This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader Keri Phillips.
Last Christmas, I left teaching. I was burnt out on the tedious routine of the traditional high school classroom, and I was longing to return to the college realm where parent phone calls were violating FERPA and classroom management wasn’t a buzz word. I spent about 6 months in a teacher training capacity where I was able to research and explore what else is going on in the education world. What I discovered is that through technology, I no longer had to be the life coach trying to convince students what we were doing was worthwhile. What I found through blogs and conferences is that the future of education is unwritten, and there are campuses willing to try new methods so that we can find our way back to engagement and real learning.
I found one of those schools and returned this year to teach freshman English.
We started our first unit this year with a project. This project would ultimately culminate in a presentation, but I wanted a new way to share their projects besides the old boring PowerPoints coupled with the old boring monotone speech. That’s when we turned to VoiceThread. VoiceThread is actually a very simple webtool that can take pictures, movie, documents or audio files and transform them into a slideshow. You can add narration to that same slideshow, and all of a sudden you’ve got a video!
So here is what we did: I joined VT and created a class group. I shared that link with my different class periods, so they could also join. Once in, I left students to their own judgement and told them to figure it out! I already knew VT wasn’t a complicated tool for students to use, so I didn’t feel like students needed to be trained. They could use the Browse feature to explore public VTs already created. They could use the FAQs in the Help section to answer their basic questions. From there, I just told them to learn by making a practice one!
As my classes began working on their project and wrestling with learning a new tool, I keep coming back to this one question: Is this better than how we have done presentations before?
What can you do in a presentation with VoiceThread that you couldn’t do before? With a tool like VoiceThread, students can re-record their presentation. They can do trial runs and keep the best version of their work. So, if you have students who are anxious about speaking in front of their peers, this is a great alternative! This could be the back up plan as well, if you still want the live presentation. Also, with VoiceThread, you can share the presentation with students before they “present.” This would open up the opportunity for classmates to ask questions about the content. Now those questions could be answered as part of the final work instead of an afterthought.
Finally, with VoiceThread, group work would be transformed. There is the option for students to share editing rights. This would enable all students to contribute to a project in their own way. Shared editing means everyone in the group can contribute easily as well as make edits quickly without multiple copies floating around.
Web tools like VoiceThread streamlines the work for everyone and hopefully makes grading less restricted to time limits. More importantly, VoiceThread enables real collaboration and opens the door to redefining how to do presentations in the future.
So, how did the projects turn out? Some spot on, some the bare minimum. Overall what I found the most enjoyable was that I got to actually hear my students voice. Listening to their recordings amidst their life outside of this class was very engaging. I looked forward to grading their presentations instead of procrastinated my assessments. Most importantly, I was able to connect to my students in a different way. The presentations came off more personal and approachable than having them nervously stand in front of their classmates. With VoiceThread, I was able to hear even my most disconnected students attempt at explaining the elements of fiction from their graphic novel. I was able to both see and hear which concepts were understood and which were not.
Now I am thinking of using VoiceThread to create some mini-lessons to replace classroom instruction. There are so many different ways to use VT in the classroom that I know it is going to take me going back again and again to figure it all out. This is going to be fun!
About the Author:
Keri Christensen is an educator in Fort Worth. She has spent the last 9 years teaching High School English as well as college English. She is striving to reimagine the traditional classroom and is fascinating by gaming for education. You can follow her fails and success on Twitter @edtechkeri or her blog at https://notlostnotyet.wordpress.com/