Look who’s talking now: VoiceThreads are a novel way to spark "classroom" dialogue

I’ll start at the end. A few days ago, I tried something new—making a VoiceThread. Simple, I thought. Hardly, but don’t back away. This is a terrific device and though my current VoiceThread is not my best piece, I’m game to try it again—even though I sometimes fumble with technology. Why? Because it encourages students to create talking products (taps into different modalities), fosters dialogue, and levels the playing field with respect to classroom discussion.

Most of the people I know are NOT familiar with VoiceThread. The best way to learn about it is to go to VoiceThread.com. Register. Then watch the tutorials (there are a bunch; the one related to education covers K-12 and is called Ed.VoiceThread). If you don’t have time to peruse the website, think “talking” Power Point. Or, a “talking” email/thread slide show. VoiceThread has taken steps to ensure confidentiality, but also gives students opportunities to post their work on the VoiceThread wall. Teachers can invite parents to take a look. Get ready to see slides and listen to commentary on polar bears, novels, vacations, award ceremonies, history projects, and more. One teacher used a VoiceThread as a way to hold class during the first Polar Vortex. Not only is the creator of the VoiceThread dialoguing, anyone who has access to the VoiceThread can comment. One slide can hold loads of comments. This is geared to learners who love new challenges and opportunities for expression. VoiceThread sparks critical thinking and creativity.

For teachers, VoiceThreads are a unique way of encouraging dialogue among students. I was introduced to VoiceThread during a class on Creativity and Critical Thinking. My first feedback came from a fellow student. Amazing--she was talking to my VoiceThread. Right after she finished commenting, VoiceThread sent an email each to me. Of course, I checked right away! Research has shown that immediate feedback has a very positive impact on students.

VoiceThreads will never replace in-class discussions, but they make for novelty and “horizontal” connections (a switch from teacher-led discussions). By horizontal, I mean students and teacher are on an equal footing. That’s empowering!

Wondering what topics work well when educators make VoiceThreads? Below are some topics my classmates chose:

1. Using video games to teach critical thinking
2. Looking at the “Joy of Math” or mastering exponents
3. Living in a food desert
4. Cartooning in Japan
5. Near and dear to my heart: literary analysis (modern strategies to get students to connect to The Crucible, Huck Finn, and Catcher in the Rye)

I bet that skeptical students who raise questions like, “why are we reading this” or “ugh, more math,” would also find VoiceThread engaging. When they see their peers’ VoiceThreads, they might reconsider an issue and reframe their sentiments. And “reframing” sparks internal dialogue. I modified a slide after reviewing some VoiceThreads that my classmates posted. Isn’t rethinking what “dialogue” is all about?

Bottom line: go to VoiceThread.com and experiment. It’s fun! Eager to hear what you think.  Maybe you'll let me know through a VoiceThread.

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