Friday, May 6, 2011

The Wonder of Voicethread

I have become a serious fan of a fantastic Web 2.0 application - Voicethread. This site allows you to post an image and then record yourself speaking about it, while at the same time utilizing a "doodle tool" to draw on the image. After you are done, you can share what you have done with others and they can also record comments and make drawings. Each person can then see what everyone else is done, and the drawings start fresh for each person, so that when I watch someone else's recording, I watch in real time what they are saying and drawing.

This application has solved a major problem that I was having, and I suspect plagues many others as well. When teaching texts, the most effective way to ensure that students learn how to read texts is to have them actually read it. However, there is simply not enough time in the day, week, or even school year for a teacher with a class of 20 or even 10 students to have every student read enough times to be effective. Once upon a time this was solved with tape recorders. Students handed in tapes to the teacher, who would listen to them (after lugging them all home) and offer comments or a grade. Then came sound files - solved the shlepping problem, but created the new issue of very large files that did not attach well.

Enter Voicethread. This not only solves the old issues, but it provides a bonus as well. On a weekly basis I now post a piece of Gemara and invite my students to read it to me online. In addition, I ask them to use the doodle tool to punctuate as they are reading. In order to see what they have done, I simply log in to Voicethread and everyone's readings are there waiting for me, along with their punctuation. This has no impact on my email inbox and I can do this from any computer anywhere that has internet. Best of all, I can do this as often as I want (although I would remind teachers that it does take time to listen to everyone, and thus I sometimes give shorter readings - enough to figure out if a student is capable of reading or not). Instead of each student reading for me 3 or 4 times a year, I can now hear everyone 15 to 20 times. And - yes, there's more - this takes no time out of class as it is all done on their own time.

I have shared this with other teachers on my faculty and they are rapidly adopting it - not only for Gemara but for Chumash and Navi as well. Our 6th grade teachers have discovered that it is a good way to figure out which kids come into Middle School with weak reading skills. Other teachers have started toying with uses for it beyond simple reading reviews. The possibilities are endless.

Oh, and best of all, it is dirt cheap. Educational accounts are available to schools at the cost of $1 per student per year. If your school won't buy it for you, splurge on it yourself - it will be worth every penny.


Avery Joel said...

Hi Aaron,
I have heard other educators reave about Voicethread, as well. Do you ever have concerns about students reading from Artscrolls as they record themselves?
All the bet,

Aaron Ross said...

I have come to accept the fact that students will generally try to use whatever they deem to be advantageous. As such, I explain to them why I do not want them using Artscrolls (i.e. beginner students should give themselves a chance to learn how to read Gemara and not start off using a crutch), but I cannot ultimately stop them from doing so.
However, I do tell them that if they use Artscroll, it will be easy for me to know - they do not speak the same way that Artscroll does, and they are likely not good enough to change the wording on the fly. And if they take the time to read Artscroll and then work out their own version - then isn't that learning on some level?