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Virginia Journal of Education


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VoiceThread: A Tool for
Extending Conversation


by Karen Work Richardson

One powerful benefit of the World Wide Web is its ability to support ongoing classroom conversations. Even after the bell has rung and the buses have departed, students and teachers can continue to engage in digital dialog. In addition, these online collaborative resources allow us to bring others into our classrooms to be part of the collaboration. They may be other students and teachers with whom we work on a project. Or, we might invite an expert to make a virtual visit to answer questions and share information.

There are a variety of technologies available to support this conversation. Certainly, we can send a simple e-mail or text message. Classroom discussion boards are also popular and built into many of the content management systems adopted by school divisions. Most blogs allow readers to comment, and wikis offer discussion threads as well. Clearly, the Web is designed for conversation and collaboration. But many of these methods are text-based, with users typing their comments. Some websites, however, are offering the use of audio and video discussions.

This semester, my students and I have been exploring a relatively new online collaborative tool called VoiceThread (www.voicethread.com), which allows users to create multimedia slide shows that can incorporate images, documents and video. These presentations are created right on the Web, so no software installation is necessary. It’s easy to add comments to these threads, which while they can be text comments, can also be audio files, video or voice. VoiceThread creators can then share their presentations with others and allow them to add their comments, too. Commenters are able to "doodle," or add annotations, on images and video as they comment. And VoiceThreads can be embedded on websites and downloaded for offline access.

You can sign up for a free account. Despite some limitations, it will allow you to get a sense of what VoiceThread can do for you and your students. K-12 educators are eligible for a free professional version. Finally, there is an educational version of VoiceThread which offers more security and monitoring.  You can learn more about this K-12 version by going to http://ed.voicethread.com.
   
Many educators have already recognized the power of this tool to support teaching and learning in their classrooms, and several Virginia teachers are making creative uses of this tool. Meg Swecker, an instructional technology resource teacher in Roanoke County, uses VoiceThread to share photos from her scuba diving trips. Through these presentations, she invites students into the ocean environment where they can comment and ask questions. You can view some of these threads at her weblog: http://mswecker.edublogs.org/ocean-voicethreads/. Two fifth grade teachers and their students in Virginia Beach have created a VoiceThread reviewing famous people to know for Virginia Studies. You can view it here:  http://voicethread.com/share/122463/.
   
Other ideas for using VoiceThreads include reporting on field trips, offering writing prompts, and creating online book reports. There are threads about how to do math problems and threads about famous people such as Bill Clinton, Helen Keller and Martin Luther King Jr. Some schools and classrooms are using VoiceThread to create their newsletters and announcements, and both foreign language teachers and English as a Second Language teachers have harnessed this tool to provide students with a place to hear and practice speaking their new language.

I had several favorites. One of them came from a kindergarten classroom, and featured student drawings of cows along with their comments about what they had learned. Another favorite for me was the seventh grade poetry slam. Students wrote, illustrated and then spoke their poems, and I was reminded of the poetry books my students created when I taught middle school. If I were back in the classroom, we would definitely be using VoiceThread to extend that project to the Web.

As you browse the VoiceThread gallery, take some time to reflect on your own classroom. What projects or lessons could benefit from this kind of online collaboration? Besides the VoiceThread gallery, there is an excellent wiki with lots of information and examples: http://voicethread4education.wikispaces.com/. When you’re ready, fire up your Web browser, hook up your microphone and get started!

Richardson has been working as an educator for over 20 years, currently as an adjunct instructor in educational technology at The College of William and Mary, where she is also working on her doctorate in curriculum and educational technology. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Virginia Society for Technology in Education.

 


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