May 12th, 2010

Using VoiceThread to Build Student Engagement


Online educators have long known that asynchronous discussion is deeper than face-to-face discussion due to the increased thought time and the “democratization” of the classroom. But one major disadvantage of traditional online discussion is that it is separate from the lecture.

Students in a face-to-face classroom can stop the instructor during the lecture to ask questions, whereas students in an online classroom generally read or watch the lecture at one time and then discuss it in a separate forum later. Any questions or thoughts that the students have during the lecture are generally forgotten by the time that the students reach discussion. Plus, online discussion is usually tracked into preset questions determined by the instructor.

But a new technology allows online instructors to reconnect discussion to the lecture. VoiceThread is a web service that allows users to upload PowerPoint slides, videos, photos, etc. and add voice narration to create a multimedia presentation. But best of all, viewers can add their own comments to the presentation via voice or text. With VoiceThread students can attach questions or thoughts about a lecture directly to the lecture itself when and where they apply. The result is a discussion that is integrated into the lecture itself.

The advantages of VoiceThread include:

  • Student driven discussion: Discussion originates from the students themselves, and thus students tend to bring more of themselves into the conversation. Discussion is freer and more open, touching on a wider variety of issues.
  • A growing lecture: Discussion in a traditional online forum never leaves the classroom. The class is archived and discussion forums are wiped clean for the next group, meaning that the insights are lost. But because discussion in VoiceThread is attached to the lecture itself, which can then be used for the next class, students are adding to the lecture itself, which grows from class to class. Students contribute to an ongoing conversation with future classes.
  • Improved social presence: Students find that the ability to see and hear their instructor and classmates improves the sense of social presence of others in the classroom.
  • Better understanding of nuance: Students are better able to understand the nuances of discussion when they can hear the tone in someone’s voice.
  • Student Projects: VoiceThreads are a great way for students to deliver projects and solicit feedback from others.

New users can create up to three VoiceThreads for free, and after that reduced higher ed pricing is available. VoiceThreads can be password protected to provide the same level of security as any learning management system. Set one up and try it yourself!

To learn more about VoiceThread and how it’s being used in education, visit these sites:

VoiceThread introduction:
Creating a VoiceThread:
Student outcomes:
Art class example:
Student project:
VoiceThread 4 Education Wiki:

John Orlando, PhD, is the Program Director for the online Master of Science in Business Continuity Management and Master of Science in Information Assurance programs at Norwich University. John develops faculty training in online education and is available for consulting at

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  • Constantinos

    Nice little article on VoiceThread. Especially the part where it summarizes its advantages is quite helpful to people new to VT.

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  • Pgreen-allred

    Liberal feminist…I all I can say is this a deep class discussion so far. I love to learn new things when it comes to gender, and why gender has to define us as who we are. I read this articles “Imagine there is no Gender”, Gender is defined as a title and it can come in various title forms. When you think of gender and feminist it can all somehow come together in one solution. The Liberal Feminist came up with an organization in eighteenth century that consisted of 17,000 or more people. With a group that big, large in standing that strong you have to know that they can make things happen and make a lot of noise for change when they are ready.
    For me this was all about letting go and gaining more control for their actions of themselves and other people. People wanting more and finding a way to get their own independency was all this group was about. The liberal feminist was all about equality and wants to have equal rights as everyone else. People are so quick to judge you for what you do, how you look, and where you are going. But with the feminist behind you people was not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. They also talked about this term called enlightenment, they said that was used for the idea that this body could leave the thought process of any age of darkness and ignorance and become controlled.
    They also talked liberal feminist on love, marriage and sex; the article also talked about the same things as far as sex is concerned. It says in the article that gender makes the sex hot, according to the feminist who also gave the woman a place of belonging said that women can define themselves with their sexuality. Women has come a long way, starting from having no identity to gaining an identity and now being able to take over the world and have higher positions while the men are having to take a seat. Being a feminist holds a long lasting stain in the air for a lot of more people to be angry and bitter. But it also opens up more doors for woman to have complete happiness within themselves.