Sunday, March 8, 2009

Using Voicethread in the Classroom Part 1

There have been many reviews about VoiceThread out there, but I wanted to give everyone a "from-the-trenches" look at the power of this 2.0 app!

Our Global Issues Project is the culminating activity from my digital literacy unit in Language Arts 9. Students are challenged to look at their position in the world, their perceived power, and what they as teenagers can do to change things. The song Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer is the jumping off point for this project. 

Students listen to the song, then blog about the meaning of the song. They then listen to the song and again respond in the blog about the meaning of the lyrics. Finally, they watch the music video several times and pick out all of the keywords, imagery, and allusions they can. This is done with a graphic organizer in Google Docs which they share with each other. I'll share another awesome use of Google Docs later this week!

Students then must pick an issue that is important to them, create a video essay depicting the issue, and choose complimentary quotes to display in their video. We use iMovie to complete the videos because of the ability to use the Ken Burns' effect with images. Just a small amount of movement and zoom can provide a lot of interest and depth to already powerful images. 

Note: There is a teachable moment here that you should incorporate. We talk about digital citizenship a lot in class, and the use of creative commons and copyright, so I have my students select photos that they have permission for, which they then have to include in a photo bibliography complete with links to the source of each photo. 

Where does VoiceThread fit it to all of this? 

If this was last year's class, the project would have ended with the completed videos and students handing in their accompanying written materials. I've seen VoiceThread and had already signed up for an account last year, but never thought I could use it for this project. Connecting with other like minded people (Thanks Neil and Deana) has taken this project to the next level. No longer do students just simply hand in the project. We now use VT as a powerful peer and self-evaluation and reflection tool. 

Neil Stephenson's work with VT was the starting off point for me. His approach fit what I wanted to do to a "T". It took a while, but I figured out how to upload a custom CSV file I created in Excel, which gave each student a username and password based on their email account. Next I signed up for a class subscription in VoiceThread, which was the best 60 bucks I've spent for in my class for a long time! Students logged in and within 10 minutes we had exported from iMovie as "web quality" onto their accounts. 

Here's where we hit a snag. One student's videos would not post. Our technology integrator Terry Kaminski was in the room observing and he spent half the class converting this poor student's video in various formats. Meanwhile, the rest of the students had finished their uploads, but I couldn't seem to add them all to the class account, some were complaining about how grainy their videos were, it was going downhill fast! Will there be VoiceThread HD? I have 3 or 4 students who already want it! 

I pulled something special out of my special place, and within 30 minutes of starting, we could see each other's videos, and the power of VT became very apparent. Students used guiding questions to comment with voice and text on each others videos (Thanks again Neil). They gave feedback to their classmates about what images where most powerful, what they were most proud of in their own videos, and what their peers could improve on. 

The best part of the peer assessment was how well the students responded to the feedback when it was done through the web. It was interactive and was constructive and all students were very pleased to use the feedback to improve their projects before submitting them. I also asked students to include a personal reflection on their videos (only a few did). This will be more integrated next time around. 

I will certainly be using VT often in my teaching. I'm just scratching the surface of using this technology as an assessment for learning tool. Anyone else using VT? How does it stack up to using Youtube's Annotations? I'm thinking of creating a private channel and trying it out that was as well. Have you used Youtube for this purpose?

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