Walking Trails with VoiceThread

This blog post is part of the series of “Faculty First-Person” conversations.

Anne Larson Hall has been teaching environmental science, geology and water-related courses at Emory University since 1995. She currently serves as both a senior lecturer and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Environmental Sciences. She loves not only teaching students in the field but also using learning technologies in the classroom to aid in understanding the content for her subject area. She started using VoiceThread in 2012 and this year had students in a Freshman Seminar use it to create presentations about trails they had hiked or would like to hike.

VoiceThread is an interactive online tool that allows students to use text, narration and sound, video, annotation, and images to engage in asynchronous conversations or create multimedia presentations they can share, and without the learning curve normally associated with most multimedia tools. VoiceThread is popular in online classes for allowing students to establish a social presence (i.e. allowing students to be perceived as “real and present”) and in face-to-face or blended classrooms for allowing communication that can be shared online.

Tell me a little about how you prepared students for this assignment.

Anne Hall: I met individually with students to discuss their topics and how they would use VoiceThread, and students followed up by creating an outline for their presentation. The class also met with ENVS librarian, Kristan Majors, for a discussion and hands-on practice with searching for and citing the media they would use in their presentation. Students were also given a basic guide, created by Susan Detrie, for the tools they would need to use in VoiceThread to accomplish assigned tasks.

What advantages do you think a VoiceThread assignment has over more traditional assignments?

Anne Hall: With VoiceThread, students think about their topics in a different way; they need to focus on how to use visuals, audio, and other features. VoiceThread allows the use of narration and annotation which is actually very similar to peer teaching.  VoiceThread requires students to think through how to clearly explain topics and concepts. As the person who “grades the papers,” I really like hearing their recorded voices with their work.

Do you feel digital literacy should be taught to students and they should be given a chance to develop these skills?

Anne Hall: These skills should definitely be taught, especially evaluating and citing internet media sources and yes, knowing different, creative ways to communicate digitally is a plus.

What disadvantages do you think VoiceThread has?

Anne Hall: Students generally like what is familiar with their graded assignments, and sometimes there is resistance to trying something new. Usually, there are a few glitches as students get used to the format, and this requires time and patience to sort out. And some students felt limited by the tools, for example, one student made a film in iMovie and uploaded it to VT.

You added a video requirement for assignments for the first time this year. How well did that work? Tell me about the results. 

Anne Hall: Yes, most students had no problem, but one student had difficulty with a 90-degree offset (editor’s note: if you don’t notice the orientation of your phone or iPad, you may end up with something that appeared right-side-up during filming but was actually recorded sideways or upside down) and one had difficulty with speeding up the video to fit the time limit I assigned for the project.

Did the students like working with VoiceThread? What feedback did you get?

Anne Hall: For the most part, yes. However, some students did not like the additional time sink to learn the media. I would say about 60% positive, 30% neutral, 10% negative.  If the students had already been familiar with VoiceThread from another class, I think the results would have been more positive.

Your students shared their projects with each other. Why do you feel it is important for the class to share their digital projects?

Anne Hall: Often, working on more traditional assignments and papers, students never see the work of their peers. I liked having students share their projects with the class, although with VoiceThread, they can also share using commenting in VT outside of class. I also wanted to have an in-class discussion on how VT worked for them, the issues they had, the tools they liked using and to “show off” their efforts with some real-time discussion

Do students want to collaborate and share work or do you think the sharing culture is limited to their life outside school?

Anne Hall: Do you mean group work? That varies. This seminar class seemed to enjoy working independently, but, depending on the project, students do work well together, and using VT for a  peer teaching assignment often works well with pairs of students

What will you do differently next time?

Anne Hall: Maybe more hands-on with how to upload video. I would also encourage students to write meaningful comments on each other’s work within the VT, outside of class time.  I would also add time in class for students to work on their projects to make sure they understood how to use all of the VT tools.

Students from ENVS 190 have generously offered to share their projects with blog readers:

Winkie Ma: A Trail Less Traveled: Cat Hill of Central Park: https://emory.voicethread.com/share/10747994/

Elizabeth Sun: Hike to Mount Wilson: https://emory.voicethread.com/myvoice/thread/10740434