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VoiceThread Docents on the iPads

Our second grade teacher, Ms.S., was ready to “upgrade” a traditionally taught unit on reptiles. We met to discuss how she could incorporate the 5 C’s of 21st century skills as well as support new emerging literacies. The basic idea was to upgrade a typical report,  using books from the library to research and fill out a “research” template on a piece of paper.

“Upgrading” meant to find ways to go beyond the traditional text based resources and local classroom community and AMPLIFY…

  • the skills being introduced or supported…
  • the reach students’ voices (in a myriad of media) have…
  • teaching as a skill of learning…
  • the audience they are writing, talking or presenting to…

With that in mind, we came up with  VoiceThread, as a tool to allow for this amplification to happen. We wanted students to become “docents”, responsible to research, learn about and teach others about a specific reptile.

A docent is defined as

1. A teacher or lecturer at some universities who is not a regular faculty member.
2. A lecturer or tour guide in a museum or cathedral.
The classroom teacher set up a visit from our local Reptile Store, who came to school with live animals. Each student had an “assigned” reptile they were researching. We took pictures of each student with “their animal” (to be inserted as the main page of the VoiceThread. Students were able to ask specific questions of the reptile expert during the visit as well.
Two students were assigned the role of photographer and videographer to document the visit and question and answer session with the expert.
Our first lesson back in the classroom, in preparation of using VoiceThread, was about Avatars. Since we were going to use VoiceThread under a school account, each students received their own identity complete with an avatar.

We talked about the movie Avatar, which most of the second graders were familiar with and how the “alien body” was a representation of the humans and allowed them to breath on planet Pandora. Since we are not able to “physically” move on the Internet, we also need to use an avatar to represent us in the virtual world. We talked about how our avatar should mean something to us and be a representation of how we want to be “known” online. Students had a choice of taking a photo of themselves (not the entire face, but a non-identifying body part, ex. eye, ear, elbow, hand…) or take a picture of a drawn self-portrait. They could also take a picture of their pet or favorite animal at home and send the image file via email to me to be uploaded to the VoiceThread account.



Here are the logistics of how I set up the VoiceThread to be used with the iPads.

  • Create the VoiceThread “Blazin Reptiles”  under teacher’s own VoiceThread account.
  • Create a separate VoiceThread account for students (with individual identities for each student).
  • Invite the student account to view and be able to add comments on the VT from my account.

The idea was to be able to log into the student account on each student iPad without them having the ability to delete the the VoiceThread project. The student account houses all the student identities.

Side Note: Although this sounded good in theory and USED TO work in practice (!!!), we found out that VoiceThread no longer allows multiple logins from multiple devices :( After logging into the student VoiceThread account on each iPad, in order to save time and problems with students trying to log in themselves during class, we received multiple “Session Expired” warning windows pop up. We tried to sign the iPads in as quickly as possible, so students could continue recording their prepared voice comments.

After tweeting about the problem, VoiceThread replied on Twitter:

Once students had created their avatars and they had been loaded under one account as different identities, we brought the iPads for each individual student to the classroom.

I connected one iPad wirelessly to the projector via the Reflection app  and walked through the steps of

  1. Finding the VoiceThread app
  2. Changing the Identity in the Account setting
  3. Opening up the Blazin’Reptile VoiceThread
  4. Navigating to the specific image with the picture of their reptile
  5. Choosing between text, audio or video comment
  6. Recording their voice comment
  7. Reviewing the audio (discarding or saving the comment)

One student volunteered to demonstrate the steps as an example in front of the entire class.

After we ran into the problems of students being logged out continuously, we reduced the amount of iPads connected to the student VoiceThread account and grouped students around one iPad to take turns.

We are envisioning:

  1. First round of audio comments: Students create audio recordings from their research notes.
  2. Second round of comments: Students listen to each other’s comments and leave questions for their peers about reptile, that was not covered in the first round comments.
  3. Third round of comments: Student docents listen to their classmates’ comments left on their reptile’s page and answer by elaborating and digging deeper into research if necessary.
  4. Fourth round of comments: VoiceThread being embedded on classroom blog (and Langwitches Blog). Comments with questions or facts about the reptiles being sought from outside “experts”, possibly another second grade class who studied reptiles.

Note: Time ran away from us…summer break arrived …The VoiceThread did not make it past round one :(

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