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From the Archives: Time Management for the New Semester


The ADA Turns 20

August 24, 2010, 08:00 AM ET

Using VoiceThread to Give Students a Voice Outside the Classroom

Voicethread[This is a guest post by Shannon Polchow, an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of South Carolina Upstate. You can communicate with her at]

Just like most educators, I view teaching as a process. After incorporating a new activity or giving a new course, I reflect upon the outcomes. What went well? What failed? Sometimes I know the modifications I would make the next time around, but other times I look to my student evaluations for guidance. This recently happened after teaching an introductory Spanish class online. While I felt that the class had gone well, a student's simple observation led me to my latest modification: find a way for students interact with one another in an online setting. The online forum I employed enabled me to speak in an asynchronous fashion with my students, but it did not allow them to communicate with one another, leaving them isolated, alone in cyberspace to work on their assignments with no personal interaction. The comment sent me knocking on my friendly technology consultant's door, and together we found a simple solution: VoiceThread.

VoiceThread is a ridiculously simple online program that allows students to comment on authentic materials, whether they be pictures, documents, web pages, or video. Students can provide written feedback to the material presented along with oral feedback via their computer mics, web cams, or cellular phones. For the more adventurous, students can provide video commentary as well.

Basically, I upload a prompt, invite my students to participate, and wait for the comments to come in. It is an easy tool that allows my students to gather in cyberspace and interact with one another. The system is user-friendly as well, providing a plethora of how-to guides, sample threads, and a library of ideas from other educators and users.

Getting Started

VoiceThread offers a free trial account for those in higher education. After registering, creating a thread is a mere three steps. Under the "Create" tab, you need to select and upload a prompt to your thread, which could include documents, pictures, web pages, and videos.

Note: all images can be clicked to view larger versions.


With the file uploaded, VoiceThread allows you to add your own comments. Depending on the project, I use the comment feature to either provide instructions or give my own example. You have the same options as your students. You can type your comments or record them. I enjoy using my webcam to give the students a glimpse into who I am.

add comments

Share the Thread

With the prompt and personal comments uploaded, it is time to share the thread with your students, and there are several ways to do this. You can embed the link onto a class site, one like Blackboard, or you can send out invitations to your class if the students have an account. Initially, I had my students register for their own free account and then added their individual e-mail addresses into my contacts list. With an upgraded Pro account, I was able to do all of this before classes began, saving me from the hassle of reminding students to register. The initial set-up was quick and easy, taking a maximum of fifteen minutes to set up approximately twenty student accounts. Once their information is entered, I just select their names and then send the invitation.

invite students

Once the e-mail is sent, the students receive a nice message in their inbox. The e-mail has a picture of the prompt and a link to the site where they are able to record their presentation.

Working with Comments

example email

As each student comments, their personal icon appears around our presentational screen. Since there are various ways in which a student can comment, I specify that they are allowed to use any option but the keyboard since the purpose of the project is to listen to their voices. Each student can log onto their account and listen to themselves and their classmates.

listen to others

Before using VoiceThread in an online setting, I tested the program on my traditional classes. Both literature and language students alike really took to the program. While teaching Don Quixote, students used VoiceThread as their own personal confessional, suggesting topics that they would never ask in class. In language classes, there was a high level of participation from all students. VoiceThread gave all students their own voice in discussions, breaking down the affective filters most students carry with them into a language classroom.

However, it is important to note that VoiceThread is not only for the foreign languages. In the library of threads, the program has been incorporated into science classes, digital storytelling, and study abroad.

To my surprise, I have received unsolicited e-mails thanking me for using VoiceThread in the online class. I even received positive comments from my traditional face-to-face students. However, there have been some drawbacks. First, I ran through the free offerings rather quickly. I was allowed to create a mere three threads, but that was enough to reel me in and get me to spend the $99 for a Pro account. With the upgrade, I have only encountered minor limitations. For example, while a student is able to record their presentation via telephone she is only allowed to record for three minutes, after which she must pay to use this method. However, the ease of the program and my students' enthusiasm for VoiceThread makes it all worthwhile.


1. deliajones - August 24, 2010 at 08:46 am

Does anyone who has experience with Blackboard's Wimba Voice Board have any ideas about whether it is as good as VoiceThread? Wimba is free, of course, to users of Blackboard--is VoiceThread worth the cost?

Also, how do students post with their cell phones?

2. george_h_williams - August 24, 2010 at 09:06 am

Wimba Voice Board is audio only, but VoiceThread allows the inclusion of images and video. Here's a video explaining how to use a cell phone (or any phone) with VoiceThread.

3. deliajones - August 24, 2010 at 11:17 am


Thanks so much!

4. eetempleton - August 24, 2010 at 11:20 am

Wow--this sounds really cool! Thanks Shannon.

5. sweetlandwc - August 25, 2010 at 07:26 am

Faculty in my unit have also had success using VoiceThread for peer review of multimodal writing, and in a course on digital photo essays, students chose to use it as a presentation platform as well -- so it's really flexible!

6. alaskacurt - August 25, 2010 at 08:00 am

We have been using Voice Thread for Introductory Mongolian. It is a fine tool.

7. ctel_furman - August 25, 2010 at 09:47 am

VoiceThread appears to be a powerful way to collaborate around many types of media. I've been experimenting with text, and this aspect seems limited. It would be great if you could upload a pdf and zoom in on a particular section while commenting; however zooming seems to be disabled when commenting, so it's difficult to focus in on an area of interest. The workaround is fairly cumbersome.

Great tool for collaboration. Some additional features to help with commenting on text would really round out the product.

8. jmagoto - August 25, 2010 at 10:34 am

I use and like Voicethread, too, especially in working with pre-service teachers when we're learning ways of observing and reflecting on specific aspects of what goes on in a language classroom.

Other examples of free web-based speech tools for FL educators include ANVILL from the U. of Oregon, and RIA from Michigan State.

9. 22235353 - August 25, 2010 at 11:37 am

@deliajones VoiceThread is free for 3 threads.

10. svigallon - August 25, 2010 at 01:56 pm

What do you do if you have a deaf student in your class?

11. ychumanities - August 26, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I've really enjoyed using Voicethread in my online Western Civ class. I break up the students into groups, and have them each create a "news report" from the Roman Empire, with images, audio interviews and some even record video and upload it into the presentation. It gives online students a chance to actually see and hear their classmates.

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