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by Michelle Fitzpatrick

So many times I have heard faculty, staff and students argue that you just cannot engage with students via distance learning as well as you can in the classroom. Comments are made that distance learning class delivery is only effective for some class types, not courses involving a lot of discussion. If you know me then you know that I am always up for a challenge, and I have dedicated the last few semesters to researching ways of obtaining an active learning environment in distance learning courses, then testing out my ideas.

The faculty in my discipline have always steered away from having our Human Resources course being offered via distance learning. The thought process has been that the students get the most out of the conversation and stories shared in the classroom. I worked on creating that atmosphere in my distance learning class this semester using VoiceThread.

Now I know what you are thinking: oh, another new technology; I am sure this is just a fad; I cannot imagine trying to find the time to learn how to use something else that is new; students get intimidated by technology; the glitches that are associated with new technology tools are just not worth the hassle. I understand your hesitation. I had some of the same thoughts, but I pushed through them to see what Voicethread is all about. I am thrilled I did! In the interest of full disclosure, it is not the perfect solution and may not work for everyone, but it is a viable option worth trying out.

There are several ways you can use VoiceThread in the classroom and via distance learning courses. I focused on one specific use so as to not get too overwhelmed with all of the options or over-use it in a course. Rather than using traditional discussion boards, I had students create a VoiceThread, which is an option in blackboard and connects to the gradebook just like discussion boards. The difference is that Voicethread gives the students options to do their discussions via video, audio or text, and for students who like to do their work on the go, there is a VoiceThread app where they can submit their VT, view and respond to others.

A few tips as you start to build your VoiceThread:

Discussion Prompt: As with a discussion board it really starts with your instructional prompt, making it so that students will be sharing different information, opinions and/or stories from their experience as it relates back to the content.

Length of Time: Provide a maximum length of time that their post should be, and I would suggest between 3-5 minutes depending on the content. I found that students would sometimes talk for over 10 minutes when I did not restrict this and, realistically, most other students lose interest after the first few minutes.

Lead by Example: Be the first one to create a VoiceThread so they have an example of what the expectation is. Also, it is always easier to see what someone else did first before trying something new.

Initial Post is Video: I required my student to have their initial post be a video. The feedback I received is that they found that they practiced what they were going to say and studied the content more than when they were doing discussion boards since they knew their classmates would be watching. I then instructed my students that when they responded to their classmates it could be in any of the formats VT has to offer.

I am still learning, gathering feedback from my students, and comparing the effectiveness of VT to discussion boards, but already can tell that this is a tool that I will be using and sharing with as many other faculty members that are willing to listen and learn. If you are attending the FCTL summer institute, come to my session on VoiceThread to learn more!