Over the next 10 posts, I will be embarking on learning a newer digital education technology VoiceThread. As I explore and learn this new technology I will be blogging about my personal experiences, what I have learned, and any tips or tricks I may find.
What is VoiceThread?
VoiceThread is a collaborative, cloud-based interactive multimedia tool that displays slideshows that enable users to hold conversations and share content around images, documents, videos, and many more types of media files (Brunvand & Byrd, 2011; Delmas, 2017). VoiceThread can be used as part of a Learning Management System (LMS) interface or independently through the VoiceThread website.
VoiceThread is not a content creation software but a way of taking a variety of content types and displaying them in a way that the instructor and student can interact in a meaningful way.
Why use VoiceThread?
VoiceThread allows instructors to create asynchronous, media-rich content to enhance their instructional design. Very few platforms allow conversations across many media types of mediums.
Introduction and Overview
VoiceThread is a collaborative, cloud-based interactive multimedia tool that displays slideshows that enable users to hold conversations and share content around images, documents, videos, and many more types of media files (Brunvand & Byrd, 2011; Delmas, 2017). VoiceThread can be used as part of a Learning Management System (LMS) interface or independently through the VoiceThread web site.
VoiceThread is not a content creation software but a way of taking a variety of content types and displaying them in a way that the instructor and student can interact in a meaningful way. It is important to still create quality content. The right tools can help instructors to do the job effectively but they do NOT replace the instructor. Therefore, instructors should take care in the content they develop for VoiceThread.
There are many software packages out there that can help with content creation. Adobe’s Creative Cloud is probably one of the most comprehensive but complex software suites (instructional videos are available on YouTube). Apple’s Final Cut Pro is also a great product. For cheaper or even free software, Camtasia and Panopto are options. When looking to purchase software, look for instructor and student discounts. Apple and Adobe are very education friendly in this regard. Journey Ed is also a great source of educational software on the cheap.
Theoretical Frameworks for VoiceThread
VoiceThread is an excellent tool that allows instructors to leverage technology in a variety of educational-based theoretical frameworks. This post focuses on two: constructivism and participatory culture. Other theories could include communities of practice, social constructivism, constructivist theory, and much, much more.
Constructivism as defined by Dewey, Lewin, and Piaget, is a social view of learning from which knowledge is personally created from an individual’s own meaning developed from his or her own experiences (Eng, 2017; Ertmer, & Newby, 1993). Intellectual development is a process of negotiation of meaning in everyday practice with others and learning occurs through authentic experiences (Riel, M., & Polin, L., 2001). VoiceThread leverages the constructivist approach by involving the student (learner) in a more meaningful manner. By allowing the student to create their own content in their own medium, they become more involved with making meaning out of the experience of content creation.
In addition to a constructivist approach, students can become more participatory in their educational and community. VoiceThread allows a participatory culture which assumes that we are able to make decisions collectively and individually, to express those decisions through a broad range of forms and practices (Jenkins, Mizuko, and Boyd, 2016).
VoiceThread is especially useful in leveraging these theories in an asynchronous educational environment, allowing the instructor to move away from highly text-based instruction.
Eng, D. J. (2017, January 1). GAME ON! An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Games-Based Learning in an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Environment. ProQuest LLC,
Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features from a Design Perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 6(4), 50–72. Retrieved from: https://lib.pepperdine.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ471241&login.asp?custid=s8480238&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Jenkins, H., Mizuko, I., & Boyd, D. (2016). Participatory culture in a networked era. Cambridge, UK. Polity Press.
Riel, M., & Polin, L. (2001). Communities as places where learning occurs. In Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association, Seattle, WA.
Creating a project/ accessing your account
VoiceThread is all about simplicity. Therefore, they have made the process of accessing all of the VoiceThread tools as simple as logging into their website https://voicethread.com. However, accessing the system through an institution’s Learning Management System (LMS) may be a little more complex due to the way the two systems need to share content and validate user accounts.
Most users will utilize VoiceThread through their LMS and therefore, must learn to log into VoiceThread through the LMS (Check with your IT administrator for details).
At my institution, the LMS is Canvas. To log in through Canvas: Open a Canvas course shell → select Modules → add a Module → add Item → select external tool → then VoiceThread → add Item OR Assignments → Plus Symbol (to Add) → External Tools → VoiceThread (configure tool). VoiceThread will then launch within your LMS browser. For which option to select, see further comments below. Once it has opened, you do have the option to open through your web-browser. This may be better for more complex creations as you have more screen space available in the web-browser vs. the LMS browser.
If the LMS is not an option or does not have VoiceThread as an available interface, you can create an account through the VoiceThread website https://voicethread.com/login. Creating an account is as simple as selecting the register option in the top right corner of the webpage, then complete the form:
Once an account has been created, the user can continue to access the software through their LMS or using the primary VoiceThread webpage.
Before we get started, all of this information can be found on the Training site for VoiceThread. They provide a variety of workshops live or that you can watch that will give great ideas and details on how to use the software.
Basics of VoiceThread – Upload, Comment and Share
VoiceThread is a simple platform to use. Instructors and students are able to upload content they create on the VoiceThread timeline. Once it is on the timeline, users (students and faculty) can easily add content of their own on the timeline to interact with the original content (i.e. discuss the original content using a variety of mediums).
The creation of a VoiceThread can be reduced to just two steps. 1) Uploading media and 2) creating comments. From a technical standpoint, all VoiceThreads are all the same. It is the design standpoint that gives the instructor such great variability and creativity in their work.
Uploading content This is done by selecting the “Create” icon, then uploading media of your choice. VoiceThread accepts almost all forms of media files (pptx, docx, pdf, jpeg, mpeg, etc.). If you want, you can also record content in VoiceThread. However, this is not the recommended method.
Note: Be aware of copyright when using other people’s content!
Once uploaded, you now can create comments on the timeline. This is simple to do, simply play the media until you wish to place a comment (use the timeline controls to go back and forth until you are at the right spot). Then when appropriate, select the comment menu at the bottom of the screen.
From this menu you can add a variety of different media types:
You can type in a comment, phone in a comment, voice record, video record, or upload additional media.
There is really no limit to the way you can interact with your media.
Tip: Keep in mind the comments in VoiceThread are meant to be a conversation between people, not a stagnant one-way delivery system. Think of VoiceThread as supercharged discussion forum!
Once your comments are ready, the next step is to share it in your course!
Basics of VoiceThread – Groups and secure sharing
If you use VoiceThread in a LMS such as Canvas, you will add students via the LTI interface or use groups that have been automatically added by the LMS. Outside of VoiceThread in a LMS, or if you are in a LMS and want to explore sharing outside of your LMS, this section will discuss how to create groups, share, and manage groups.
Students are able to join either automatically through the LMS LTI or can be sent a link by the instructor. It is as simple as clicking the link and following the prompts.
For instructors: From the panel on the left-hand side, go to groups and select the plus sign. Give the group a name. Give the group description (if you want). Provide a banner image (to display across the top).
Select okay → Then decide where you want to get your members
- Can make a link and members add themselves
- Can add from another group
- Can add from the contact list (can also add a contact from this point)
Once a group is made, it will be a group list. Instructors can share the group from this link as well. Simply select the gear icon, then overview, then add.
To share a VoiceThread with the group, simply drag and drop VoiceThread into the group. Instructors can also change permissions at this point.
Now when clicking on the group, the VoiceThread will be available. Students will also be able to add their VoiceThreads to the group via the email link.
Identifying access, and deleting groups is also very simple. Begin by hovering over a VoiceThread, you will see an arrow (share). click on the arrow. From this point, you can see tabs, who has access, etc. Under the secure tab, you can see members and their permissions along with your contact. Under who has access, you can see the group and type of access. The entire group can also be edited if needed. Another option for editing is to click on the group, then hover over the desired VoiceThread, then the minus sign will allow the removal of that VoiceThread from the group’s access. To delete a group, simply go to the gear icon in the group, under overview, delete.
Other options available in the sharing menu (when hovering over the VoiceThread), shows the secure tab. Under the secure tab, you can activate a private share, add contacts, then they are added via email. You can also edit access rights. Private share is a useful tool for one on one instruction. For example, if the student wants to share a paper with the instructor for editing back and forth.
Subgroups are also possible. Simply click on gear from the group, go to overview, create a subgroup, then follow prompts. Subgroups can be seen under each parent group. Drag and drop VoiceThreads as needed.
From a LMS – Registered students are automatically added to the course group. If you want to share with a few people in the class, open Share in VoiceThread, find course group, click on the names of just the people you want to share with.
Basics of VoiceThread – Moderating comments, replies, and copying
Moderation is important in some educational scenarios. To turn on comment moderation, simply go to the VoiceThread menu, edit, then to options and then playback settings. Here you will see thread settings. Enable comment moderation. In most scenarios, the threaded commenting option should also be removed.
Once moderation is turned on, all comments will be hidden from view except to the instructor. Moderated comments are indicated as hidden by a closed eye on each students icon. The student’s image will also be dimmed.
This feature is useful if you want private comments or in situations where the instructor wishes to ask questions and allow students to answer prior to looking at other responses.
To reveal the comment, click on the eye to reveal it (can also click again to re-hide).
To record a private reply, when viewing the VoiceThread, each students icon has a lock on it. This indicates a private. You can then click on the student’s lock icon, then comment (from the commenting method), then make the comment, then save. It will then attach your comment only their profile.
To respond to a specific student (when threaded conversations and comments are not hidden). Click on the student’s identity image in the VT. You will see a branching arrow, select this, then make your comment. Note, this is a publicly visible comment and others can add to the comments.
To copy a VoiceThread: From in the VoiceThread media player, click on the media icon, then make a copy. Or from home page, hover over VT, then copy
Note, When looking at comments, can include what type of comments you want to copy (you may only want your own, not the students).
Basics of VoiceThread – LMS integration
VoiceThread integrates into a LMS through a variety of LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) interfaces. There are 6 types of links/ tools that can be added via a LMS:
- VT Home (Non-Graded) – gives access for user to edit in their VT acct
- CourseView (Non-Graded) – loads all VTs that are shared with this group (course) – Students can also create and add to list from there.
- Individual VT (Non-Graded) – Links to an individual VT (VS the group) So if you only want a single lesson. Can also create, preview, copy and edit from here.
- Watch (Graded) – must listen to all comments and the whole slide.
- Comment (Graded) – can make them submit a specific num of comments. Options to moderate, regulate the number of comments,
- Create (Graded) – Allows students to make own VT for you or class.
Note: Once the link is in and set, you can’t edit it. But you can simply delete and add new.
Non-Graded -Modules (follow instructions above), add item, external tool, VT, then name, and add item. Config by clicking link options 1-3
Graded – from Assignment, add an assignment, external tool, name it, pts, etc., MORE OPTIONS, FIND under external tools list, find VT, then select, save and publish. Then you have Assignment Builder. Options 4-6, select options, then create.
Non-Graded -Add activity or resource, external tool, add, name it, pre-config tool, find VT, save and display, then select options 1-3.
Graded – Add activity or resource, external tool, add, name it, pre-config tool, find VT, GO TO GRADE, set pts, save and display. Select assignment builder, select options 4-6, then create.
on-Graded – From Module, tools or build content dropdown, find VT in list, click, name it, submit. Click on new link to config. Then select option 4-6
Graded – From module, tools drop down, VT, name it, GRADING, add points, submit, Click the new link to config. Assignment builder, Select options 4-6, then create.
For all LMS’s, students see the same interface once they click the link.
IN Comment – After clicking the link, they can see the instructions. Can also ask private questions.
In Create – can add one already created or add VT. Can share with the class or not. If they forget to share, they can go back to the homepage and drag/drop into the group after.
To look at the grading interface, once students have submitted comments, click on the assignment. The view allows the instructor to see who has submitted or who has not. The instructor can click on a name, then it will immediately display only that student’s comments. The interface also allows the instructor to jump directly from comment to comment.
When the instructor is ready to enter a grade, click on the grade, then enter, then click % sign to submit it. Grading is always a percentage of the given point total. Once submitted, will then populate into the grade book.
Note: VoiceThread does not use a rubric system but instructors can use a rubric and then enter % as needed (a manual process).
Some advanced features of VoiceThread
Tile (Thumbnail): Tile or thumbnail of a VT is whatever is first on the presentation. To add cover art: Go to VT Edit page, next to the title, add cover art. Select what you would like to add. Can always change or remove it. The new tile will show from the VT homepage.
Media Sources: When adding media to a VT, you can go to Media Sources. This allows some extra function. Allows a direct connection to other accounts, for example, select google drive, follow prompts, then select sources.
Copying content or comments from other VT: When in media sources, select VoiceThread, then owned by me, then follow prompts. Then select your desired VT. you can then see the option to include no comments, only your comments, or all comments.
Adding Links: In the VT, can go to slide then edit, then add an external link. Also, the option to add in a comment (preferred so they see it).
In thread settings: Can allow others to download content (or not) and copy VT (or not)
Speeding up Comments: Under the play controls, the “1x” symbol, you can select .5x to 4x (slow to fast). Also good for lots of comments on a VT.
Text Size: IN a comment box, for accessibility, you can click on the “T or T” to change the text size.
Closed Captioning: CC is automatically created with any video or audio. It does take time to process. To turn on, select from the comment box.
You can then go into the comment box, click on the CC icon, then edit captions to correct any inaccuracies.
Note: may need platinum service for this.
When Recording on a Video: While recording a comment, you can also scrub back and forth on the video. The comment will play back as you did it. Will also indicate when you have placed a comment on the timeline of the video. Can then click on the timeline to select individual comments.
To search a single person comment: Can select the magnifying glass in the sidebar, then search a student, then it will filter just by that person.
Number of People: No technical limit on how many students or participants. More constrained from an academic quality standpoint.
Turning off Text responses: Go into VT, options, and playback, then remove the desired comment methods.
Pecha Kucha/ Ignite Formats: Check out on youtube for information on these formats. Good for presentations (and timing)!
Under Thread Settings → playback settings: Similar formatting, 20 slides, auto advancement, Pecha Kucha is every 20 sec (6m 40 sec). Can also re-limit the total time. Ignite is every 15 seconds (5 min).
Display Preferences: Can display other language preferences (think Spanish teacher wanting VT to show only Spanish). Go to display settings, then language pref, then select language.
Collaboration in VT: In thread setting, can allow others in the group to add their own slides. Once the option is on, open VT, then the multiple box icon (lower right), then select plus sign, can then add file or record something. This only allows adding not deleting (vs. having edit rights).
Note: Students should be aware of sharing personal information.
Personal Reflection on what I have learned
As an instructional designer, I am always looking for ways to enhance the delivery of content. In an asynchronous learning environment, it is often difficult to get away from the discussion board text-based interface when trying to comply with Title IV (CFR). Although many studies show that the utilization of a tool is more important than the tool its self, VoiceThread allows for a dynamic interface between instructors and students that allows for any medium (video, audio, text) to be leveraged in any learning content. One of my favorite features is taking a students paper, dropping it into a VoiceThread and having a conversation asynchronously about their writing. It is almost as good as sitting with them in my office. Some of the various LTI interfaces take some getting used to but with practice, this is a great tool for higher education!
Brunvand, S., & Byrd, S. (2011). Using VoiceThread to promote learning engagement and success for all students. Teaching Exceptional Children 43(4)(28-37).
Delmas, P. (2017). Using VoiceThread to create community in online learning. Tech Trends 61(595-602).