The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will hold four exclusive events in addition to daily sessions offered by the U.S. Distance Learning Association to give online educators an opportunity to explore best practices within the distance learning community.
In the traditional classroom, teaching and learning takes place amid questions and answers, presentations and discussions, and listening and reacting. But how does pedagogy change when it transitions to an online platform? Powerful online tools such as VoiceThread can bring a higher level of collaboration, and with it, more student success, says Angela Lee of the Office of Distance Learning.
Lee is an instructional designer who specializes in helping faculty members design effective online courses. Now she has an even deeper skillset, having earned certification in VoiceThread.
‘Humanizing’ Online Learning
She sees VoiceThread as a “humanizing factor” in the online environment, enhancing engagement, collaboration and conversation.
VoiceThread allows instructors to create a “thread” by adding images or sounds to an online file as an initial starting point. Then, the instructor provides the media file to students, who can view the material on their own time and respond within the file by adding their own video, text, or voice, thus creating a multimedia thread that connects all the conversations for all members of the class to experience.
“With VoiceThread, students are allowed and encouraged to comment on questions or images or videos, anything the instructor wants to present,” Lee says. “It’s got a lot of uses for engagement between faculty and students, and students with other students.” The versatile, web-based tool works with iPad, phone, desktop and laptop, either Mac or PC.
How Is VoiceThread Used at UL Lafayette?
Keith Dorwick, English professor, primarily uses VoiceThread for students to introduce themselves using audio or video. “It’s an empathy thing,” says Dorwick, who has earned certification in the program. “It allows us to be a bit more embodied and fully present to each other.”
VoiceThread is so versatile that it has changed the approach to teaching for Sheri Lazare. The English instructor, who also is certified in the program, calls it “truly amazing.”
She says, “I use VoiceThread for introductions at the beginning of the semester, I use it for weekly announcements, I use it for general questions and answers throughout the course, I use it to deliver class lectures, I use it to generate discussions, I use it for students to create and submit assignments, I use it to interview students, and I use it to provide feedback on assignments.”
Power in Simplicity and Diversity
The program is simple to use, Lazare adds, and allows diversity of content. From documents and PDFs, to images and GIFs, and from movies and websites to mp4 files, all can be included in VoiceThread to enrich the content.
Lee adds, “Many faculty use it for lectures, where you can include a PowerPoint presentation, and record your lecture on each different slide,” she says. The program also allows the instructor to “doodle” or make an annotation on an image — “a great way to demonstrate while you’re speaking.”
The program is especially helpful in teaching languages, Lee says, because it allows for a conversation and lessons on pronunciation in the online classroom.
Because VoiceThread is asynchronous, “The instructor can assign it for certain weeks, and students can complete it at their convenience,” Lee says.
Interested faculty members can request use of VoiceThread through ODL, and staff members will assist them in applying it. VoiceThread is just one of several online tools available for instructors to employ.
Student success is the ultimate goal of these teaching tools. “The more we can provide engaging, collaborative ways to get students involved, the more successful students will be,” Lee adds. “And these tools help our faculty be successful as well.”