VoiceThread as a mechanism for feedback to students

Scott has a post discussing the potential benefits of using VoiceThread as a mechanism for providing feedback to students – both by staff and students. Based on some experience, I agree there is some potential, but I also think there are some issues to be looked at. Details follow.

Scott mentions VoiceThread inlight of some discussion that arose at a session on course analysis and design. One of the participants raised using recorded voice as a way to mark/annotate student assignments. This was as part of a session on teaching strategies. In particular, those framed by Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles for good practice in learning and teaching.

If I’d been organised I would have mentioned the following within that session and given participants a chance to look at some of the example work. However, given time constraints and an increasingly forgetful mind I missed the opportunity. I hope this post might make up for that.

What we’ve done already

In the second half of last year I worked with Markus Themessl-Huber in a 3rd year special topic course for undergraduate psychology students. Our plans to use VoiceThread are sketchily detailed in this post.

Since then the posters have been prepared by students, they’ve been put in VoiceThread and been viewed by some local industry folk at a face-to-face session. But, sadly, due to some local institutional “issues” I have not followed up on this as much as I would like.

For the face-to-face session with local industry folk we made use of this page on our wiki to provide pointers to the students’ posters.

Perhaps one of the best posters (a very subjective measure) is this one on post-natal depression. It includes an introduction from the student and a comment from one of the industry folk attending the face-to-face session.


For various reasons this experiment didn’t achieve all of the goals we wished. However, it did suggest that there was enough of a benefit to continue to explore further uses of VoiceThread as a tool. As a first step towards that we’ve purchased a higher education manager account.

In terms of this experiment some thoughts include

  • Are the students prepared for this?
    I believe some of the students had some problems learning sufficient technical skills to prepare the posters using Word, Powerpoint etc. The students didn’t have to use VoiceThread directly to upload their posters. I wonder how difficult they would’ve found this, or perhaps how much extra work they would have perceived this to be and whether it was worth it.
  • Making things public?
    These posters are publicly available. Some people have some issues with making this work public.
  • Account management – especially to comment.
    VoiceThread requires the creation of yet another account. Even if all you wish to do is comment. There are reasons for this, but I wonder if this further increases the perception of difficulty.
  • Other uses beyond feedback and presentation.
    Already someone else at CQU is keen to use VoiceThread for other purposes. She’s already including use of VoiceThread as an alternate approach to developing learning materials for students. The first will be used in the first half of this year. It shall be interesting to see how this goes, it should be good.
  • The management interface isn’t there.
    The interface VoiceThread uses is pretty good for presenting work and getting comments on it. If you are working with individual presentations. In setting up the web page for the face-to-face session we had to deal with all the students’ posters. This was not easy. The interface didn’t provide the affordances necessary to easily work with large numbers of presentations. This potentially has negative implications for using it as method for markers to make comments on student assignments. When you are marking assignments efficiency is important.

    This is exactly one of the problems that the BAM project had to deal with individual student blogs. The added effort and the novelty of marking blogs caused some backlash from markers.

    I am not confident that VoiceThread is going to as “mashable” as blogs were. A major enabler for BAM was that the output of blogs could be easily mashed up with other software for different purposes. I’m not sure that VoiceThread and its flash interface is going to allow this.

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