New Media: VoiceThread

Website Address: http://voicethread.com/products/highered/

When searching for new media I was really hoping to find a tool that I had never heard of before, that sparked my interest and looked fun and easy to use. I was also looking for something that didn’t just allow for a one-way presentation of information by an instructor but something that offered a chance for feedback and collaboration. I ended up on a Michigan based website called, “21 Things 4 the 21st Century Educator” (http://www.21things4teachers.net/). This website offers information on several different tools for instructors that are using online technology…this information led me to find VoiceThread.

VoiceThread is like a discussion board on steroids. Just like other discussion boards, the initiator of a VoiceThread discussion, such as an instructor, starts a discussion thread creating an original post but in this case the post isn’t just text-based. The original post can be a video, an image or a document. This media file then literally becomes the center of the discussion with all subsequent comments surrounding it.   VoiceThread accepts most of the commonly used file formats including jpeg, wav and doc. You can view the entire list of accepted file formats here:  https://voicethread.com/support/howto/Troubleshooting/File_types_accepted/

In addition to uploading media to initiate a discussion thread, the instructor has the control to set security and privacy settings. Only invited and verified group members are allowed to view and participate in the discussion; the instructor determines the membership. In order to ensure that discussions remain civil and appropriate, the instructor can also choose to moderate all comments before they are posted and shared with the entire group. This is an excellent feature to use in the K-12 system where bullying and harassment is so common.

Once the thread is created, group members can begin to offer feedback through comments. Comments can be made through telephone, webcam, text or file uploads. Members can also draw on the central image (original post) while they are commenting for added effect and clarity and are able to delete, re-record or re-write their own comments at any time.

In terms of effectiveness, VoiceThread is used for two-way, asynchronous communication that offers student-student, student-instructor and student-content interaction. Because group members are allowed to comment using voice and video recordings, I would consider this a very effective communication tool; it has a high level of media richness.  According to an article in Faculty Focus, “richness is operationalized in terms of a medium’s ability to accomplish four goals: sending multiple cues, supporting language variety, providing immediate feedback, and allowing personal nature to be communicated” (Schiefelbein). VoiceThread accomplishes three out of four of these goals; because it is asynchronous in nature it does not allow for immediate feedback but it does allow for delayed feedback.

The level of media richness of VoiceThread is much higher than that of Blackboard, making it much more effective. Blackboard’s discussion board feature allows threaded discussions but it does not allow for any type of response other than text-based comments. There is no ability for participants using Blackboard’s discussion tool to receive visual and language cues from people they are communicating with making it much less personal. VoiceThread is much more interactive and engaging.

Activity:

Using Microsoft Word, students will create a personal resume and cover letter that they will share electronically with members of the class. Each student is then required to offer feedback to at least three other students about their projects. Comments must be constructive; the intent is to offer suggestions on how they could improve, if at all, and offer praise for good work. In addition, by viewing the work of others, students may get ideas on how to improve their own. At the end of the discussion, students can make any revisions they find necessary after receiving feedback and submit the final project to the instructor.

If using Blackboard to perform this activity, you could use the discussion thread. The files would have to be emailed by the individual student to all of their classmates. A discussion thread would then have to be started for each student so others could offer feedback. There are a few problems with using this tool for such an assignment. Student’s emails to each other may be blocked by spam and junk filters. Files may not open correctly. Switching back and forth between numerous files and threads would become confusing. Although this could be a tool to use, it has a somewhat low level of media richness and isn’t the most effective for this type of activity.

Using VoiceThread for this activity is a much better option. As the instructor I would start a thread by uploading a document containing the instructions for the assignment. Each student would then comment on the thread by uploading their file. Students would then make comments on each other’s posts using video, text or audio. VoiceThread keeps all posts in a nicely packaged presentation that is much more interesting, engaging and personal.

References:

Schiefelbein , J. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/media-richness-and-communication-in-online-education/

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