Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College

VoiceThreads in Education

Education 375:
Issues in Early Care and Education
Prof. Vicki Bartolini

What did Vicki set out to do?

Vicki has a strong interest in documenting child play through photographs and video. In the past, she has had her students collect documentation and present their analyses orally in class, or create posters and hold a poster session. Her learning goals are to:

  • learn how to observe, document, and analyze children at play
  • present the students' analysis to the professor and their peers
  • offer an opportunity for the students' peers to critique their analysis and offer analyses of their own

These teaching goals have worked well using presentation and posters, but Vicki tried doing it with a new tool called "VoiceThreads" which, in a nutshell, is an online service that offers a way to post an image or video and collect audio commentary from different users. In other words, the technology is a perfect fit for Vicki's pedagogical goals.

A screenshot of a VoiceThread. The video documentation of the child at play is in the center, with the video playback controls below. Each student's comment is represented by an icon adjacent to the video in the center; click on the icon and the student's comment will play.

What are the advantages of VoiceThread?

If posters and oral presentations have worked well in the past, why make a switch to a digital technology? Here are a few reasons:

  • Video can be paused, re-started, re-wound, and written on
    A nice feature of VoiceThread is that anyone leaving a comment can stop or rewind the video and "draw" on it to point out a part of the image. These pauses and drawings are recorded as part of the video response. This can be extremely useful when viewing video of toddlers, who rarely pause for the camera!
  • The video can be viewed repeatedly by the students
    The documentation is available on the web, not just at presentation time
  • Peer reviews are captured and become part of the "presentation"
    Other students' comments become associated with the video, resulting in a collection of multiple perspectives. The video becomes the center of a collaborative analysis
  • Other voices can be added
    Because VoiceThread is based on the web, you can record a response to a video anywhere you have a connection to the web. This gives you opportunities to add other "voices" to the thread. In Vicki's case, she collected the commentary of the teachers of the documented children
  • The video and analyses are preserved for future use
    Even after the assignment is complete, the VoiceThread remains as a resource. In Vicki's case, she now has a small (but growing) "library" of documented childplay and analysis that she could potentially use for future classes

What was the assignment?

Here is Vicki's assignment as given to the students.

EDUC 375 Video Documentation Project

Assessment of Video Documentation:

  • Footage to be edited reflects careful observations at the nursery school.
  • Footage to be edited is provided to Technology Liaison on the date assigned.
  • Video is carefully and thoughtfully edited to 3-4 minutes in length.
  • Video is coherent, clear in its content.
  • The voices can be heard clearly if appropriate.
  • The video clip can "stand alone" given appropriate recorded and written prompts/ framing/ reflections from the video team.

Assessment of the Framing/ Prompting/ Reflection:

  • The prompts/framing/ reflections are well written to aid and enhance the viewers' responses.
  • The prompts/framing/ reflections are clearly recorded to aid and enhance the viewers' responses.
  • The framing describes the scenario as a way to "set up" and "guide" the clip for the viewers.
  • The framing suggests a "small theory" that perhaps is connected to a "big" theory applicable or generalizable to another setting and/ or other children.
  • The framing asks thoughtful, provocative, open √ended reflective questions of the viewers so that informed, multiple perspectives are solicited.
  • The framing reflects a knowledge, understanding and application of class readings and supplementary materials.
  • The edited video with careful framing is completed and accessible to the reviewers on the assigned due date.
  • The video team reviews the multiple responses and uses them to modify or validate their original theories in their completed reflection, again reflecting an understanding and evaluation of class readings and supplementary materials.

Assessment of The Responder/ Viewers Using Video Threads:

  • The viewer responds from an informed stance regarding the video presentation and prompts. This informed stance is a result of familiarity, understanding and application of class readings and discussions as well as careful observations in the nursery school.
  • The viewers' recorded responses are sufficient in length to provide the video team with useful, informed multiple perspectives to inform their thinking.
  • The viewers' recorded responses are sufficiently substantive to provide the video team with useful, informed multiple perspectives to inform their thinking.
  • The viewers' recorded responses are completed and accessible to the video team by the assigned due date.
  • The viewers' photos have been added to the website with their recorded reflections.

And did it work?

Overall, Vicki was pleased with the results, but acknowledges that there is room for improvement -- particularly in the design of the assignment. Generally speaking, students were interested and engaged with the assignment, and the resulting VoiceThreads were of overall good quality.

Vicki plans to refine and repeat the VoiceThreads assignment.

What would she do differently?

Vicki's "lessons learned"

  • When using a class assignment with which students are unfamiliar, it is better to over-structure rather than under-structure the assignment.
    Vicki thought that her assignment write-up (shown above) may have been too prescriptive, but students appreciated the clear expectations and in some cases wanted more.
    (Note that the next time Vicki runs this, she will have examples of "good" VoiceThreads to show the class, which will help in this regard)

Interested in VoiceThreads?

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