Sunday, August 21, 2011

VoiceThread Tip: Use Identities to Improve Communication With Students

Using Identities

When I take a step back and think about "how" I am using VoiceThread in my online teaching, I equate each VoiceThread to the time I spend with students in a classroom. In my VoiceThreads, students demonstrate their skills and understanding of concepts and I provide my feedback to some (not all) of them. Like a classroom, when I make a comment in response to a contribution, the other students have the opportunity to listen and learn or tune out. Like a classroom, some students demonstrate their proficiency of a concept while others are just beginning to wrap their arms around it.

While I've been using VoiceThread for four years, I continue to try new things and find creative solutions to some of things I'd like to improve. One of those things is the ability for students to clearly recognize that I've left a comment for them. For those of you who use VoiceThread, you know that a user's avatar appears only once on a slide, regardless of how many comments s/he has left.

Here's a solution I'm trying out this week for the first time. It dawned upon me that I leave three types of comments in my VoiceThreads:

1. Introductory comments: the ones that do not change term over term and provide students with a voice narration of the activity objectives, helpful tips, and objectives.

Screenshot showing Sample and Feedback Identities and student comments.
2. Sample comments: When an activity is more conceptual in nature, I will leave a "sample comment" on at least one slide giving the students a hook to get started and provided clarity about how I want the comments to be structured. This can really make or break an activity and usually helps to "break the ice" too.

3. Feedback comments: My VoiceThread activities are "open" for a period of seven days (Tues-Mon). I enter the VoiceThread early in the week to ensure there are no problems that I need to fix and then mid-week (Friday) I will enter the VoiceThread and leave feedback comments for the students who have participated. These comments are important, as they redirect students who are still forming an understanding of a concept/idea ("Great job. You're on you're way and here's how you can improve...) and they identify the contributions that demonstrate proficiency ("That was an excellent contribution because you...").
A single VoiceThread account has the capability to have multiple "Identities" built in.  For example, when I log into VoiceThread, I step into the "Michelle Pacansky-Brock" identity which has an avatar of my photograph.  Before I leave a comment, I can toggle over to any other identity built into my account.  Up until now, I've always used a single identity for all the comments I leave for my students. This week it occurred to me that I can use the VoiceThread "Identities" feature to "label" my introductory, sample, and feedback comments.

In other words, I now have three separate identities within my account:
  1. Michelle Pacansky-Brock  (avatar is my photo) which I use for my "Introductory" comments
  2. Sample (avatar is a yellow square with the word "sample!!" on it)  
  3. Feedback (avatar is a blue square with <----- arrows)
Before I leave my comment, I quickly toggle over to the appropriate identity and then go to work. Above you see a a screenshot of one slide showing both the "Sample" and "Feedback" avatar.

Facilitating a Conversation Using the Move Tool



And here is a video that takes this idea one step further.  In the following video, I demonstrate how to toggle to a new identity to leave "Feedback" for a student and how to use the "Move" feature in VoiceThread (Shift + Click + Drag the gray segment in the horizontal bar at the bottom that corresponds to the comment you wish to move).  Moving the comment empowers you, the facilitator of the conversation, to insert your feedback comments directly into sequence so they play after the student(s) for whom you have left the feedback.

One final tip, I like leaving a single feedback comment in which I leave feedback for a group of students.  Personally, I don't leave comments for every student every week.  I leave comments for students who have missed major elements of the assignment's criteria (as this is a peer-to-peer learning environment so my role is to redirect the group when necessary) and I applaud excellent insights and contributions.
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