World Drama Literature Conversations with VoiceThread

Screenshot form student, Sadie Allen's World at Play presentation created for Liv Cummins' World Drama Literature online course.

Student, Sadie Allen’s World at Play presentation created for Liv Cummins’ online World Drama Literature course.

According to the eLIS website, “VoiceThread allows you to place collections of media like images, videos, documents, and presentations at the center of a conversation. These conversations are not live; they take place whenever and wherever it’s convenient for people to participate. A VoiceThread allows people to have conversations and to make comments using any mix of text, a microphone, a webcam, or uploading an audio file.”

To me, the key word in that definition is “conversation”: you can look at images and text slides, and talk about them at the same time through voice narration.  What attracted me to this tool was the way you can use voice to raise questions about images and text, just as you would in the face-to-face classroom.

In my online World Drama literature course, I used Voicethread as a vehicle for my students to present research projects on a dramatic work and time period.  I wanted to translate this assignment, the ‘World of the Play’ group project, from the face-to-face classroom to the online environment to maintain a learning goal for the course: to strengthen oral communication skills.  I also wanted Voicethread to help build our online community, allowing peers to truly talk to each other and connect with one another and, thus, increase their engagement in the course.

I also used this tool with another assignment where students create a set design, cartoon, or poster for a play – or, alternatively, write a series of poems or letters from one character to another – to explore a work’s characters, theme(s), and cultural / historical context.  They create their project and then present it in Voicethread to the class, narrating the rationale behind their creative choices.  At the end of both projects, students offer feedback in either voice or text format appearing with their picture, allowing student presenters to see their peers and hear (or read) their feedback, all in one place around one slide at the end of the project.

In the online classroom, a potentially sterile environment can be enlivened with the warmth of human interaction through voice.  Narrating a visual allows students to take ownership over the slides they choose to show, explaining choices and meaning to demonstrate their learning while strengthening oral communication skills.  The tool is flexible: you may want to use one slide only to discuss at length (a piece of art, for example), or many slides compiled together for a longer presentation.  You can also integrate video clips, making it easy to move from a video, to a photograph, to an image with text, for example, within one project.   Finally, students and faculty can discuss a project within that same project around one slide, making feedback easily accessible to post and refer to at any time.

There can be some difficulties with this tool, however, as with all technology.  You should probably assume most people are unfamiliar with Voicethread, so it’s a good idea to build in time to learn and use it within a course.  Also, you need a separate Voicethread account to access something within it, so again, in the beginning of a course, there can be some confusion around how to establish an account and then access it.  There are also some oddities of the tool, including issues around pausing in the midst of an audio clip to stay longer on one slide – which can be frustrating.  In the end, though, most of these problems can be conquered through practice.

I look forward to showing some Voicethread examples and discussing effective practices for the tool on 2/27.

Liv Cummins
Asst. Professor of Drama and Literature
Humanities Division, LA&PS

Join Liv Cummins, Asst Professor of Drama and Literature, and Irle Goldman, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Adjunct Faculty, for a lunchtime conversation about VoiceThread on Feb. 27th at 12pm in UNIV 3-098. They will discuss the different ways they have used VoiceThread in their courses and answer questions.



Reflective Storytelling

Using Storytelling to Enhance Reflection

As an alternative to journaling or blogging, digital storytelling can be an engaging way to involve students in reflective learning activities. The except below is from a research article by Jason McDonald (2009), who examined how storytelling principles might impact instruction:

“Stories play a crucial role in human learning. As Schank (2005a) recently concluded:

“Stories have been at the center of human consciousness for a long time. People tell
stories, and the stories they tell shape who they are. People hear stories and remember
those that resonate deeply with them … Good education requires good stories. (p. 5)”

Stories can motivate people to make significant and lasting behavioral changes
(Denning, 2004; Singhal & Rogers, 1999), help them meaningfully interpret other
experiences (Bruner, 2004, 1987), and give them context to use learned information
in real-world environments (Andersen, 2004; Jonassen & Hernandez-Serrano, 2002).
Postman (1989) argued that peoples’ sense of identity is closely associated with the
stories they tell. Schank (1990) hypothesized that stories are a fundamental component
of human memory, and the foundation of even the most basic mental events.”

Below are some resources and examples of digital storytelling:

  • Storytelling as a means of reflecting on the lived experience of making curriculum in teacher education– Early Childhood educators discuss their use of storytelling while developing curriculum. Their purpose was to better understand and improve their practice as ECE teachers and to better appreciate the complexities of learning for their students and themselves.“…contrary to Schon’s (1983) portrayal of reflection as being a solitary process, we found that interaction with others generated more productive lines of inquiry. We believe that the collaborative process of storytelling has enabled us to critically unravel implicit and tacit beliefs and actions associated with developing curriculum and teaching.”

Bring a Guest Speaker to Class via the Internet

Everyone wants to bring outside experts to class at some point, but with busy schedules and students attending courses from multiple locations online it may seem impossible. Your guest speaker many not be able to physically come to class, but that doesn’t mean your students can’t hear him or her. There’s a wealth of existing content available on the web. An interview with your dream guest speaker may already be online. Perhaps you have an unexpected opportunity to interview someone while at an event? Record it and add it to your myLesley course. This is also great way to bring in differing opinions for discussion and debate.

Check out the examples below. Then think about who you might like to speak to your class to help your students connect their classroom learning to their experience in the outside world:

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

The Moon, the Tides and why Neil DeGrasse Tyson is Colbert’s God from The Science Studio

NPR’s It’s All Politics  

South African Muralist and Artist, Ricky Lee Gordon the on Arts and Healing Podcast


Existing Podcast Resources as Supplemental Content

Podcasting is a great way to provide additional materials for students to allow them to go deeper on certain topics, particularly ones where there isn’t enough time in class. You may also wish to provide review materials for difficult topics. Students can listen to them as often as needed and review specific parts to clarify.

You may not even need to create your own podcasts. There’s a wealth of great material available online that others have created. Check out the examples below. They’re just a quick snapshot of what you might find.

Grammar Girl
Quick and dirty tips for better writing.

NPR Science Friday
A weekly discussion of the latest news in science, technology, health and the environment.

Colonial Willamsburg: Past & Present
Go behind the scenes to meet interpreters, chefs, tradesmen, musicians, historians, curators and more.

The Math Factor
Discussing math since 2004



Using VoiceThread for Online Discussions


VoiceThread art history discussion

VoiceThread allows you to hold a discussion around images or media that are critical to the content. Using an image on each slide can help focus the discussion. You can also discuss a short video clip. Students can comment using text, voice or webcams which provides options for those with technical issues or anyone uncomfortable speaking online. The addition of audio provides a break from text-based discussions and students can use tone of voice to express emotion or nuance that might not come across in text.

In her online Art Appreciation class, instructor Michelle Pacansky uses a VoiceThread to engage her students in a discussion comparing two paintings on the same subject by two different artists. Students make use of the “doodle” tool to draw on the slide and point out the parts of the painting they are talking about.