VoiceThread A to Z: Replacing Text Discussion Boards

This is our fourth post in the VoiceThread A to Z series. In the first post, we discussed ways to use VoiceThread for early semester activities and in the second post we discussed creating presentations and our third post dealt with storytelling lesson ideas. This post will focus on using VoiceThread as a replacement for text-based class discussions. Upcoming posts will focus on other innovative lesson design and assessment ideas. Stay tuned!


Cognitive scientist tell us that around 93% of communication is non-verbal. Tone of voice, cadence and body language communicate more information than words alone. Yet, in many online courses students only use text to communicate with each other. Why?

In a face-to-face course, we don’t ask students to write down their questions and comments. We ask them to speak and share their thoughts out loud. Silencing students in a traditional classroom seems like a comical approach to class discussions, yet this is exactly what we do in online courses. Maybe the reason is that when online courses first launched around 20 years ago, video and audio tools weren’t available. Maybe we got into the habit of muddling through a text-based discussion because we didn’t know a better way. That’s just not the case anymore.

With VoiceThread, students can see and hear each other and engage in normal, human conversations. Here’s an example of students from different schools speaking spanish with their “audio pals.” Imagine how stale this assignment would be if it was held on a 1990s-style discussion board:



On this thread, students discuss the novel The Scarlet Letter. It contains a mix of audio, video and text comments. Think about which comments are more engaging and thought-provoking on this thread. Do you have a better sense of which students are confident in their answers when they speak or when they add text comments? Can you really assess what a student knows if they read their comment? When a student explains their thoughts, you can tell if they are simply reading something they may have copy/pasted from the web or if they are sharing their own analysis:


As you plan your lessons for next semester, think about how VoiceThread can help make your class discussions more human.

Our upcoming “A to Z” posts will deal with using VoiceThread for portfolios and other assessment ideas.