I am working with an Oklahoma elementary teacher in a school district which presently blocks virtually all read/write web sites including blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc. We have recorded a VoiceThread project with her students, and are seeking permission from the school district to PRIVATELY share this digital story with a partner class in Hong Kong. This is the email message I composed for the teacher to use/edit in responding to questions the district administrative staff has about VoiceThread, whether it can be used safely, and how it could be used to support learning and instruction.

Here are some answers to the questions you have about VoiceThread and its safe use in our classroom. Wesley helped me compose these answers.

What makes it secure?

We are creating PRIVATE voicethread digital stories, which means they are NOT accessible from the “open web” without a password and login. To view these digital stories, individuals have to be separately invited via their email address, by me. These people have to log in to VoiceThread using their email address and password, or the link which is sent to them when I invite them to view the VoiceThread.

A separate VoiceThread “site” has not been setup for our school. This is actually not possible on the website. What is possible, and we have done, is to create PRIVATE VoiceThreads which can only be viewed by people I select and designate. I hope to share these VoiceThreads with our parents as well as our partner teacher in Hong Kong.

Are you going to be the one to register and have the students use it under your information?

Yes, that is correct, I am. Each student has a different “identity” under my account, and students are not required to register or log in. Students do not have to have or use their own email account. All account access is through my login information, under my supervision. While logged in, I can change the current “identity” being used under my account so different students can share their ideas on VoiceThread.

How can I see (log in) to your classes’ VoiceThreads?

Since our VoiceThread digital stories are private and not publicly viewable, I will have to invite you via your email account to view our projects. I will do this.

Will students be giving out personal information? Name and/or pictures?

The only personal information students are sharing on the VoiceThread website are their first names. When you view our VoiceThread, you will see that the icon/avatar or identity of speakers change when the person who is speaking changes. We are NOT using student pictures, we are using a text graphic which shows each students’ name on a black background currently. In the future I may provide students with the option to draw a picture which we will scan or take a digital picture of, and use as their icon. We are not sharing any other personal information about students and will not.

Please let me know exactly how you plan to use it.

We plan to use VoiceThread in several ways. We are going to share oral reports about different curriculum research projects as VoiceThread digital stories. We are going to share information and interesting facts about Edmond, our community, and our school with our Hong Kong project partners. We also may engage in discussions and dialog about different topics and issues, since more than one person can comment on each VoiceThread slide. We plan to give feedback to students in Hong Kong in our partner class on VoiceThread stories they share with us, and receive feedback and comments from them on our VoiceThread projects. We also hope to share these projects with our parents, and solicit parent feedback and participation in some of our VoiceThread digital stories. I hope many of our students may extend their learning from the classroom to their homes by sharing their digital stories with their parents/guardians. If their parent registers their own VoiceThread account then it is possible students could also share ideas (add comments) to VoiceThread projects we have created from home, as well as from our classroom computer where I log in and manage/supervise our class VoiceThread account.

It is important to note that comments/feedback on all our classroom VoiceThread projects will be moderated by me. This means I will individually approve or disapprove comments and feedback which are posted. This means I am CONTROLLING both the access other people have to our VoiceThread digital stories, as well as the feedback/comments which are shared by others.

Please let me know if you have more questions or need more feedback on this. Wesley is eager to continue working with us, and is willing to explain and share this information with others in the district if necessary so we can have our participation in this activity approved.

Thanks!

We could be even more conservative and have all students share their voices/ideas from the teacher’s main VoiceThread identity, but I think it will be better in the long run for each student to have a separate identity. This does “disclose” the student’s name as their voice is shared/plays, but does not include sharing their actual photograph or other personal information. Hopefully our request to use VoiceThread will be approved.

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12 Responses to Making the case for VoiceThread and interactive digital storytelling

  1. tanya baumgardner says:

    I really appreciate the thought that went into the supporting arguments here (and if needed, I would like to use some of them if parents have questions or concerns in the future). Our school is very careful about the pictures and posts we create, but thank goodness we are not as “censored” as so many schools seem to be; I have recently created a Voice Thread to use with one of my 6th grade electives and I was careful to make it private as I had used school staff pictures (with permission, of course). I am planning on creating a Voice Thread with each of my five science classes as a culminating project and had decided I would have the students use my account and the one identity I added. Each student will read only their first name, and the project will only display pictures related to the earth structure they have been studying.
    I have to add a final “thank you” for your inspiring daily blog! There is still a “fear” of technology amongst so many teachers I work with and your blog provides me with a safe haven to gather ideas and my thoughts!

  2. Jessica Osbourne says:

    I think it is so unfortunate that so many schools are so afraid
    of technology. I teach freshman English and wanted to have my
    students create MySpace accounts for the characters in the novel
    we are reading. Even after justifying my assigment with
    studies and theory, my school told me I could not use MySpace in
    the classroom. Such a shame!

  3. Wes,

    I’m a bit weary of your emphasis on safety. While I hear the same concerns as you do, you and I both know is way less of an issue than people think. I would say that instead of pandering to the overbearing concerns of educators and parents, why not work at emphasizing openness and sharing. I know you do that but I guess everytime we allow and cater to these overly private and locked down exchanges, we do nothing to move people to understand the dangers of posting information online is so minimal it’s hardly worth talking about.

    I’m waiting for the day that someone can provide me with statistical or even anecdotal evidence that this is harmful. You and I know it’s not and while I respect people’s decision to maintain privacy, I still question it and will continue to ask why they don’t want to post their pictures or names.

    Steve Dembo told me that there are schools in Iowa helping kids to build digital portfolios where first and last names are required along with photos to identify themselves. They are proud of their work and are targetting future employers and institutions.

    This is a bit of a rant but I for one, aren’t going to stop making a case for openness and self promotion for kids.

  4. Wesley Fryer says:

    Tanya: Please copy and edit/revise any of that text for your own purposes– I hope it is helpful. That’s why I shared it! Good luck.

    Jessica: You are right, our schools are more locked down internet-access wise than many people (myself included) think they should– but I will admit I’m not surprised your school balked at MySpace accounts for kids. My recommendation would be to advocate for a moderated social networking environment for students, and work toward having student work as well as social networking opportunities going to the “open web.” This is a very important discussion with no clear answers, Miguel and I tackled this a bit together at TechForum Austin at the start of the month. I would recommend you pursue the use of Moodle or another available learning management system, to both work interactively with students using different online tools and environments, but also providing forums for social networking. You also should check out think.com and get your school registered. Think.com is not a learning management system but is a moderated social networking environment specifically designed for schools, teachers, and students with safety in mind.

    Dean: You are right of course, I am taking a very conservative approach with this situation. We have a school in SE Oklahoma (Howe Public Schools) that publishes a weekly video podcast by their high school students, and they use student names, pictures, etc. In the case of the district I am working with, there is currently ZERO blogging, and interactive digital storytelling going from what I have learned… I’m treading lightly because I want to start with a small victory. I agree with you though, the fears are overblown an it’s more than a bit ridiculous that I’m feeling I have to take such a conservative approach. Rest assured this is NOT my preferred approach in every case.

  5. […] Making the case for VoiceThread and interactive digital storytelling » Moving at the Speed of Creat… (tags: voicethread digitalstorytelling audio podcasting) […]

  6. I came to this site from the Edublogs Awards and as we have just started using voicethread in our tiny primary school I was/am really interested in your post. Thank you for sharing your letter. We have linked with a French school and use voicetheread in the way you describe, but the children have chosen new first names and the icons they use a little animals/starts etc. This follows on with how they use our social network site – yes, shock horror – ours is the private ning network which is also a finalist in the edublogs. As a result we have and continue to include a lot of safety online teaching with the children. We also made sure we complied with the US COPPA legal requirements and created dummy emails to sign children in. No photos/videos that show faces are ever posted and children must NEVER reveal any personal information. Last week we help a workshop for parents – the third such to show and involve parents in the site and trying to encourage them to be aware of their children’s use of the internet – so many of them are completely unaware of the sites their (young)children are accessing regularly from their bedrooms. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – but it is a tricky balance to strike – persuading parents to be aware of the dangers; to take steps to protect themselves, their families and their computers when online; but most importantly – not to panic.

    Our latest voicethread is public – with moderated comments: the children are using images of the story of christmas which they downloaded from the Interent and then put into their own ‘order’, to comment and tell the story in their own words. Our first was a collaboration with our partner school – a series of pictures made by local artists from either side of the channel which children and staff added their ‘first impressions’ to – in French and/or English. It’s a fantastic tool and so easy to use. I do wish it would speed up a little sometimes when uploading comments…
    Thank you again for sharing your letter.

  7. Oh and one more thing – thank you so much for explaining how to upgrade to the free educators account in Joe Dale’s flashmeeting. Wouldn’t be here without you!

  8. Another opposition point to prepare against: You’re posting student projects online. What is the copyright on that content? If students create content that goes on the web, who owns it? And, how can they keep a copy of that VoiceThread AFTER they leave your class?

    Given the opportunity, someone could say, “You’re in violation of students’ copyright.” Also, do you have permission to store student work online, counter-signed by your principal AND the students and parents? What steps have you taken to inform the parents of what’s going on, and has that included a face to face meeting?

    ;->

    Miguel

  9. Kevin H says:

    Wes
    Can you explain a bit how you set up subaccounts for students? Is it using gmail or something through VoiceThread? I, too, want to use VT with my students, but they do not have email and I want to have some oversight of their accounts.
    If we can do this right through VT itself, that would be very cool.
    Thanks for sharing — very helpful.
    Kevin

  10. John Hendron says:

    Thanks for sharing the VoiceThread service with us through your blog. I began using it today; it was simple to use. I think for my purposes, video would be superior, but I look forward to trying it out with students. The issues raised here are real ones that we’re all dealing with trying to move forward with these new, collaborative technologies. I’m hoping we find a happy medium between safety and the collaborative benefits offered by such a service. The introduction of voices and text comments is likely something we will see in other services/apps in the future (Moodle, anyone?)

  11. Maureen Tumenas says:

    I too discovered Voice Thread this fall and love it. I teach science to grades 1-3 and computer apps to grades 6-9 at a small independent school. Part of my job entails working with teachers on tech integration. Voice Thread certainly fits the bill for what many of our teachers are doing and with their current use of technology. I used VT to post animations of mitosis with 9th graders, movie posters and trailers with 8th graders and borax snowflakes with 2nd graders. It is very easy to use and I embed the threads in our school website. I can now leave out the share slide at the end and mostly have made them private, not shown on the browser and no comments allowed.

    Although safety is always a concern, I either use a name with no photo, or a photo with no name for the students. I just wish I could have some way to set up folders within my identities for all of my classes- it’s hard to find the student I’m looking for at times, especially the ones with just silhouettes.

    But after posting a few of these to our school website, I am now getting requests from teachers to learn how to do this. It’s been a long time coming- no time, no interest, lack of skills or confidence, general resistance to change. Although when MySpace and the other social networking sites first hit the web a few years ago, I was appalled by what my students thought was OK to put online, now that the novelty has worn off and we are all more aware of the safety issues, I am just thrilled by all of the web 2.0 appications which I believe have been spurred on, not by educators, but by social networking.

    My next project with my 8th graders is a wiki- on web 2.0 applications. Since I cannot keep up with them, I’m asking the kids to investigate them- and to evaluate them use at school. Voice Thread is on my list.

  12. It is great to be safe and we all want that…to a point. If the correct things are in place than the scary things won’t happen. Of course, everyone hears about all the bad in the world and not enough of the good. The real magic of using places like VoiceThread is the excitement of having other people leave comments, always safer when moderated by the teacher. By not allowing this you might as well have students just share in class. The experience of sharing with another class that is on the other side of the world will be unforgettable for these students.

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