Posted by: Ellie Kutz | December 16, 2011

Multimedia Teaching at UMass Boston: Using VoiceThread

If including multimedia elements in a professor’s presentation of material can contribute to students’ learning, then asking students to participate more directly in multimedia projects should offer even more opportunities for the active construction of new understandings. One new tool that’s being piloted here at UMass Boston helps to facilitate such participation. VoiceThread  is an easy-to-use tool that supports the building of slide sequences with images and video links, but it also allows any member of a class to comment on or respond to the slides, by speaking or writing.

Here is an example of a VoiceThread from Tracy Brown’s ESL Listening and Speaking course.

Here Tracy has posed a question about a slide she has created (and her image  appears as she speaks). As her students comment, their images or icons are added to the frame. What results is a collection of audio comments, allowing students both to hear what their classmates have to say in English and to hear what they themselves have said. In other instances, Tracy has students create their own VoiceThreads, narrating a set of slides that they create with images that they select. Again their classmates can participate in each Voicethread, commenting on what they hear and see on any slide.
Teachers of other languages are using Voicethread in different ways. Kayo Yoshida of  Modern Languages says that her students tell her that they don’t have enough chance to practice Japanese outside of the classroom. Kayo has videotaped herself (using her computer’s videocam) asking questions related to each chapter in her 101 textbook and imbedded those videos in VoiceThreads which she then uploads to Blackboard.

Students record their responses on the VoiceThread. But they can first practice many times, and then record when they feel comfortable. Kayo encourages them to select icons rather than photos to represent themselves because she believes that when their face isn’t associated with their answers, they will feel less uncomfortable about making mistakes before others. Used their American name, not actual name in many instances. Using VoiceThread also allows students to make up oral class work that they missed, creating a VoiceThread substitute for an in-class oral interview, for example.
Susan Mraz of Hispanic Studies was (along with Tracy Brown) one of the early campus users of VoiceThread.  Susan uses VoiceThread in a number of different ways. Like Kayo, she too creates videos for her textbook chapters. Her students watch the videos and then in VoiceThread they do episode summaries in Spanish for each scene. For Spanish 102, where students are mastering past tense narration, Susan creates image sequences in VoiceThread to provide a story without words (for example a set of images about a woman who lost a dog) that students then narrate in Spanish. Or she’ll record a reading of a short story and then have students read and record their own readings. Or they’ll watch a movie (e.g. Volver) in Spanish and she’ll create a set of Voicethread slides with snippets of the movie’s scenes. Students then put the scenes in order and describe the scenes, drawing on the visual images to point out particular details. And finally, Susan takes pictures of students’ class presentations and puts these images into VoiceThread, where classmates give their feedback to the presenter. Susan finds VoiceThread to be “the easiest tool I’ve ever worked with,” and now that she’s using it with an app for iPad, she’s finding it easier then ever.

Susan has created a wiki tutorial “Using VoiceThreads to Enhance Oral Communication”–a guide for others who are starting to use VoiceThread in their teaching

Other language faculty using Voicethread include Thierry Gustave (French), Susana Domingo (Spanish), Diego Mansilla (Spanish), and Yu Wu (Chinese), and they’d be happy to share their experiences.

If language acquisition is fueled by relatively low-risk opportunities to hear and use the language, and if work with multimedia enhances both recall and application in learning, then engaging in the sorts of VoiceThread activities these faculty are designing should support their students’ language learning in significant ways.
While VoiceThread is currently being used at UmassBoston for the teaching of English and other languages, the VoiceThread website offers many instances of its use across disciplines—where students have constructed VoicetThreads exploring social concerns such as child abuse, to create an online art exhibit in which students comment on their own and each others’ work and teachers have created minilessons (e.g. using a protractor to measure angles). A personal favorite (accessed on 12/12/11) is Nel Pierce ‘s Art Gallery, in which an artist comments on her work across different media.

If you’re looking for an easy and powerful multimedia tool, explore some VoiceThread examples, download a free trial version, and visit Susan Mraz’s wiki.  If you’re interested in using VoiceThread in the future, contact Mary Simone in the Digital Learning Studio.

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