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.

Creating a voice thread presentation

The following is step 2 in getting organised for a trial of VoiceThread as part of the PLEs@CQUni project. The background was given in a previous post.

This post tries to summarise what’s been found about create a presentation in Voice Thread. It’s more a work in progress and a way of saving what I’m finding, rather than any particular use for anyone else.

It appears that a presentation (i.e. like Powerpoint) might be one approach to support the development of an online research poster. Much of this information is taken from the VoiceThread Tutorials example on VoiceThread Presentations.

The example is a nice example, includes the talking head and some doodling.

It’s that hard a process, apparently includes the following steps

  • Create the presentation file.
    VoiceThread suggest that the presentation file should be PDF and 1024×768 or larger with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Powerpoint, at least on the Mac, has it as an export option.
  • Upload it to Slideshare.
    This seems a fairly simple process, need to set the options. The 1 minute VoiceThread tutorial gives a good introduction.
  • Set some options – collaboration
    Has the ability to invite people, make it public, moderate comments and include the voice thread in public list. Will need to include this in a screen cast.

  • Record the narration.
    Using voice thread’s 5 methods of recording.

Comments on VoiceThreads appear to require that you have a VoiceThread account. This will be a bit of a limitation when it comes to having visitors to the research poster session comment on the posters.

Interesting that Slideshare does offer a “guest comment” facility that requires you are able to read a captcha, rather than login.

Voice Thread for Research Posters

This post describes some very early thinking about a trial that forms part of the PLEs@CQUni project. The trial seeks to support the use of Voice Thread to allow students to share research posters they prepare as part of the CQUni course PSYC13021, Special Topic in Psychology. The aim here is to summarise the project and describe the first steps.

What is voice thread?

According to them, Voice Thread is

..online media album that can hold essentially any type of media (images, documents and videos) and allows people to make comments in 5 different ways – using voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video (with a webcam) – and share them with anyone they wish. They can even be exported to an Archival Movie for offline use on a DVD or video-enabled MP3 player.

The most interesting aspect of what VoiceThread is, in terms of this trial, is encapsulated in the following quote

A VoiceThread allows group conversations to be collected and shared in one place, from anywhere in the world.

The following embedded voice thread is the example.

How is it going to be used?

The existing assignment for the course is for the students to prepare a research poster. The type of poster traditionally seen at academic conferences. A poster summarises a research project, usually in the form of a couple of posters, and is then presented in a poster session in some big hall. Conference attendees file past, stop and view those that interest them and talk with the poster presenters.

The special topic course, this term, is looking at the topic “Public health: A psychologist’s playground” and the offering’s synopsis is

The health of an individual constitutes a central foundation of what this person can achieve. Yet, everybody’s health is influenced by the environment and society in which they live. Public health is described as the art and science of preventing disease and promoting health through efforts focused on individuals, local communities or entire nations. Many efforts aim at (1) changing individuals’ and groups’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours, (2) at providing interventions to support individuals and groups in preventing disease and promoting their health, and (3) at providing the evidence base for the need and efficacy of any Public Health activities.

Psychological theories and tools form an important part of Public Health and psychologists are called to continually contribute to the development and improvement o f Public Health measures. This course will provide an introduction to Public Health, critically examine key issues in Public Health, and explore the roles and remits of psychologists and other professionals in this field.

Why use VoiceThread?

Well 89.7% of the students in this special topic are external students. They are likely never to set foot on a CQUni campus. Traditionally, external (AKA distance education, flexible learning) students would prepare their poster, probably as a powerpoint, and submit it for marking. There might be some audio narration attached.

The only feedback the students would get would be from the markers. In fact, the markers would become the only folk who ever see the research posters.

The aim for this offering is to use VoiceThread to host the students’ posters so that people out on the Web will be able to see the posters and hopefully comment on them. It’s also hoped to run a session on the Rockhampton campus of CQUni later in the year and invite local psychologist to view the research posters. The posters will be shown on stations that will allow the attendees to view the VoiceThread posters and also to make comments on the posters.

Hopefully this will increase the feedback the students receive on their posters and perhaps provides greater motivation.

What needs to be done

We need to provide some support to the students about how to use voicethread to share their research poster. To reduce the perception of difficulty and wasted time they will initially perceive this approach to have. To help them see that we’re not simply using technology for technology’s sake.

Simple, eh?