Adding the Human Element with VoiceThread

Online courses have many advantages, but they often lack that human connection we find in traditional, face-to-face courses. Why is this the case? Many online courses are designed to distribute information in ways that are limited by the tools used. We use platforms that allow instructors to upload documents and create text-based tests but we are missing the human element. In a face-to-face class, we can see and hear each other but this social interaction usually disappears once we teach online.

This is actually one of the main complaints students have about online courses. Students feel a sense of isolation and disconnectedness and this has a major impact on learning. When we communicate solely with text, we miss out on all of the non-verbal communication that happens in natural conversation. Tone of voice, cadence and facial expressions are all part of how we naturally communicate, but text doesn’t allow us to absorb this layer of communication.

Experienced online educators have become aware of this and they seek out ways to see and hear from their students. Some educators might try live Skype sessions or webinar-style class meetings. While these platforms do reintroduce that non-verbal element, they also come with logistical issues. Many students take online courses because of the flexible schedule but you still need to schedule a live meeting. Students may have jobs, other courses or extracurricular activities when the live meeting takes place. Technical problems can prevent students or teachers from joining the meetings too. In a live meeting, only one person can speak at a time.

With VoiceThread, we can recapture that missing social presence and engage with our students in a natural way while eliminating the problems with live meetings. Because VoiceThread is asynchronous, every student has a chance to ask and answer questions. Not only do they have a voice, they also have the opportunity to reflect on what they see and hear, then record their comments, and revise them which increases the quality of the interaction.

VoiceThread not only empowers teachers to overcome the obstacles of time and location, but it also brings humanity back into your course. Teaching and learning are fundamentally human activities and our courses should be a reflection of these human elements.