Using VoiceThread to Integrate Personal Storytelling in Online Courses

Through the excellent training in OTPP and other courses on blended and online teaching offered by CSUCI, I learned that without the human presence, learning does not take place online. Connections of all kinds need to be considered: teacher to self, teacher to student, peer to peer, student to teacher and to self.

Connections of all kinds need to be considered: teacher to self, teacher to student, peer to peer, student to teacher and to self.

To maintain and expand these connections I utilize VoiceThread in my courses. I want to hear the students’ voices. I want to hear how they say things, in their own words, before they even write the required content.

Hearing each other through audio or webcam brings me one step closer to my students. Over the course of the semester students grow more comfortable discussing and replying to each other on VT.  By the end of the semester, students in Children’s Literature create book talks on voice thread. You can see their confidence has grown as they streamline their Voice Thread presentations.

I use voice thread for ice breakers, stress relievers, reflections on modules, and for our literature discussions. For example, students may be asked to look through the slides of the voice thread to decide which task they want to accomplish. They may be asked to bring a work of art, a poem they found or one they wrote, or to review a key website for our multicultural book list. They may be asked to read aloud a few pages of a book on VT and share what theme drew them to that portion of the book. They may be asked to interview someone and share their findings on voice thread. They may be asked to create one VT slide that represents their learning. After completing the task, they return to voice thread and join the discussion and respond to their peers.

Students share a portrait of themselves as a child reader:

Figure looking defeated with face in hands.
VoiceThread prompt: What did you learn from a children's book?
When we read as children, we are receptive to the power of a book. A book might leave an indelible impression on our memories. Do you have a favorite book from childhood? Share that book here and what lesson/value you learned from it.

Using the course view available in VT, students share their book selections. The students are asked to quote from two of their peers in a future assignment:

On the left: three colorful book covers.
On the right: information about each book.
Multicultural Childrens Book
Author:[blurred out]
Created on: 2/14/2020
The Proudest Blue
Author: [blurred out]
Created on: 2/13/2020
Multicultural book choice: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu
Author: [blurred out]
Created on: 2/12/2020

Students use the webcam to share their thoughts about a book or upload a poem to read.  Papers by students can also be easily uploaded for assessment.

Students may also create their own storytelling prompts to keep our conversations going throughout the semester. Some popular prompts are: Share a time you wanted to ask for help and what happened; share a story about something important to you and no one else; use the webcam to share an object, photo, or doodle that tells us something about you that you don’t often share.

Instructions for sharing object stories in VoiceThread. Instructions in a bulleted list: Using the webcam, share an object that is important to you. It does not have to be important to anyone else. If you don't have the object, you can draw a sketch,  take a photo, or just tell us about it. Avoid wedding rings and religious symbols. Focus on an object that has meaning to you.

In the lower-left corner, an unidentified student holds up a white ornament tied with a red string.

In a different class, students create life maps, upload them to VT and narrate the events. A life map is a visual narrative of a student’s journey to CSUCI. Each student creates a minimum of ten images or doodles, each a symbol of something that helped or hindered them on their journey to higher education. Although this used to be an in-class task, a storytelling festival I always looked forward to, the results on VT have been appreciated. Students discover that many have had to overcome similar obstacles and losses to get to where they want to be. I share my own story in a life map as well.

Here are some of the maps. Each person’s map evolved differently. That is something to celebrate:

10-step pencil drawing of a male student's journey from high school to college at CSUCI.

In Second Language Acquisition, students find activities on the web to share. Later, students select some of these in a Source Book for future use.

Along with literary analysis in Children’s Literature, students need to connect learning with emotion and discover where they enter the story. In the graphic novel El Deafo, Cece Bell has written her autobiography/memoir. At four years old she contracted meningitis and became deaf. In a few scenes she talks about how she felt she was in a bubble. In our VT, one slide received many varied and heartfelt stories from students:

VoiceThread slide with the title question and a girl standing in front of a tree, surrounded by a spherical bubble.

During the pandemic, which continues now as I write this, the semester is over, and I am planning for the Fall which will also be virtual learning. I know I will create Voice Threads to allow an expressive and personal space for our book discussions, as well as for reflections on our responses to our changing lives.

Voice Thread reminds us to be playful online:

VoiceThread slide with a red car graphic and a prompt for car stories. Tell us a story about: How you learned to drive. The first time I drove. A family car trip. An accident I survived. Buying your first car. The car that keeps running.

Just viewing these slides emphasizes what you are missing—the voices of your students. Muriel Rukeyser wrote a poem, Islands which begins:

O for God’s sake
they are connected

VoiceThread helps us experience those hidden connections, those invisible threads of storytelling that are our human experience.

One thought on “Using VoiceThread to Integrate Personal Storytelling in Online Courses

  1. This is beautiful, Claudia, and I am so inspired by your screenshots and assignment descriptions! I particularly like the requirement to quote from two classmates in a future assignment. That gives a meaningful purpose to the dialogue and makes students’ words really count.

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