Using Voice Thread to Help Online Students Find Their Voice: Towards a Bridge Between Speaking and Writing

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Incorporating VoiceThread allows online students to replicate in-class discussion more accurately. It also provides a bridge between student's spoken and written expression.


Daniel Quigley is an Associate Professor of English and the Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at New York Institute of Technology. He earned his BA from St. Anselm College in 1982, his Ph.D. from Notre Dame University in 1988. He has taught a wide variety of writing and literature classes online for NYiT since 1989. He currently serves on the NYiT Online Planning committee and assists other faculty in incorporating evolving Web 2.0 technologies into their online and blended courses.

Extended Abstract

Using Voice Thread to Help Online Students Find Their Voice: Towards a Bridge between Speaking and Writing

Problem: Students have difficulty adjusting their voice in an online class for the various kinds of work they are asked to do. Most communication in an online class is done through writing. That writing, however, substitutes for a much wider range of communication that would typically occur in a face-to-face class. Students are still expected to hand in written assignments; papers, reports, etc. They are also, asked to participate in discussion boards through threaded discussions. As the terminology itself suggests, these are supposed to be an online version of a class discussion, one that, one might expect, would have some of the casualness and ease of a face-to-face classroom discussion. One also hopes for a spirited back-and-forth; a true dialogue. Students are also often asked to work together in online groups. Again, one would expect the tone of this communication, essentially students sitting in a virtual circle working with each other on a project, to be more casual.

However, students often treat these online discussions like quasi-written assignments. This is due in part to the medium. As many studies of writing have demonstrated, students often perceive the need for a more formal, less casual tone to writing than they do when speaking. In addition, the structure imposed on these online discussions by the instructor (requiring minimum number of posts per week, a minimum number of responses to other student postings, requirements for participation in group discussions, etc,.) creates student communication that "read" more like something written for a grade than as an extended comment spoken in class. This added level of formality extends even to group discussions, meant to happen between students, especially if students know that their participation is being monitored and will count towards a grade.

Last spring, I experimented with the use of VoiceThread in my junior level literature class to address these issues. I hoped to find a way for students to experience multiple forms of communication in the class. VoiceThread works much like normal threaded discussion boards except that it allows students to record rather than write their comments around a central image or slide. Subsequent participants joining the discussion can listen to the comments of other students who have already posted and add their own. A key component of my Comic Theory class is a series of discussion questions that students are asked to respond to. In the face-to-face version of the class, students are expected to prepare a response to one of 6 questions after they have read the work and before they arrive to class. After gathering in a circle for discussion, students begin by giving a response to the questions and classroom discussions moves on from there. For the online version of the class, I created one page "slides" with one question each and then set the slides up in VoiceThread. After students registered for the free accounts, they would go to the appropriate discussion for the week and record their responses to the prompts.

By using VoiceThread for both the initial response to the prompts as well as for comments to others, students could maintain the more casual tone and ease of speaking rather than following their initial inclination to turn their thoughts into more formal written expressions. While some of the initial VoiceThread responses clearly showed signs of pre-scripting, many students' comments, particularly the secondary responses, showed a more conversational tone and freedom of expressionóexactly the outcome I had been hoping for.

VoiceThread provided an additional benefit that I had not anticipated; one that should be beneficial for both online as well as face-to-face classes. One constant struggle teachers of writing have is convincing students that there is not a "separate" language for writing. Students, particularly freshman, often feel the need to write in "college-ese," a language of their own imagining that is complicated, filled with long words and complex grammatical structures. The writing form these efforts is unauthentic, forced, and usually error filled, since students are not writing in a language they are used to. VoiceThread not only provides online students with a vehicle to express their thoughts in the more informal and, for them, more authentic verbal form, it also provides a permanent record of these comments. These can then serve as a starting point for students to build on as they formalize these initial thoughts into written assignments.

In this 90 minute Workshop, I will begin with a brief overview of VoiceThread, its use in this particular class, and the results of my use. The overview will include the basics of VoiceThread for those not familiar with it, a summary of how I incorporated it into the class, and what I learned from its use (see above.) For the remainder of the workshop, I will break the participants into groups to brainstorm adaptation of Voicethread into their own courses, with each group reporting out to the larger audience. I will then have each of the participants use VoiceThread to continue our discussion, having them log in and comment on slides I will have pre-loaded with discussion topics. Ideally, participants will have a laptop with camera, mic, and speakers to participate.

Outcomes: At the conclusion of the workshop, participants will be able to:
1. Participate in a VT session and explain its overall funcitnalities
2. Develop at least 2 uses of VT for one of their own courses
3. Explain the importance of giving online students a vehicle for exploring both their verbal and written expression in a class.
4. Develop at least one assignment that uses VT as a bridge between verbal and written communication..