Listen, Watch, and Read: Using VoiceThread for Assessing Student Reading

Making sure that students read assignments can be a challenge.  Some professors use reading quizzes or one-page papers, while others create discussion boards on Blackboard, Facebook, or Yammer. But as a given semester nears its end, those options can seem laborious to both students and the instructor. Voicethread offers an alternative that gives students options of how they respond, while still satisfying the goal of assessing how well they read assignments.

Voicethread Example

Students in the VoiceThread environment

Voicethread allows a user to create a page in which the person “in the middle” (see screenshot above) first records a short video about an assigned topic or reading using the webcam on his or her laptop or desktop.  This person can be the professor. However, for my Emergent Media and Web Culture class,  I require each student to take a turn asking the rest of the class about an assigned reading.

After creating this initial video, each student distributes the link of the VoiceThread.  (Here’s one from my class. And a second example. )

Students can respond to the question a number of ways:

  • They can type a response.
  • They can create a video response.
  • They can create an audio-only response either through their computer microphone or by phoning a specified number.

VoiceThread places all the submitted answers in one place on one user-friendly screen. Prior to class, I review the answers and then make a note of who completed the VoiceThread afterwards. I emphasize that this assignment cannot be made up—the VoiceThread’s purpose is to prepare for class discussion, so completing it late has little value.

A few considerations:

  • Students like a venue that’s easy to access (VoiceThread only requires a username and password) but doesn’t interfere with their other social media use. VoiceThread is almost exclusively used for educational purposes.
  • Students can express themselves briefly, but sufficiently, so that I can tell they’ve completed the reading. I typically give students a check for completing each VoiceThread. In the few cases when an answer makes it clear that the student did not complete the reading (or skimmed it too quickly), I do not issue credit and explain why.
  • Students tend to submit text responses, although I’ve stressed that video is probably easier: no proofreading is required.  It’s also more interesting for everyone to view video submissions.
  • While completing every assigned reading is expected, I typically ask students to complete ‘x’ number out of the total.  This eliminates excuses and requests for forgiveness due to occasional unforeseen circumstances.
  • I require that students share this link two different ways: they e-mail the class through Blackboard and also post to a shared Google doc.  They have to complete the task approximately 36 hours before class. (e.g., for a Wed. 10:10am class, they have to have it done Monday night at 10pm. For the Monday class, I set the deadline at 10am Sunday morning, although a majority of students have had it completed by Friday or Saturday night.)
  • Students have to be reminded to create questions that truly require that the reading be completed.  (Alternatively, the professor could create all the questions, but I believe that students tend to write questions for their peers that are more likely to motivate discussion.)
  • A user can only create five VoiceThreads before having to purchase a Pro Account.  You can delete a fifth thread to add another one.  Another option (which I follow) is to have each student create the one VoiceThread that he or she is presenting so that no one student (or professor) has more than one or two threads throughout the semester.
  • The work is easily assessed and exists as long as the student doesn’t deactiviate his or her VoiceThread account.

Ultimately, Voicethread offers a platform that visually simulates a real discussion and helps to prepare students for class in an engaging manner that offers practice for not only writing but (for some students) oral presentation skills.

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