Monthly Archives: March 2016

VoiceThread: A different way to engage your students

This week I choose to describe a product called VoiceThread. It’s difficult to summarize exactly what VoiceThread is because it is a tool that can be used in many ways. Primarily it is a way to easily incorporate voice and video commenting onto digital media. But really the whole is different from the sum of its parts here in my opinion. Before I start to describe some ways that VoiceThread might be used, let me give you an example.  Visit this VoiceThread that I made. You can choose to comment as well by creating your own free account. You can provide new comments. But any direct relies to me (or to my dummy me) can only be seen by me with the free version. Threaded comments (i.e. direct replies to posts) are a feature of a paid subscription to the service.


So in the example you can see how I’ve presented some media (primarily a PP slide and some images) along with either a video or audio comment giving some information.  I also have a dummy student account that I used to post some comments so you can see how this feature is used.

What’s interesting to me is that I think that this product could be used in many different ways both in online courses and within traditional courses.  Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Narrate over your PP slides: VT imports PP slides one at a time so you can narrate over one slide. Then if you need to change something in the future you can change just one piece of the lecture rather than the whole thing.  I’d recommend making a MASTER copy of the lecture and then creating copies for each time a course is delivered.  Additionally as students are watching and listening to your slides, they can insert questions and comments which everyone can then see and reply back to.
  2. Conduct a video analysis: You can import video files and then narrate and manipulate the video (Like a play back when you watch sports). This could be useful for film students, analyzing speeches, or for coaches and athletes.
  3. Use as an alternative to a traditional text-based discussion forum: A prompt could be written on a PP side or other media could be presented to be the topic of discussion.  Users can then post their threads and rely to others. The whole discussion can then be played back and listened to.
  4. Engage in a debate: Similar to a discussion forum, have students have a debate back and forth replying to one another’s positions and assertions.
  5. Evaluate a visual image: Analyze a photograph, painting, etc. Use the markup features to highlight the elements being discussed.
  6. Receive feedback on a speech and visual aids: Have speech students create a first draft of their speech, record it through VT and then have peers provide feedback.

There is a free version of VT which is a public option. However, there are also subscription services to this product that provide some more privacy and integration within a schools LMS. Until we decide if Morningside might use VT extensively, I encourage you, if you are comfortable in doing so to play around with this product and see how you might use this in your course.

Get students creating with makerspaces

The notion of a Makerspace has arisen with the new orientation that libraries around the country have begun to take.  Libraries these days are much more than places to store and archive books, documents, maps, and other artifacts.  They have become places to create new things. Simply put, a makerspace is a literal space (typically housed in a library) that is stocked with materials which people can use to create things. This can include items such as simple electronics, 3D printers, laser cutters, sewing and craft supplies, and woodworking supplies. Makerspaces can also include computers installed with software  that would otherwise be expensive for an individual to purchase (e.g. photoshop, high quality video editing software) allowing the user to create new digital content.

Makerspaces have been around for about 5 years or so within the public and K-12 library systems.  But it is not until relatively recently that college and university libraries have begun to dedicate space in their libraries for a makerspace. A makerspace is much more than a cute place where people can come to be crafty or make a simple robot from a kit. It is a space that allows for learning to occur outside of the classroom. It allows students to see how what they are learning in the classroom can actually apply to so-called “real-life.”

Imagine the following uses:

  • A student begins to see how mathematics and physics apply to a building project.
  • An art student uses a 3D printer to create a new type of sculpture or model.
  • A history student uses the digital archives and the video creation and editing programs to create a virtual museum tour.
  • A literature student makes their own paper and binds a book.
  • Chemistry students use root beet kits to create their own soda.
  • Political science students use video and editing software to create their own campaign ads.
  • Theater students sewing costumes begin to see how geometry is used in the project they are completing.
  • Computer science students play around with photoshop to create attractive designs for the art used in their program.

There are probably many more possibilities. But the spirit of the makerspace is that it is an area where learning is put into an engaging and fun environment. The application is inherently integrative, as long as the connections between the disciplines/fields are made clear to the students.

In addition to these benefits, makerspaces also allow for more soft skills to be developed.  Having student work in groups, make plans, collaborate, experiment, and engage in inquiry are the real benefits to having spaces like this available.

Some may argue that your students already have access to some of these materials in their major, and this is true.  But the purpose behind a makerspace is to make the materials available to all. It can be an interesting experience to see how an art student might use a 3D printer or laser cutter. A computer science major may have a creative way of using photoshop that a photography student would never consider.

Finally, having a makerspace available can challenge faculty and students in what they might do in their coursework.  Might a final project in a literature class be something other than a lengthy analysis of a classic work? Could the student actually make something that would be appropriate for that course’s learning goals? Might a final project in a sociology course be the creation of an art project that illustrates the sociological concerns related to the course? With our new curriculum set to roll out next year, I would challenge our undergraduate faculty to consider new, unique, and innovative ways that a makerspace might enhance their courses. Our librarians are very interested in creating a space like this and would love the opportunity to engage in discussion on what a Morningside Makerspace might look like.

Here are a few more online resources on the topic of Makerspaces: