After our December professional development experience where our middle school teachers had the opportunity to work in department teams to create a collaborative Voicethread project of their own, we've had several students and teachers making use of this incredibly powerful web-based multi-media software application for a wide range of projects. While most of our initial projects using Voicethread have involved only a few students, we recently completed two larger scale projects with the software and each time we had the students and teachers use a slightly different system for using the program. Whenever we try a new tool and project we typically spend a little time brainstorming the logistics of using the tool, which can be pretty complicated when you consider that several teachers may end up using the tool with an entire grade level of students. I thought I would try to articulate the different methods that we used recently with our 7th grade english students and our foreign language students in the form of a blog post with the hope that some of you may benefit from our experiences in using VT on a larger scale.
Model 1: Teacher created Voicethread with students commenting on different images utilizing their own Voicethread accounts.
Requirements: All participating students will need their own Voicethread accounts (which will require them to have an email account), the classroom teacher will need a Voicethread account that they've upgraded to the Pro Educator account, and students will need to create a avatar or morphed image to go along with their account profile (although the avatar/image isn't necessary). The upgrade to a pro educator account at Voicethread is free (thanks, Voicethread!).
Overview: This is the model that our 7th grade english teacher, Hannah Reimer, and her students recently used to work on their digital book talks. It is also the model that our middle school French teacher, Neelie Barthenheier, has used with her 7th and 8th grade students for language activities. Hannah created a Voicethread project for each one of her sections and uploaded a book cover for each of the different novels that the students read, made it public and allowed comments, and created links to these five files that her students could access for leaving their audio comments about the book they read. Students then opened the Voicethread that related to their classroom section, signed into Voicethread with their own account, opened the page with their book cover picture, and left an audio comment.
Pros/Cons to Model 1: This model is great if the teacher is going to be the one to originate the Voicethread project for students to comment on using their own VT accounts. However, if the goal is having the students do more of the photo uploading and creating/maintaining of the projects, then this model is a little problematic due to the fact that student accounts are basic accounts and basic accounts are limited to only three Voicethread projects. Additionally, it gets very difficult from the teacher's perspective to manage and centrally locate links to Voicethread projects created under many different student accounts.
Model 2: Generic Voicethread account for the class with students creating multiple identities under the single classroom account.
Requirements: The classroom teacher creates a classroom gmail account and a generic class account for Voicethread. The Voicethread account should be upgraded to an educator pro account prior to the first activity to the students.
Overview: Our Chinese language language teacher, Lu Haiyun recently used this model with her high school language students. She created the Voicethread with about 6 pictures and had the students all login to the same account at the same time (she has two sections of class with 9-10 students in each section). After signing in with the same account the students added an identity/picture, opened the Voicethread created by Ms. Haiyun, selected a picture to comment on, and commented on the pictures with both voice and text. We were a little apprehensive about having all students logged into the same account simultaneously, but in the end we were incredibly impressed at how well Voicethread worked. The students actually took delight in seeing their classmates comments suddenly appearing on voicethread pages that they were commenting on!
Pros/Cons to Model 2: The benefit of this model is that students can login to the classroom's generic Voicethread account and create their own Voicethread projects using their own identities. They can also comment on teacher initiated Voicethread projects within the generic account as well. And because the generic account is a pro educator account, there is no limit to the number of projects that they can create.
In reality, we'll probably end up creating a hybrid approach for our students in grades 7-12. Students will probably have individual VT accounts and will also have access to certain generic classroom VT accounts. Longer term, this is going to get difficult to manage. How do we graduate identities from the generic classroom VT account when students move on to a new grade and set of teachers/classes? Do we delete the VT identities in these generic accounts and create new identities for the new classes? If this is done, what happens to all of the archival work completed by the students in the previous year? Anyway, I suppose we could go on and on with the different scenarios. The truth of the matter is that the different ways we're using VT at USM now will create complications with archiving student work from year to year.
I believe this is where ed.Voicethread may be quite useful in the future. ed.Voicethread is a subscription service offered to K12 schools that deals with many of the management issues sited above. It seems to be a tool that would allow students to carry a portion of their electronic portfolio with them from year to year. It is definitely something we'll be taking a look at and investigating over the next 6-12 months.