Collaboration in online learning is not only a best practice for increasing student engagement - it is also one of the most important skills needed in the modern workplace. Companies are no longer simply using email to communicate and manage projects; they are also expecting their employees to be adept users of a variety of collaboration tools.
In the brief history of online education, the major tool used for online collaboration has been the discussion board. Used correctly, the discussion board can be a great asset to an online course. However, when used poorly, the discussion board assignments can be a massive drain on faculty and students’ time and mental well-being.
Professors who have been more flexible in their assignment requirements have enjoyed greater success with their discussion board assignments. In other words, allowing students a choice in how they respond to each other increases student satisfaction and engagement.
In a March 2019 article for Inside Higher Ed, Charles Hodges, a professor of Instructional Technology, mentions how he struggled to improve the quality of the discussions. He implemented several of the same best practices that SHSU Online also recommends (staggered due dates, probing prompts, etc.), but it wasn’t until he implemented two big changes that he noticed a remarkable improvement.
As a discussion board observer notes: “First, he cut in half the number of discussion posts per semester. Second, he now allows students to respond to discussion prompts with PowerPoint presentations, YouTube videos and concept maps in addition to written text. For some discussions, he makes explicit suggestions for multimedia projects that would enhance students’ understanding” (Discussion Boards: Valuable? Overused? Discuss, by Mark Lieberman, 3/27/2019)
Blackboard’s discussion board allows a lot of flexibility, but it is not the ideal tool for this kind of dynamic discussion. In this case, the better tool to use is called VoiceThread. As the VoiceThread website states: “VoiceThread fills the social presence gap found in online learning interactions."
VoiceThread is designed to make dynamic discussions flow better. VoiceThread gives the students the freedom to post their “comment” as a Video, Image, Image with Audio, Audio, Documents with Audio, and any combination of these options.
Instead of creating a threaded (and text-based) discussion inside Blackboard, the VoiceThread tool can be used to create a much more dynamic discussion or assignment.
To better understand what VoiceThread is, and what it is capable of doing, I recommend watching this playlist of videos created by VoiceThread itself that explains its capability. There is also a collection of research papers available here to see the research efforts focused on VoiceThread.
Here at SHSU, faculty members are using the VoiceThread tool in a variety of interesting ways, including:
- class and group discussions,
- submission areas for presentations,
- collaborative areas for students to give each other feedback on assignment submissions,
- delivering their lectures to their class and allowing the students to ask directed questions that are time stamped onto the lecture at the specific point of inquiry, and
- delivering feedback to the students inside of their presentations and discussions
There are several upcoming workshops available from VoiceThread. These are free for SHSU staff, faculty and students. To register for these workshops, please visit: https://voicethread.com/workshops. Make sure to use your SHSU email address to register for free!
If you have not used VoiceThread before, have any questions about its use, or would like to have a deeper discussion about using VoiceThread in your course, please reach out to Thomas Sosebee (email@example.com) for more information.