Sunday, March 22, 2009

VoiceThreads of Inclusivity

If you're a follower of my blog, you already know that I am a believer in the potential of VoiceThread as an online teaching tool. For the past year and a half I have woven VoiceThread into my online classes to facilitate a deeper comprehension of visual concepts but I've been eager to understand how VoiceThread also fosters community and enhances social presence in the online classroom as well.

In December I completed a thorough assessment of the effects of VoiceThread on the learning experiences of my online students. I'm excited to share the results here and will also be showcasing these results in presentations at several upcoming venues including MoblEd in Pasadena on April 23 and 24, the Online Teaching Conference in Aptos on June 11 and 12, the Sloan-C Symposium on Emerging Technologies in San Francisco on June 17-19.

I surveyed three sections of students which comprised two different courses (two sections of online Art Appreciation and one section of online History of Women in Art). Both classes consistently interacted in a VoiceThread to contribute to collaborative discussions and visual assessments of concepts from learning units (comprised of readings and lectures). Students were given the option to leave comments in text, audio or webcam format. In the VoiceThreads, I regularly replied to student comments before a due date, usually in either webcam or audio format, and my comments were made available to the entire class. My replies provided opportunity to redirect students in their application of concepts, contribute further guidance in discussions or applaud students for excellent work.

A total of 101 students were surveyed and 87 responded (an 88% response rate). Out of those who responded, 70% of the students either strongly agreed or agreed that the use of VoiceThread contributed to establishing a sense of community in this class. Community is an important element in fostering a student's motivation to continue with an online class, as online learners continually struggle with feelings of isolation as they go about their learning experience physically isolated from their classmates and instructor.

75% of the respondents strongly agreed or agreed that VoiceThread promoted their ability to learn visual concepts, an essential learning outcome of any visually-oriented discipline (art history, photography, humanities) and a point that is increasingly more compelling to all disciplines as we unravel the critical role of teaching visual literacy across the board in all disciplines as a 21st century skill. Visual literacy, the ability to understanding and decipher messages communicated through images, is an essential skill if one's goal is to live freely with the ability to critically deconstruct the manipulative messages that saturate the lives of Americans. I believe that if course management systems (Blackboard, Moodle, Desire 2 Learn, etc.) were to integrate more tools, like VoiceThread, that promote the seamless teaching of concepts and ideas with images, rather than tools that dominate with text and (sometimes) integrate images in a secondary, supplementary role, more educators would see the potentials of visual teaching regardless of their discipline.

Additionally, students noted an increased sense of feeling more connected to me through the ability to hear my voice in the audio comments and see me in the web cam comments utilized in VoiceThread. 82% of students strongly agreed or agreed that hearing my voice increased their sense that I was actively present in their learning experience. And 85% strongly agreed or agreed that seeing me in the web cam comments reached the same objective. These results build upon the recent research of Phil Ice who published a study in the Sloan-C Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks in July 2007 focused on assessing the use of asynchronous audio feedback on the learning effects of online learners.

As I reflect on these results, I am taken aback by the overwhelming pleas that students convey for increased community in their online classes. As educators, we need be in tune with our students feelings about learning online. Successful online programs are those that promote learning inclusivity. This means fostering online spaces in which students are respected as equals and expected to connect and construct content in the online class.

If you'd like to learn how to create a VoiceThread, here is a 10-minute video tutorial I created and you are welcome to download my Educator's Guide to VoiceThread.

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