Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly has taught physics in the College of Engineering and Built Environment, DIT, for over 30 years. He lectures mainly on the common engineering programme, DT066A, to student numbers in excess of 150, in the School of Multidisciplinary Technologies.
Jim is a holder of the President's award for Teaching Excellence. His academic interests are in the field of physical computing, using computers to sense and respond to the outside world.

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Using VoiceThread for Student Projects

What technology do you use for teaching and learning?

I use Google sites to provide support for both lectures and labs. My students have also created Google sites to present their projects in physics and physical computing.

I use the classroom response system from Turning Technologies, ‘the clickers’ for both formative and summative assessments. The clickers are used with a large group, 150 students, while the Socrative “app”, utilising the students’ mobile phone in place of clickers, is used with smaller groups. In November 2017 I began using VoiceThread, the subject of this insight, with my students.

What do you feel are the advantages of using this technology?

VoiceThread is a cloud application providing tools for multiple users to make audio comments on uploaded media. Media types includes presentations, images, audio files and videos. The completed VoiceThread with comments can be shared with specific people, or made public.

The lecturer may provide feedback to the student by adding comments alongside student comments on the slides. With large classes this is quicker, for me at any rate, than providing text based comments.

We know that projects can be assessed most effectively by having the student present their work in person. However this may not feasible with large groups and limited resources. In place of the live presentation, VoiceThread commentaries add another layer of student input to their project, giving them the opportunity to showcase their knowledge beyond that afforded by static content alone.

The lecturer can evaluate what the student has learnt and how well, more from what they say than from what they have written. This adds more depth to the assessment process.

Students and lecturers may use VoiceThread for free by simply creating a VoiceThread account.‌

How do you use this technology with students?

I have used VoiceThread successfully with 150 student engineers for their physics project on the topic of  mechanical vibrations. The project was based on 6 weeks of experimental investigations.

Students used PowerPoint to create 20 slides on the topic of the physics of vibrations, uploaded it to VoiceThread, and then added “physics” commentary on each slide. Of 150 students, about 140 created a successful VoiceThread. Some of their VoiceThreads were excellent. Students are encouraged to comment on their slides in a way that convinces the listener they have gained knowledge from the experiments carried out. In other words, simply reading  statements and equations off slides or quoting “complex physics” from web sites  is strongly discouraged and penalised.

VoiceThread can be used for student assessment in other ways. For example, the lecturer creates a VoiceThread demonstrating a particular piece of physics and requests students to explain it.  Each student  provides their  explanation by commenting on the VoiceThread. One feature is that the students comments may be accessed only by the lecturer and not by other students, encouraging original contributions! Of course all, or the best of, the students explanations may be made public when the assessment is complete. This moderated commenting feature is not include in the free account but is included in the fully featured single instructor licence, which costs around  €80 (Jan 2018).

To experience VoiceThread, have a look at VoiceThread created by  Ellaine Ollaya, first year Engineering, who has kindly given permission for her project to be made public on one of my  Google sites. Additional VoiceThread resources are also on this site.

What do you think are the main benefits and the main drawbacks to using this technolgoy?

In addition to what I have already mentioned:

  • VoiceThreads may be embedded onto a web page quite easily, as I have done on the Google site referred to above.
  • VoiceThreads may also be integrated  into a  Learning Management System (LMS) like BlackBoard. Assignments may be graded in VoiceThread andthen sent to the LMS gradebook effortlessy.
  • For those who like the jargon, VoiceThread conforms to the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard.

What advice would you have for someone looking to use this technology with students?

Like using any new tool, don’t roll it out without preparing the students for using it, as they will surely find a way to “break it” ! So give them a VoiceThread project to complete, involving say two slides, and get them to share that with you. That way any problems with microphones, content and uploading may be avoided when it comes to the larger project. Creating and sharing a sample VoiceThread with your students will also be helpful, obviously. Have a look at VoiceThreads created by other lecturers, a link to these are provided on the Google site mentioned above.

Otherwise, “dive in”.

VoiceThread website : www.Voicethread.com

 Click here to read other case studies in this Insights with series