Fostering opportunities for student-to-student collaboration and engagement can be a challenge in the online learning environment.
Faculty developing online courses often struggle with establishing social presence, supporting learner motivation, and leveraging interpersonal communication in a modality that can seem isolating by default.
Moreover, there is an increasing demand for effective online practices that support student engagement asynchronously. As such, faculty at UA are turning to the web-based application VoiceThread to offer students a way to engage with their peers and the learning content in their online courses.
Created in 2007, VoiceThread supports asynchronous, interactive collaboration by combining presentational content such as images, videos and documents with comments from users contributed as audio, video or written text. Faculty can use VoiceThread for myriad applications, to include student introductions, discussions, presentations, case studies and group projects. While free VoiceThread accounts are available for individuals to create up to 5 presentations, the UA is currently researching a campus-wide license to allow faculty greater access to VoiceThread and integrate it into the various learning management systems at the university. The goal is to provide access to VoiceThread to anyone with a UA NetID for the entirety of their time at the university.
Several faculty on campus are participating in a pilot of VoiceThread as a means of exploring the benefits of the tool in supporting online and hybrid students. Melody Buckner, Director of Digital Learning and Online Education, shares that this pilot was funded out of a Catalyst Grant offered by the Innovative Learning Project through student technology fees. At the conclusion of the pilot, the team will present their findings in a report for the CIO and Senior Vice Provosts in the hopes of bringing a campus-wide instance of VoiceThread to UA for the Fall 2015 semester. Melody states that some of the benefits of VoiceThread in the classroom involve bringing, "a richer more engaging way for students to connect with the content, their peers and the instructors." She also shares that, "multiple VoiceThread discussions throughout the course might also prevent cheating as
[faculty] hear the student’s voice and gain their unique insights during the duration of the course." Melody cites such diverse benefits in her own fully-online classroom:
"I wanted to insure that my students were prepared for our 90 minute live session
[in Blackboard Collaborate] every week, so I used VoiceThread to post my PowerPoint presentation with questions for them to answer. This approach prepared students for a deeper live conversation with their peers. I also used VoiceThread for students to present their projects for my review and peer reviews. This was very beneficial for one student who turned in a project in the traditional dropbox. As I was grading it, I did not understand his decision on one of his steps. However, after listening to his VoiceThread explanation of his decision, I was able to award him the points that I was about to deduct!"
In terms of student adoption of VoiceThread, Melody shares this anecdote:
"I gave students the option to present their final project in the synchronous class or asynchronously through VoiceThread. Every one of the students wanted to use VoiceThread for presentation and peer review. They not only liked the tool, but the ability to create, upload, record and listen on their own time instead of mine was appealing."
Though a campus-wide license is still in discussion, faculty who are interested in experimenting with VoiceThread in their own classrooms can learn more and create a free account at http://voicethread.com/.