Monthly Archives: November 2009

VoiceThread Project Evaluation

Mrs. Peterson’s VoiceThread

Mrs. Badilla’s VoiceThread

Mr. Grosland’s VoiceThread

Mrs. Haehnel’s VoiceThread

Mrs. Barber’s VoiceThread

Overall the project was a good one. Unfortunately, we did not have time to do a rubric. There are many aspects that could be considered in a rubric and I would definitely write one for any future project.

What could have been better?

Let’s just get this out of the way. I made a frustration list that included the following:

VoiceThread Issues

At first I didn’t sign up as an educator but I didn’t realize the mistake until I was ready to start making each thread. The limit is only 3 free threads but educators are allowed more. Fortunately, my account was quickly updated. I still need to explore the options on VoiceThread. At first I didn’t get the publishing conditions right. As it is I did not get separate accounts, or identities (I’m still not sure what the difference is) so all comments had to be made through my account. This meant that I had to log in on the computers that would be used by students. I spent time before every class getting this set up. I think all of the difficulties I encountered can be overcome if I can just have enough time to work more with the site.


The sound on the 8 computers that we used was too low so students could only hear themselves if they used headphones. It was an extra step for me to go through when setting up the computers. The very first time some of the mics were not pushed into the socket all the way so some students had to record a second time.

I had asked classroom teachers to supply the student pictures. I thought this would give the teachers a chance to practice using the new bean cameras we had bought for all the teachers. Unfortunately, this did not happen from all teachers so at the last minute I was taking pictures and uploading them. The quality of some of the photos is compromised because of the rush.

Classroom dynamics

There were a couple days when another class needed to use the computers and I ended up going through the set up process twice. When students were actually recording we had two classrooms using the library, about 50 students. Sometimes it worked beautifully. Other times it was very loud. Some students who were writing were distracted and didn’t finish with enough time to record.

What worked?

There were times when all 50 students were on task and humming. It was a wonderful site to see. I could not have done it without the help of the community cultures teacher. One of the fourth grade teachers gave up one of her prep times to stay when the community cultures teacher had a sub. This was one of the more chaotic times but I am deeply appreciative of the help I had.

The mics worked very well, even in a very loud room. I plan on getting one for every computer because we could have had many more recording at the same time, without a loss in the sound quality.

Computers can be a powerful motivator. Students who had been puttering around suddenly got to work when they realized that they would not be using the computer until the paperwork was done. I’ve learned that preparation is critical for quality online presentations. Students who are not ready on paper are not ready to be on the computers.

The Rewards

One of the special education teachers stopped to tell me how good she thought the project was. Some of her students came back from the library all excited about their recordings so the teacher took time during class to see what the students had done. This gave the teacher a chance to see some of the work her students had been doing. It gave the students a chance to proudly show off. It also might give the teacher an idea for a way to integrate technology into one of her future projects.

I enjoyed watching students who are often very quiet in class suddenly become confident speakers in front of the computer. It gave ESL students a chance to speak in a way that seemed almost private and yet becomes a very public performance. It will be interesting to see if it increases their comfort level when speaking in class.

The project gave us a chance to teach students a number of different skills. Students read books, used atlases, recorded bibliographic information, practiced retelling a story, and gave a public presentation. It was a good example of project based learning and the integration of technology into the project.

The Fear Factor

I have to admit that I was really nervous about doing the VoiceThread project with my students. I don’t record video or audio for personal use and although I know how to use a camera, I don’t even take that many photographs. I’m a librarian at heart, not a sound engineer or photographer. So this project felt a little like diving into the deep end of the pool for the first time.

My work laptop has a built in mic. I didn’t know that until I did this project but now I know that I can use that computer for other kinds of recording apps such as podcasting or screencasting. Because of this project, my tech support person discovered that the computers that my students use do not have built in mics. She very helpfully found some small, inexpensive mics that we could purchase. Our computers are beautifully arranged but very close together in the library.

Library computer lab
Library computer lab

Would many students all talking at once be a problem? I decided to buy eight of the Olympus ME-52 Noise Cancellation Microphones. I left one computer in-between hoping that noise would not be a problem in the recordings.

These mics are tiny. They look enormous in the picture but they’re actually very small. I decided that I had to put them away after every use so that none would be stolen. However, they worked beautifully. The very first time we used them the noise in the library was really over the top. There were two classes using the space at the same time and I was sure that the recording quality would be compromised. We learned that students had to hold the mics very close to there mouth (H1N1 concerns) but the mic did not pick up the sounds around the speaker. The downside was that students who moved the mic away from their mouth, even just a few inches, faded out. It was easy to instruct students to hold the mic close and still while recording. Now I know that I can have a mic at every computer and will be buying enough so that 25 students could be recording all at the same time. If I had known this at the start, the folktale VoiceThread project would have been very much easier.

Here’s the real point of this post. It’s VERY difficult for classroom teachers to do activities like this. How much simpler would it have been to have the students retell their folktales to a classmate, or even in front of the whole class? Sure it would have taken time but it took two weeks to record students anyway and even then not everyone recorded. Students would still have had good practice at analyzing, retelling, and public speaking. Using VoiceThread added a huge complex step to the assignment that challenged me to my limit. I’m relatively comfortable with technology and I found it difficult. How can we expect teachers who are afraid of technology to attempt this sort of thing? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret doing this project, but there needs to be a lot more support for teachers who are trying to do something new.

Now that I’m done with the project and looking back on it I would really have appreciated some help. Every school, or at least every district, needs a technology coach. This person should know about the different online possibilities. They should know what sort of hardware is needed and how to work it. They should know how to set up accounts on various sites so that using those sites would be as easy as possible for the teacher. I’m not saying they should do the job of setting up the accounts but they can help the teacher see what needs to be done and how to do it. They can help teachers decide what sort of technology works well with the project. What’s the objective of the lesson and how can we best showcase student work? Will students be using cameras, mics, video equipment? How do we teach them how to do that? A coach could help teachers understand how much time is required to teach the process and even help them write lesson plans to accomodate the technology that will be applied.

I come back to this issue time and again because “we want what’s best for our students.” It’s a huge mistake to expect teachers to just know how to do all this stuff. Teachers who are afraid will not go there and the students suffer for it. Cash strapped districts may not want to go this route but something has to be done if we expect our students to be ready for the real world.

Prep Teacher Collaboration

For the first time since I became a media specialist, I am a prep provider, not for all grades, just for 4th and 5th grades. This quarter I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with the Community Cultures prep teacher who was using folktales to teach 4th and 5th grade students a variety of skills. The project we put together required students to complete the following:

  • Check out a folktale book and read it
  • Find out what country, continent, and hemispheres the story came from
  • Tell about the main character and setting
  • Record bibliographic information
  • Retell the story

This project tied into some of the regular classroom activities for 5th graders who were also studying characterization. Unfortunately we were only able to meet with one of the 4th grade teachers to discuss connections.

There are many connections to media literacy skills. We started out the quarter looking at the ten basic Dewey Decimal categories. Students found the Dewey number, 398.2, and browsed the shelves for a story they liked. They used the book itself to find the country of origin then used an atlas to find the continent and hemispheres. I had noticed the year before that students did not know how to find and record bibliographic data so this was good practice for them.

The Community Cultures teacher I worked with wanted to have some sort of showcase at the end of every quarter. We decided that VoiceThread would be a good way to showcase students retelling their folktales. This would expose students to a technological process, which is one of my goals to help my students be better prepared for any activities that the classroom teachers would plan.

The last week of the quarter starts tomorrow and students are still finishing up the project. My next post will take a look at what worked and what didn’t.