When You Ask Me about VoiceThread

This is a guest post Grace Hu, an international graduate student and VoiceThreader.

It was an asynchronous course last spring that I first used VoiceThread. Our professor uses VoiceThread as a tool for class discussion. The professor presents the topic and prompts using the VoiceThread slideshow feature. Typically, each slide will discuss one issue. We need to post our views on each prompt by Friday and then respond to at least three of our peers by Sunday.

We are also encouraged to respond to comments on our ideas to facilitate discussion and dialogue in the asynchronous course. In my experience, VoiceThread is a novice-friendly platform. Since the navigation is self-explanatory, I can record audio or video to participate in our class discussions.

The advantage of this feature is that I can see and hear my peers. As a graduate student majoring in Educational Technology, online teaching is one of my focuses. The loneliness and isolation of online learning is a limitation that I noticed among many kinds of research. And VoiceThread provides an effective solution to this problem. Visual and auditory stimulation helped me understand my classmates better. This emotional familiarity makes us more likely to leave a reply to each other’s point of view. We agree or disagree with each other, and we are genuinely engaged in a meaningful discussion. Moreover, compared with the traditional in-person classroom discussion, VoiceThread provides me with more opportunities to learn from my peers.

I am an international student, and English is not my native language. This caused me to misunderstand or miss my peers’ views in some discussions. I am more like a silent student. But things changed on VoiceThread. Every semester I have to take an asynchronous course that uses VoiceThread as the platform for class discussion. At first, I just thought I could organize my ideas before recording them to express my ideas accurately. Then I saw the caption function, which I used to help me understand my peers more accurately. With the help of captions, I began to enjoy listening to my professor’s and peers’ opinions, replying to them, and expressing my views base on their ideas. I listen to everyone’s comments and responses. I listen to my experienced classmates talk about their teaching experiences, and I hear about the challenges of my peers when it comes to using technology in the classroom.

My understanding of instructional design and digital literacies continues to improve. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the spring semester this year that I realized that my English had improved as well. In the process of listening to others, my listening skill has been improved.

When I come across an unfamiliar word, I can see the word and search for its meaning. When I’m giving opinions and replying to others, my spoken English has become more proficient. Some people said this is not surprising because I live in an English-speaking environment. I cannot entirely agree with this view because the environment is only one factor, and the support of technology for learning enhances the learning effect. In my opinion, the caption function provides precise technical support, which is not only reflected in vocabulary learning but also the study of specific majors.

For example, “Gettysburg Address” appeared in the comment of my peer, who is a social studies student. He mentioned a course design about the “Gettysburg Address.” But I didn’t know what “Gettysburg Address” meant and how to spell it. Without captions, I might not be able to understand what my classmate designed. But when I saw the captions, I Googled the phrase and understood the significance of this historical event, thus understanding the design of his teaching activities.

So I think it’s a simple feature that has more than one effect. I don’t want to oversell the platform, but I do recommend it. Because of the epidemic, many of my friends’ classes have been transformed online. I started teaching my friends how to use VoiceThread to support their learning. I’m happy to see that they’re starting to utilize the platform’s functionality based on their purposes.

As a graduate student in Educational Technology, I have always believed that our use of technology should depend first and foremost on teaching objectives and content. Therefore, we use a digital tool not because it’s advanced but because students can benefit significantly.

About the author:

Grace Hu is a graduate student in the Educational Technology program at Adelphi University. Her research interests are instructional design, online learning, and learning with games. She completed a study of the current situation of remote learning in China last year. You can find her on Twitter:_ @GraceHu57_.