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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2016 / Winter 2017)

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Facilitating Online Collaboration with VoiceThread

By April Robbs, Instructional Designer & Academic Technologist, Ottawa University

Group collaboration can be a powerful learning experience because the interaction of a group forms a community.  Students work together to solve a problem, create a project or to find meaning or application from material. Individuals in the group can share ideas, resources or experiences, which in turn, provides learning experiences for their peers.  

Facilitating online collaborative learning can be a challenge. Learners may be far apart, come from different backgrounds or cultures, and come in with different prior knowledge and communication skills. 


VoiceThread (VT) is an audio and video discussion tool. VT is set up like a PowerPoint presentation that allows users to make comments on each slide and to have a conversation about the content on the slide.  Instructors and students can register for a free VT account that allows them to create five VT presentations. Instructors and Institutions can buy licenses to accommodate various levels of users.


Figure 1:  Create a VoiceThread Presentation

A VoiceThread presentation consists of media (i.e. slides) that can be slides from a PowerPoint presentation, images, URL’s that go to a file (PDF, image, etc.), webcam video (this allows you to record a video using your webcam that will fill the entire slide screen), or media from YouTube, Flickr, New York City Public Library, your VT’s or Khan Academy.  You can have many slides in your presentation and they can all be different media types if you choose. Participants can comment on each slide to interact with the content, answer a question or to discuss concepts with their peers.
Instructors and students can use VT to create presentations for different types of activities.

Online Discussions

Discussion forums are a mainstay of online courses yet, their use has not evolved. The discussion forums used today started as mail correspondence courses.  Students would receive readings and assignments in the mail and would have to mail their responses to the instructor, who would in turn, mail back feedback to the student.  The internet has sped up the feedback process and allowed students to interact but, the general procedure has not changed much from the original correspondence courses.

VT helps build a community of learners within the course will foster better discussions because students get to discuss questions and issues with their peers. Students will feel safer to take academic risks and be more constructive in their interactions when they feel they are part of the community.  Instructors can continue to build community by posting funny videos or current events on a general discussion board to start conversations. 

Figure 2:  Week 4:  Nonverbal Observations Example 

There are a couple of different ways you can set up your discussion using VT. The first option is to type the discussion on a slide in PowerPoint. If you want to use the same VT for multiple discussion prompts, simply add new PowerPoint slides to your VT presentation. New media can be added to a VT presentation at anytime.

An alternative discussion set up is to include images or videos for your VT media. Then, post your question in an audio or video comment on the slide. 

Class or Group Presentations

VT facilitates asynchronous presentations with ease. Students can create original VT presentations and share them with the class. This allows the student to practice presentation skills, but it also provides further conversation and questions as their peers’ view and comment on their presentation.   

VT has a new feature called “Collaborate with Commenters” that allows instructors to give students permission to add media to a class VT presentation, while protecting other student work. This is a powerful way to help student-led learning experiences and to create a culture of sharing information in your class.  

The goal is to create richer, more engaging learning experiences to increase learning.  VoiceThread can help rejuvenate discussions to foster thinkers in the classroom.  

About the Author 

April Robbs earned her Masters in Instructional Design and Technology from Emporia State University.  She is an instructional designer at Ottawa University and is a VoiceThread Certified Educator.  She also holds certifications from Blackboard in Content System Administration and Community System Administration.  She may be reached at  

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