Today, I am going to follow up on an earlier post from March 7th, 2011, “First Step of Innovation = Substitution”. In that post, I discussed how VoiceThread could be utilized as an innovative enhancement and substitution of literature circles and collaborative group conversations around media. As an example of this concept, I particularly like this one on The Secret Garden. On each of the seven pages, the teacher in this instance has provided active reading prompts that elicit personal connection, reflection, and comprehension. Her prompts also have a real metacognitive value to them (such as students indicating confusions and possible reasons for them). Students are also asked to provide supporting detail from the text as evidence. By providing an oral forum for student expression the students are provided an opportunity to explore thoughts beyond written word and traditional textual activity. It is often easier for students to explain their thinking and ideas in conference and the spoken word than it is through writing and prose.
English Language Learners
Students that find writing challenging are also disadvantaged by many traditional tasks; this is especially true for ELL students that are both new to English and in the process of learning it (a great idea for these students is to allow them to speak his or her own language). “Stronger students can quickly explain to less proficient students what the latter have not understood or what they have to do – this frees the teacher from constantly needing to check on the progress of the weaker student, allowing the teacher to devote enough attention to the other students in the class.” [Source] Since VoiceThread, like all voice recording software, is retained by the very nature of it, the student and teacher can continually refer to previous samples to gauge growth and progress of learning. In my own learning with the Equity Department and through research, I was interested to learn (and it is very logical) that “…human learning and cognitive development is based upon activation of prior knowledge. Teaching ELLs in a language other than their native one prevents the ELLs from connecting much of their prior knowledge with the new information they receive. It seems as if this practice ignores one of the most basic fundamentals for human learning.” [Source] Allowing ELL students to express themselves in their native language gives them a forum to make connections familiar to them by language and culture and then apply to English through the translation of their own words. This particular idea fascinates me.
The most powerful aspect of VoiceThread is that it is communal and allows for the real creation of a learning community. As much as students are expressing themselves individually to topics or concepts, they are also adding their voice to the wider mosaic of those of their peers. This creates a real sense of community, a partnership of learners that can listen to and comment on each other. They can help each other grow throw comment thus learning the importance of both individuality and consensus. This peer assessment combines with that of self for the potential of rich metacognitive exercises.
The learning opportunities are endless and more and more I am leaning to the power of spoken word versus that of written. There have been many a time when I know that a student understands a concept better than they have presented it in writing. The reality of this is based in proficiency of vocabulary and writing style. Students that struggle in both of these areas produce writing that is often difficult to read, thus limiting our ability to assess their comprehension and ability to make real world connections to what they are learning. Conversation can really close that gap and help students to grow.
Setting Up VoiceThread
Gmail Aliases and VoiceThread Identities
Setting up VoiceThread is very simple – it really is only a handful of steps: sign-up, upload images, comment on them, and share with others. One challenging aspect for teachers will be the consideration for how to get students into the platform itself in order to comment. Anonymous commenting will not be a suitable option as assessing anonymity will make the identification of individual students problematic. There are two ways to have younger students (especially Grades 1-3 in our board since email accounts are not assigned to students until Grade 4): Alias email accounts through Gmail and the creation of identities in VoiceThread itself.
To create Gmail Aliases, create yourself a Gmail email account (http://mail.google.com), i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org – then logout.
Visit the VoiceThread Education site (http://ed.voicethread.com/) and Register yourself as a teacher and logout.
To create student accounts for younger students, you could pre-create accounts for them by signing up with Gmail Aliases (using the +name format) of your Gmail account (i.e. email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com, etc…) – logging out between each individual registration.
Here is a practical video that outlines the Gmail Alias process:
This video by @courosa is very good as well…
Students will have to login each time to use this format but it is one way of doing it. The other is to use Identities in VoiceThread – this may, in fact, be the best option….
One VoiceThread account can have many identities (commenting avatars) associated with it. A family, a class, or an interesting person can switch identities on-the-fly without having to sign in with a different account. Think 22 kids, 45 minutes, and a project to complete – and you’ll understand the wonder of this feature. (http://ed.voicethread.com/about/features/identities/) Be sure to watch the video at that link for further understanding. This video is also quite good…
There are so many resources for VoiceThread that have been created by people and posted online. A YouTube search like this one for “VoiceThread in Education” produced 58 results alone. There are lots of resources to help. VoiceThread itself has some amazing videos that are quick and simple – like this one “What’s a VoiceThread?“.
I, too, have produced three videos to get you started. Watch them below and let me know what you think. Why not share the links of your student’s work in the comment section below? It will be fun to see what everyone comes up with.
VoiceThread: Voice Blogging, Reflection, and Metacognition
Adding Students to VoiceThread as Identities and Creating a Thread
Where to find support for VoiceThread
Another Good Introduction to VoiceThread