Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

VoiceThread supports template-based digital storytelling!

It would be great if students had all the time they needed to create digital stories from scratch during class time at school, but the fact is they don’t. Time is in shorter supply today in our classrooms than ever before, with a seemingly endless number of new mandates from different authorities and groups proliferating constantly. In this environment of sharply limited time, Teaching with Templates can be essential when it comes to technology projects. Rather than have students start with a blank document, they can start with a partially-created one or “template.” Story kits like those in the Kitzu project which Hall Davidson helped organize years ago for Orange County schools is another example of media materials prepared in advance for students, in a template, which can facilitate the often challenging task of helping students complete a media project at school on the available computers, during available class time. Template based teaching can certainly limit the creativity of students, and I am not advocating its use in all contexts. In many cases, however, using templates can make the difference between students being able to complete an assignment or getting frustrated during the initial stages of an assignment using technology.

Being aware of the importance of template-based teaching with technology, I was delighted to learn this evening that VoiceThread now supports “Copying/Cloning your VoiceThreads.” According to the VoiceThread blog:

We’ve had a lot of requests for the ability to copy an existing VoiceThread so that it can be reused with a different group of people or to just create a backup copy. Beginning today you have that ability right on your MyVoice page (in the gear menu), just click ‘Make a Copy’ – and a menu opens for you to title, describe, and choose the comments you’d like to include in the new version. With the ability to copy your existing VoiceThreads it now makes sense for you spend a lot of time and energy creating the highest quality VoiceThreads possible, as you can use them again and again.

This is GREAT news!

VoiceThread is also compiling a digital library of sample VoiceThreads which demonstrate different ways students are “showing what they know” and want to know using VoiceThread. Complete this Google Form to submit examples. VoiceThread is “giving $20 worth of archival exports to all of the submitters whose work is published in the library.” The VoiceThread for Education wiki already has a LOT of great examples, categorized by grade level. Why not submit some of your favorite VoiceThread links from that collection, or from other sources?

The 13 Days that Changed American History is one of my favorite VoiceThread secondary examples. Slide 7, which addresses the events of December 7, 1941, and their lasting impact is absolutely phenomenal. Unlike many VoiceThreads, in this case rather than upload individual photos and comment on them, students have uploaded actual videos they created using a variety of photos, sound clips, videos, and text titles. I’m guessing they used iMovie to create these videos, but I’m not sure. Students at North Shore Country Day School (north of Chicago) working with Vinnie Vrotney created this VoiceThread. I’d put the quality of these videos up against anything I’ve seen sold or licensed commercially from sources like United Streaming!

A great assignment for students would be to have them divide into groups, and then provide audio or video feedback on individual dates/slides in this VoiceThread.

Full disclosure: I am not in any way affiliated with or financially compensated by VoiceThread. As an avid digital storyteller myself and advocate for thoughtful and appropriate digital storytelling the classroom, I’ve found VoiceThread to be the single most powerful and beneficial web 2.0 site and technology for students and teachers to use. It is not secret I am a BIG fan of VoiceThread. Any educator interested in differentiated instruction and safe digital collaboration should be as well.

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11 responses to “VoiceThread supports template-based digital storytelling!”

  1. Kirsten Avatar

    That’s fantastic news – thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Gary S. Stager, Ph.D. Avatar

    Why must we rush to embrace unacceptable compromises and then sell them as innovations?

  3. Home4Skool Avatar

    That is a very interesting idea. We used our child’s artwork to produce an ebook. It is great that children have new methods for seeing their ideas come to life!

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Gary: Teachers in our classrooms don’t have a choice about living with a bell schedule. I agree that should change, but the reality is for teachers in the trenches it’s something that must be dealt with. Teaching with templates is not an unacceptable compromises, in this context, its a practical way to get things done and help students learn with technology.

  5. Gary S. Stager, Ph.D. Avatar

    That’s right. Teachers are helpless victims with no control over their circumstances. They can’t vote, organize, speak, run for school board or seek input into curricular decisions.

    In order to justify the use of the most simplistic tools, they must make further intellectual and creative compromises.

    How do helpless adults help children?

    Your view represents the greatest indictment of public education one can imagine.

  6. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Gary, I think you’re using an straw man attack here. I am in no way, shape or form saying teachers are helpless. I don’t think it’s fair to condemn me for advocating a good way for teachers to help students learn in the bell schedule time they are allotted by teaching with templates, either using VoiceThread or another software environment / website. I’m a very vocal advocate for NOT limiting our learning to the “boundaries of the bell.” As I noted in my post this week about Dr Z’s webinar for ISTE, blended learning offers great potential and opportunities do to this. I’m espousing and endorsing a way for teachers to help students complete an assignment in allotted classtime. I’m not advocating a philosophy of “teachers as hapless victims” here.

    I certainly support and advocate for educators being active voters, sharing input into curricular decisions, and taking an active role in their local school reform agenda. We are all leaders in our own contexts and spheres, it’s just a question of whether we recognize that or not and what we do / how we act as a result that varies widely.

    I hear some of your frustration about our largely authoritarian public school system. In your articles and blog posts, you do a good job of highlighting some of the most egregious examples of authoritarian behavior by public school officials and board members. I am certainly frustrated by those examples as well, and I hear about new ones almost every week. I agree we need to work to change our educational system.

    You are misrepresenting my ideas and the focus of this post, however, when you paraphrase what I’ve said as “Teachers are helpless victims with no control over their circumstances.” That is absolutely NOT what I believe, nor the philosophy which is espoused in this post which recommends educators look at VoiceThread as yet another way to teach with templates and more effectively teach / lead / invite to learning those students under their care in the classroom.

  7. David A Avatar


    I’d encourage you to take a look at Heekya ( a social storytelling platform that is redefining digital storytelling.

    Heekya is a Washington,DC-based startup that is revolutionizing the way people create, share, and discover stories. The name Heekya, which is derived from the Swahili word for “story”, demonstrates our fundamental belief that first, everybody has a story, and second, that a story can intersect along many points.

    We started Heekya because we believe that storytelling is broken online: although it exists in different silos (photo sharing, video sharing, blogging), there is no comprehensive tool that captures storytelling at its core — a base need and expression of humanity. For thousands of years, storytelling has been at the core of our human existence, and most recently, the storytelling channels and medium have been controlled and dominated by large companies and corporations. Heekya is unlocking that platform so anyone, anywhere, can share their story — and change the world.

    Heekya offers a simple, fun and easy solution to organize and add all of your digital media (videos, photos, blogs, music and audio) through importing, uploading, embedding, and searching. Heekya features an easy to use What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) drag and drop story editor. Our users can then share their stories through e-mail and instant message, or publish their stories to any of their online identities — a personal blog like WordPress or Blogger, a social network like Facebook or Myspace, or a personal website created at Weebly. Users can then copy and re-tell stories from seperate vantage points — much like the way they happened in real life. Lastly, Heekya then unlocks the potential to discover interesting stories that take place around you — by people, maps, and themes.

  8. Kent Chesnut Avatar

    It’s always interesting how Gary can dive to the real heart of a subject… sometimes with a little collateral damage.

    Gary, if you are following this thread, could you provide a project example to contrast with the VoiceThread technology Wes is advocating? I’m sure it’ll be instructive for me – and hopefully of interest to others monitoring the thread.

    Have a great day, Kent

  9. Gary S. Stager, Ph.D. Avatar


    I think Voicethread lends itself very well to the arbitrary time constraints and superficial attempts “project-based learning.” Therefore, I don’t have a suggestion as an alternative.

    I have on many occasions urged the teaching of writing and filmmaking as legitimate educational activities and alternatives to the school simulacrum, “digital storytelling.”

    However, filmmaking and writing suffer from the pesky attributes of being hard, thoughtful, time-consuming and situated on a cultural continuum unlike the tricks we ask kids to do too often in school.

    You might enjoy an article I recently published, “What Makes a Good Project?” It’s part 1 of 2.

    Now, if you want to talk about the bell schedule and school restructuring…

  10. Kent Chesnut Avatar

    I appreciate your response.

    If I’m understanding correctly, your point is that a VoiceThread (maybe, particularly a VoiceThread based on a template) undercuts the main advantages of working on a “real” project (things like planning, structuring, authenticity, social negotiation of meaning, context – PBL attributes that build knowledge into transferable structures).

    Maybe a good question to consider… Are there conditions in which a mini-project (like a VoiceThread) is a valuable educational tool? Would student motivation be sufficient to make it valuable (even without the other advantages of PBL)?
    (I’m not trying to start an argument here… I’m just looking for common ground to build on. Wesley obviously considers the VoiceThread valuable… I’m just looking for conditions in which Gary might agree.)

    Thanks for the link to your article… I think I’ve read it before, but I’m sure a re-read would be valuable at this point.

  11. […] to teachers who are looking for ways to have their students respond and collaborate on projects.  Wes Fryer says it best: “…I’ve found VoiceThread to be the single most powerful and beneficial […]