Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Instructionally Investing in VoiceThread

I am not sure what all the considerations are, but at some point I sense that particular read/write web tools and environments are so powerful and robust that I decide to COMMIT and thoroughly INVEST in them via my time and ideas. My confidence in these tools may be misplaced, since the companies now offering them could abandon or sell them– or go belly up themselves– but because of my own positive experiences using these tools and sharing them with others, these have unofficially become my “A-list” of web applications I use every week, and in some cases every day. To date, my “A-list” of web applications has included:

  1. social bookmarks
  2. Flickr
  3. PBwiki
  4. Google Notebook
  5. WordPress (running this blog)

Today I have decided to add VoiceThread to my personal “A-list” of web applications.

My reasons for using and committing to regularly use each of the above web applications varies. In the case of VoiceThread, my main reasons are:

  1. Digital storytelling is a pedagogically sound activity for learners at all levels in all content areas.
  2. VoiceThread is simple, focusing on still digital images and recorded audio narration.
  3. VoiceThread stories are immediately web-accessible via a link or HTML code which can be embedded on another webpage.
  4. VoiceThread permits MODERATED feedback, so teachers can control text and audio feedback to their students’ shared digital stories.

As I look at my rather full schedule of workshops, conference presentations, and seminars for teachers, professors, and students this fall here in Oklahoma as well as elsewhere, I’m struck by my desire to help these learners ACTUALLY MAKE STUFF. This is tied to the pedagogic ideals of “constructivism,” which holds that learning power is inherent when people are actively creating things. When you create something, whether it is a physical or virtual object, people receive meaningful feedback that can be used to measure as well as reinforce their own learning about an idea or skill. Does it look right? Does it work? Does it sound right? Does it fulfill my purpose? What do others think and say about my creation?

When the creation of a digital story is wedded to a capacity for global feedback, the potential power of that constructivist feedback loop is multiplied. This is the promise and reality of VoiceThread. I am amazed by the feedback we’ve received on Rachel’s recent VoiceThread, “Getting a New Haircut.”

This week I’ll be starting a multi-week workshop with teachers in Del City, Oklahoma, focused on digital storytelling and the Oklahoma Digital Centennial Project. Each teacher is receiving their own, new MacBook Pro laptop. We’re going to focus our efforts on MAKING STUFF together, and “making stuff” with students. We’re eventually going to explore and use the iLife applications iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, and Garageband, but we’re going to start with VoiceThread. Why? Because VoiceThread is simple and powerful, permitting immediate publishing on the global stage for global feedback. Placed within an instructional context with an instructional purpose, I think VoiceThread has more immediate potential to help teachers have personal “a-ha” moments for how they can meaningfully use digital technologies in the classroom with students than any other digital tool I’ve used to date.

In talking with Karen Montegomery at length this morning, I came up with an idea for a simple but powerful collaborative project using VoiceThread and focusing on the desire most teachers (as well as librarians) have to help their students become more enthused about reading books. I’ve created a wiki site for the project ( and named it “Great Book Stories.” The site just includes a link to one digital story I created so far, but I am going to get my own children to record some VoiceThread “great book stories” this evening and add those links. I’m also planning to use this project as our first activity Thursday night for teachers in our Del City digital storytelling workshop. The idea is basic: Narrate five pictures to share why you love a specific book, and why other people should read it. If you’re interested in contributing, please check out the site and the guidelines. The password to edit the wiki is “share” without quotation marks. Here’s my initial example about C.S. Lewis’ book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe.” Please add your own comments and feedback to this VoiceThread!

I was thrilled to learn today from Karen Montgomery that VoiceThread has added an entire section to their website titled “VoiceThreads in the Classroom.” This page is accessible at the bottom of every VoiceThread page, using the link labeled “CLASSROOM.” A step by step printable guide (PDF) is even provided. I love the introductory paragraph of the handout, titled “Participation is not optional.” This reminds me of Quyen Arana’s comments about how important PARTICIPATION and ENGAGEMENT are for student learning at the EncyloMedia conference last week. Below this heading, the VoiceThread in the Classroom handout states:

A VoiceThread allows every child in a class to record audio commentary about the ideas and experiences that are important to them. Whether it’s an event, a project, or a milestone, children can tell their story in their own voice, and then share it with the world. For teachers, a VoiceThread offers a single vessel to capture and then share all the diverse personalities of an entire class. A VoiceThread can be managed with little effort, creating an heirloom that can be shared by students, parents, and educators alike. You can hear the pride and excitement in their voices as the students “publish” and archive their work.

Helping encourage teachers to utilize digital tools effectively to engage students and improve their opportunities for both learning and authentic assessment is challenging work. Often, I think this is similar to a QUEST FOR FIRE.

Passing the torch

We seek to pass the torch of engaged digital learning to a new group of educators, and hope they’ll not only pick up the torch… but they’ll seize it with enthusiasm and carry that torch back to their classroom where they will share it with their students.

In the case of the Del City digital storytelling workshop, we’re going to have teachers BRING a student to several of our later training sessions. This will hopefully jumpstart the process of “sharing the fire” with students and actually inviting them to PARTICIPATE in the creation of social media with an instructional purpose.

Kudos to the developers of VoiceThread. My era of VoiceThread investment with time and ideas has begun in earnest.







7 responses to “Instructionally Investing in VoiceThread”

  1. Sandy Beck Avatar

    Thank you for your wonderful commentary about a powerful tool that teachers and students can easily use to create and edit ‘their stories’ – the stories that often don’t get told and certainly don’t get a wide audience. How amazing for students to hear authentic audio feedback on their stories. How sad that at present, the majority of feedback comes in the form of a percentage or rubric score. Standardized testing has moved students from being creators, to being receptacles in which to place discrete pieces of information and then have them regurgitated.
    I first heard of VoiceThread during a recent Women of the Web 2.0’s live chat, only to find it blocked in my system. Your dialogue will hopefully provide the rationale for unblocking this site on the district network

  2. Ben Avatar

    Hi Wesley,

    I just came across your blog. I can’t tell you how grateful we are to see Voicethread being used and embraced by educators like yourself. We would love to help out on any of your upcoming projects should you need us.
    I would also like to ask Sandy if there is anything we can do to help unblock our service for her classroom.
    Again, thank you so much, keep us posted.

    Ben Papell

  3. Karen Montgomery Avatar
    Karen Montgomery

    One of the features of Voicethread I love is that it works with your pictures from Flickr and the variety of projects teachers can do with it(assuming it’s not blocked)is endless. I am experimenting with foreign language, social studies, math ideas and I am really excited about the Great Books project. I am using my child as “guinea pig,” also. We’re working on a “Lemony Snickets” Voicethread and I will be showing this at a librarians workshop in St. Louis next week.

    The other Web 2.0 tool that I have invested a lot of time into is Ning. It seems that everyone I tell about Ning creates a social network so it seems to be something worthwhile.