Accessibility and Universal Design with VoiceThread

Inside Higher Ed just published an article about the intersection of the two biggest online education topics of the last few years: MOOCs and accessibility. Institutions want to create online courses and content that are available to the wider public, but questions are being raised about whether this content is designed for universal access.

Here are some of the findings from the article:

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Many of these problems can be prevented by choosing the right platform to deliver these courses. With VoiceThread, institutions don’t need to re-invent the wheel to make their content work with screen readers. VoiceThread Universal is our screen reader enabled version that requires no extra work for faculty or Instructional Designers. Students who need screen readers can listen to audio comments from their instructors or classmates, but they can also listen to their text comments when they use VoiceThread Universal. Alt text can be added to slide titles to give blind students a way to access images too.

One day, auto-captioning software will be good enough to accurately transcribe the spoken word, but if you’ve ever used them to save time you know how embarrassing the mistakes can be.


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In 2016, there is no substitute for human transcription, but it doesn’t have to be a laborious process. With just a few clicks, you can upload caption files to VoiceThread comments or videos. We make it easy to not only upload closed caption files, but we can connect you with your favorite third party caption services without leaving your VoiceThread. For institutions that don’t have the resources to pay for a caption service, instructors or instructional support teams can create captions with their free text editors and upload them easily.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is about more than adhering to accessibility laws; it is about providing multiple means of engagement, representation and action. Students may be participating from a noisy train on their way home from work, they may be anxious about speaking for a variety of reasons, or they may be dyslexic. While no single tool can handle every specific student need, we believe we provide the most flexibility for course designers and participants. There’s no need to scrap all of your plans to create public content, you just need to plan with the right platform.


4 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:

Idea #4

Creating political ads for candidates from the past can be a great way to bring history to life. Students can choose 19th century candidates, research the issues surrounding their rise to power and gain perspective on the stories that impact us today. They can upload images, original documents, create and upload videos and more. Here’s an example of a political ad for John Quincy Adams in the 1828 election:

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 A to Z: Creating Portfolios with VoiceThread

In this final installment of the VoiceThread A to Z series, we’ll be discussing portfolios. In our previous posts in this series, we discussed ways to start your year, use VoiceThread for storytelling, presentations, as a discussion board replacement and for assessments. You can find those posts here: VoiceThread A to Z posts.


Portfolios can be a great way to illustrate progress over the course of a semester. Many students don’t see the progress they have made until they can compare work they completed early in the year with the work they produce later. They can also be great ways for students to reflect on their learning and show their parents what they’ve learned.

In this thread, a student takes you on a tour of his school year. He simply uploaded photos from different experiences he’s had and narrated his journey:


In this thread, a 5th grade student reviews her learning in math, science, writing and music for her parents. This type of student-led conference can not only save time during parent-teacher conferences, but it can also give parents a deeper sense of what their child has accomplished:



In this e-portfolio, a higher ed student takes you on a tour of her internship. She explains what she’s done, goes over her journal and reflects on what she has learned:



Creating portfolios like these is the same, simple 2 step process it takes to create any VoiceThread: 1. Upload your images, videos and documents, 2. Narrate using your mic or webcam. Because VoiceThreads are always editable, students can continue to add to the same thread as they chart their journey.

If you want to see how other educators have used VoiceThread for portfolios, check out these guest posts:

VoiceThread Portfolios: Capturing the Creative Process by Jonathan Lewis

Spanish Portfolios and VoiceThread Commenting by Laura K. Sexton

Join us for the OLC Accelerate TTK Iron Chef Competition

Are you going to OLC Accelerate in November? We are looking for partners to join us in creating a winning “recipe” for the TTK Iron Chef Competition!

We believe that VoiceThread would be a great option for participants for any of the themes below. If you would like to work with the VoiceThread team at OLC, add your info to the form and we will contact you.

The themes are:

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VoiceThread would be a great choice for collaboration amongst cross-institutional teams and creating innovative, “flipped” professional development for faculty. If you want to learn more about how you can join us for the Iron Chef Battle, add your contact info here:

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VoiceThread A to Z: Using VoiceThread for Assessments

This is the 5th installment in our VoiceThread A to Z series. In the first 4 posts, we discussed ways to start your year, use VoiceThread for storytelling, presentations, and as a discussion board replacement. You can find those posts here: VoiceThread A to Z posts. This post will focus on using VoiceThread for formative and summative assessments.


It can be difficult to find the time to give students personal feedback on their papers. Trying to schedule time during office hours, during a lunch break or after class it over is not easy. With VoiceThread, you can ask your students to upload a draft of their paper and securely share it with you. Then you can read the draft and supply feedback when you have time. The student can take that feedback, revise their draft and upload the new version to the same VoiceThread. Not only can you provide that personalized feedback to your students, but you can do it with no scheduling hassles. Here is an example of a teacher using VoiceThread for this purpose:


VoiceThread can also be used as a summative assessment tool. In the example below, an ESL teacher recorded herself asking questions using her webcam on each slide. In this example, the students can hear each other’s answers, but if you use comment moderation, then you would be the only one to see and hear what they had to say. This example is for a language class, but it could just as easily been an online exam for philosophy, economics, science or any other class. If your institution has VoiceThread integrated into your LMS, you can create assignments like this that would be connected right to your grade book.



You can make your assessments more human and easier to manage with VoiceThread!

VoiceThread A to Z: Replacing Text Discussion Boards

This is our fourth post in the VoiceThread A to Z series. In the first post, we discussed ways to use VoiceThread for early semester activities and in the second post we discussed creating presentations and our third post dealt with storytelling lesson ideas. This post will focus on using VoiceThread as a replacement for text-based class discussions. Upcoming posts will focus on other innovative lesson design and assessment ideas. Stay tuned!


Cognitive scientist tell us that around 93% of communication is non-verbal. Tone of voice, cadence and body language communicate more information than words alone. Yet, in many online courses students only use text to communicate with each other. Why?

In a face-to-face course, we don’t ask students to write down their questions and comments. We ask them to speak and share their thoughts out loud. Silencing students in a traditional classroom seems like a comical approach to class discussions, yet this is exactly what we do in online courses. Maybe the reason is that when online courses first launched around 20 years ago, video and audio tools weren’t available. Maybe we got into the habit of muddling through a text-based discussion because we didn’t know a better way. That’s just not the case anymore.

With VoiceThread, students can see and hear each other and engage in normal, human conversations. Here’s an example of students from different schools speaking spanish with their “audio pals.” Imagine how stale this assignment would be if it was held on a 1990s-style discussion board:



On this thread, students discuss the novel The Scarlet Letter. It contains a mix of audio, video and text comments. Think about which comments are more engaging and thought-provoking on this thread. Do you have a better sense of which students are confident in their answers when they speak or when they add text comments? Can you really assess what a student knows if they read their comment? When a student explains their thoughts, you can tell if they are simply reading something they may have copy/pasted from the web or if they are sharing their own analysis:


As you plan your lessons for next semester, think about how VoiceThread can help make your class discussions more human.

Our upcoming “A to Z” posts will deal with using VoiceThread for portfolios and other assessment ideas.


Sharing Your Student’s Research With VoiceThread

This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Curtis Izen.


Students taking my online Principals of Management Information Systems course are required to contribute in weekly VoiceThreads, submit case study assignments, work on a group project and complete an individual research paper. The majority of their efforts are shared or developed with the entire class as it’s completed. Classmates are able to contribute their knowledge to other peers, who in turn, learn from their findings and insight. I trust this pedagogy is similar in many courses taught in a variety of disciplines.
One of the most time consuming and high stakes assignments is the individual research paper. Students are tasked with spending a great deal of effort and time from the semester completing this. They need to find a topic they are deeply interested in, propose the topic for acceptance, create an outline, research the topic, find and interview an outside specialist in the area of study, and conclude with an MLA style paper of 12-15 pages. Students often find this assignment the most challenging, yet fruitful one of the entire course. This project is unlike others in the course. It is sent to the instructor for grading without other students seeing or learning about the content submitted.
VoiceThread eliminates this barrier, allowing the entire class to learn from every classmate’s research. One of the final VoiceThread assignments (see Figure Below) involves students creating a video comment about 2 minutes explaining their researched topic, describing how their explored subject connects to the advances in a given business or industry and concludes with what they learned from their analysis. This allows students to deliver all their research in a unique methodology that’s summarized and explained to other peers.

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Classmates are then asked to provide a threaded comment to another peer; providing insight as to what they found enlightening after reviewing their VoiceThread video comment. This creates a dynamic engagement on an array of topics. Since all the VoiceThread comments are up, students can simply watch and listen to all the classmate’s commentaries. If you’re considering a way to have an individual research paper or assignment benefit the entire class, VoiceThread can be used to make this advantageous.

About the Author:

Curtis Izen is a senior information associate and VoiceThread Certified Educator. Curtis adjuncts online and face to face courses at Baruch College and the School of Professional Studies at the City University of New York.  Curtis is passionate on bringing new philosophies and technology into the curriculum.  He is a 2 time recipient of the Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching and Pedagogy at Baruch College.

VoiceThread A to Z: Three Storytelling Lesson Designs

This is our third post in the VoiceThread A to Z series. In the first post, we discussed ways to use VoiceThread for early semester activities and in the second post we discussed creating presentations. This post will focus on incorporating storytelling into your curriculum. Upcoming posts will focus on other innovative lesson design and assessment ideas. Stay tuned!


Which types of courses can use storytelling as a lesson design framework? People typically assume storytelling is confined to creative writing or literature courses, but stories can be a part of any course. Let’s take a look at a few creative VoiceThread storytelling examples:

Language Instruction

In this thread, the instructor is working with students who are learning to speak English. He begins a story and asks his students to make predictions and co-write the ending of the story in their new language. This design not only assesses whether they understood the vocabulary used and the overall story concept, but also helps him evaluate the students’ pronunciation.


Speaking and Writing Skills

In this thread, a 1st grade student wrote an original story and then uploaded screenshots so he could narrate the story for his class. The student not only learned how to write a story in 3 acts, but learned new technology skills and got to practice speaking via a read-aloud.



Turning any Lesson into a Story

This is a lesson comparing databases and search engines for research purposes. That content doesn’t seem like a natural fit for storytelling, but the instructor framed the lesson as a battle between the two approaches. He created a question in the minds of his students and that question helps create engagement.



These are just a few lesson ideas that you can bring into your class this year. If you have other ways to incorporate storytelling into your VoiceThread lessons, let us know in the comments below!


VoiceThread A to Z: Creating Presentation Content

This is the second post in our VoiceThread A to Z series. In the first post, we discussed ways to use VoiceThread for early semester activities. Now we can move on to the different ways you can use VoiceThread for the week to week lesson design in your course. This post will focus on instructor-created mini-lecture content and student-created presentations. Upcoming posts will focus on other innovative lesson design and assessment ideas. Stay tuned!

One of the big benefits of using VoiceThread to create presentations is the ability to engage in two-way conversations. There are a number of video hosting tools, but none that empower real discussion with students. With VoiceThread, teachers can create on-demand mini-lectures and students can ask questions or respond to their teachers questions all in one place. So how do you get started?

Creating a VoiceThread is always a simple two step process:

1. Add your media

2. Comment

For flipped content, this process may involve uploading a PowerPoint presentation that you already use, then narrating your mini-lecture over each slide. If you don’t use PowerPoint, you can always upload images, movie files, import Khan Academy videos or upload audio files too. Here’s an example of this model:


The instructor isn’t the only person in the class who can create presentations though. Students can create engaging content and share it with the class too. Using VoiceThread for student projects not only improves the quality of the student work, but it can help teachers reclaim valuable in-class time.

VoiceThread is an asynchronous tool, so student have time to prepare, practice and iterate. When students have to present in a live classroom setting, there are no opportunities to revise and improve what they say or how they say it.

Student presentations take up a lot of class time as well. In a class with 40+ students it might take weeks to finish all of the presentations. With VoiceThread, they can all be delivered and viewed at the most convenient times for teachers and students alike. Here’s an example of how a student presentation looks:



If your institution has integrated VoiceThread in your LMS, the student presentations can be created using our assignment builder tool as well! With the assignment builder, the student presentation is connected to your LMS grade book, so it’s easy to review and assess your students’ work. Here’s how assignment submissions in an LMS looks for your students:



Whether you use VoiceThread for instructor-led, flipped mini-lectures or student-led presentations, you’ll find the ability to review, revise and re-record improves the quality of the work. In the next post in this series, we will discuss more lesson design ideas using VoiceThread as a storytelling tool.

VoiceThread A to Z: Tips for the First Day of Class

We frequently hear from instructors who use VoiceThread for one specific purpose in their classes, but haven’t thought about how VoiceThread can be a complete solution for online or blended courses. In this blog series, we will work through all the different use cases throughout the school year. Over the next few posts in the VoiceThread A to Z series, you’ll see how to use VoiceThread from day 1 through the final day of classes. In this first post, we’ll show you examples for the beginning of the semester, then in the weeks to come we’ll discuss flipping your class, using portfolios, creating assessments and more. Stay tuned!


Getting Started

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:

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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:

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These are two easy, low-stakes ways to get started with VoiceThread. In our next post, we’ll discuss innovative ways to use VoiceThread for weekly content and conversations. We’d love to know how you use VoiceThread to start your semester off, so leave a comment below and share your ideas!