. Technology is a great friend to instruction, once the instructor establishes a comfort level with the technology. Students have a lot of fun with it too!

  2. Hi Susan! I was not familiar with vt until your Blog! Sounds like a great way for students to interact especially in the beginning of a semester. Id love to talk to you about it this week if you have time. Is the program compatible with blackboard? Free to subscribe to individually or no? Thanks for any info.

    1. Hi, Nancy!
      VoiceThread is web-based, so you can add links to Blackboard or any other learning management system. We can also fully integrate with Blackboard, so VoiceThread could appear as a tool in one of your Blackboard drop-down menus.
      We do have a free trial account which allows you to create 5 VoiceThreads so you can see how it works for yourself. If you decide you’d like to upgrade to a full license and have access to the other features, you can check here:

      Full Blackboard integration is possible with a site license.

      Thanks for the kind words and let us know if you have any additional questions!

  3. Hi Nancy,

    We are hoping to be able to intergrate Voicethread into our Blackboard, just like a mashup. I have no control over that, but I believe the idea is floating. I got my license from our program, as we use Voicethread in all of our online classes. I do think most other programs use Web-Ex, and I was originally trained on Web-Ex. Of course, you can do Web-Ex (we used to use Wimba) with regular classes.

    I think everyone will end up with their particular preference, and I shouldn’t speak for my entire program at Temple, but I will say that many of us in IH see Voicethread as a great thing. In my mind, it makes life easier for the online student and instructor. I also like how I can do the powerpoints: I was never a fan for using a straight video, and I like to have fun with the drawing tool, plus I like that students can immediately comment on it, instead of writing a comment. It makes it more immediate.

    I do know that you can embed your Voicethread into your assignment folder, so that students can go straight to it from BB. I create groups on Voicethread, so students immediately get into the link and do their work. Some students prefer creating their own voicethreads, and if the assignment allows for it (the one above did not), I think that is great as they are going deeper into the technology. Only good comes from that. Students feel so much better when they can say that they didn’t just learn _____________ in the class, but now they can operate software. Some end up using it for presentations in other classes; I’ve had the same situation with Mindmeister.

    You can connect with me on the Google site that George linked to my name. If there are any larger questions, I can direct them to my coordinators, who know far more than I do.

  4. Online education is such a dynamic field educators in the field must be open to new and ever more powerful tools to not only keep students accountable but involved and learning. Susan does a great job showcasing aspects of VT which meets those needs. The ability to add video and audio comments directly onto lecture videos is fantastic. I think it should be noted that technology cannot replace good teaching, but rather addresses the problem of bringing good teaching to learners outside of the traditional educational system. I think Susan did a great job in demonstrating her ability to use this program to achieve this goal. In other words, online learning cannot replicate the in-class experience, but VT does a great job creating a system where students and instructors can interact and learn from great educators.

    Also, I very much agree with Susan that technology which may have been developed for distance learning is a great supplement for in-class education. How to get students who register late, caught up quickly with the rest of the class; how to not worry about weather conditions or transportation strikes; or even what to do when you, the instructor, are sick, are just a few ways I personally use technology such as this to run a smooth class and semester. Great post!

  5. I’m so happy to see professors sharing different applications of VoiceThread. I’ve been a VoiceThread for seven years now (!). I am an instructional technologist at a university and an associate online faculty member at a community college. Both institutions purchased a site license to VT fairly recently and have it integrated into Blackboard. I assure you, the integration changes a lot (for the better). Previously, I was manually embedded VTs into my course each term. Now I can simply click from within the LMS, and select the VT I want to share with my students. An added bonus is the Assignment Builder feature that VT rolled out last year. It creates an entry in the LMS gradebook and allows the instructor to view and grade student comments directly from the gradebook without leaving the LMS. Those two features save me a lot of time.

    I have found, however, that when students use the mobile app, they are unable to “submit” their assignment and, therefore, I cannot grade it from the gradebook. That is something I hope to see improved soon, as an instructor has no information about which students are using the mobile app. This creates confusion and frustration with students (and instructors).

    Keep up the VoiceThreading!

  6. Thanks for the support, Jacob!


    I haven’t used the app for grading, but just to see if the work is showing up. I usually tell students to do it on a computer, but a few did make it work with the mobile app, while others did not. So your point is well taken. I wonder if it also depends if it is an Android or Apple app. I use Apple except at work, and like I said, it worked fine for my purposes, but I wasn’t grading or putting up work.

    I really hope we intergrate VT into our Blackboard system, giving people a choice between Webex or Voicethread if that is how instructors want to work it. Wimba had flaws, but the integration was very nice. I do know that it is under discussion, so your comment gives me great cheer!

    1. Hi, folks!
      We will be releasing a new version of the iOS app very soon. The iOS app will have the same look and feel as the android app and the web browser version.

  7. When students are uploading video, how are we to accommodate deaf students? Thinking about a class from a universal design perspective.

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