VoiceThread and Arts Integration

Using VoiceThread in Arts Integration Professional Development


VoiceThread is a mobile and web media aggregator (educause.edu, 2009) developed at the University of North Carolina that allows people to easily post media and receive feedback.  Not originally designed for school use, it has caught on due to its ease of use, simple format and free and lost cost accounts for educators.  VoiceThread even developed a specific site for educators to ensure that the closed communities were adequately protected to satisfy the most stringent ISD rules. User can upload videos, pictures, slide shows or documents.  Threads can be one image or hundreds; users can page through threads like a book or watch them play out as a movie.  Comments may be left in audio, video or text form. Commenters can also use the doodle function and draw images on the content. Users can zoom in and out on images, creator avatars to represent them as commentators. Teachers can easily control the level of access to a thread and moderate the comments. Threads are shared by sending out links or embedding it on other websites.

Why so popular with educators? In my research, I found the ease of use repeatedly noted (educause.edu, 2009; Wilson, 2012; Weir, 2008; Orlando, 2012; Freedman, 2009; Burden and Atkinson, 2008).  Easy to navigate, upload and embed, and share comments allowing students of varying ages and abilities to use VoiceThread. Educators can open up their thread to the class, or reach out to other communities across the globe.  Students using VoiceThread become “…both producers and consumers of the content…” (Wilson, 2012). The online atmosphere allows the educator to go beyond the classroom walls in content, time and space.  Students can respond in their own timeline without the fear of speaking up in class. Bill Ferriter (Wier, 2008) noted his students felt safer when commenting on VoiceThread as they could spend time thinking about their response before posting them.  He also noted that there are multiple conversations happening within one thread, allowing students to join in where they are interested by the content and not by teacher compulsion.

In online courses, Dr. John Orlando (2012) credits VoiceThread with keeping discussions student driven allowing for more authentic exchanges; growing the traditional lecture as students can add on to it; improving social presence in the online classroom as students can hear other student comments along with the tone in a student’s voice as the comment is made; an easy way for students to turn in projects and receive feedback from teachers and peers.  Also noted by Orlando is in a typical online course, students see, read or hear a lecture in its totality.  They can’t stop the teacher and ask questions.  VoiceThread allows students to comment and question a lecture as it plays out, leading to a …”discussion that is integrated into the lecture itself” (para. 3).

Curricularly, VoiceThread is being used in a wide range of content areas.  Students can document a school field experience and add comments to share with parents and the community.  VoiceThread is being used to teach math and science concepts, and publish student projects or portfolios.  There was much reference in my research to its use in digital storytelling, both at the elementary and university level (educause.edu, 2009; Wilson, 2012). VoiceThread is used as lecture/discussion starters – teachers post an image and invite feedback before posting another image or jumping into content. Students use VoiceThread to connect globally with other students – digital pen pals, as it were. VoiceThread is also used to keep absent students caught up, review for tests, act digital journals, create group collaborative projects such as progressive stories, and as study guides.

The process of creating a VoiceThread has been likened to that of the writing process (Heinze, et al, 2010) with a process of creating, reflecting and revising.  Others have noted that VoiceThread requires critical thinking and communication skills along with true mastery of content (Wilson, 2012).  Burden and Atkinson (2008) defined the pedagogical affordances of VoiceThread using the DiAL-e framework.  This framework “…supports[s] educators in identifying suitable learning designs based on learner engagement rather than subject content” (p.123). The affordances of VoiceThread in their opinion  were”… motivating learners… exploring the nature of story and story-teller… working in groups to construct knowledge… using higher order thinking skills [such as] hypothesizing and analyzing… encouraging learners to see the world from alternate perspectives… [and] representational … [or] seeing how a piece of media has been constructed and what it really represents” (p. 124).  Burden and Atkinson (2008) saw these affordances as a way to evaluate learning experiences when using VoiceThread.

The purpose of my lesson plan is to use VoiceThread as part of a professional development learning tool. Heintz, et al (2010) did a study of an intern teachers training program that used VoiceThread as part of the learning cycle.  Intern teachers shared 5 minute clips of their teaching practice with their peer group through VoiceThread.  Each intern commented on their own and other teacher’s VoiceThreads.  As they go through several cycles of sharing and reflecting, intern teachers record their reflections from the feedback creating a final digital record of professional growth. The program course alternated between small group collaborations and sharing particular VoiceThreads in large group settings as the focus of a lecture. Heintz, et al. found that VoiceThread “…bridge[d] the gap between the field and coursework and between theory and practice….VoiceThread gave…intern teachers an opportunity to look into their peers’ classrooms and invite their peers into theirs.  This process opened up the reflection process….. [and made] our community learning rooted in our community’s experiences” (p.182).

VoiceThread is a popular educational took for its simplicity, ease of use and seemingly unlimited applications in curriculum and teacher training.  It is accepted by school administrators because of its low-cost and control features that insure privacy and comment moderation. Its ability to bridge time and space make it the perfect tool for busy professionals to collaborate, share, and reflect without the agony of synching schedules. These are the reasons that I have chosen VoiceThread as my tool for supporting arts integration professional development.  Core content teachers have enough reasons to shy away from integrating the arts into their curriculum – the top two usually revolved around testing and time.  The testing issue is solved when it is made clear how the arts engage students and deepen learning, helping to boost student achievement.  The time issue can now be helped with VoiceThread.  Teachers can view and comment on a thread when their schedule allows.  The ease of the application makes it simple to load student work or lesson plans for peer review.  They can learn by watching other educators’ and students’ threads.  VoiceThread has great technical support and many websites, wiki’s and tutorials to aid teachers in finding effective ways to use this technology in the classroom and beyond.

Burden, B. and Atkinson, S. (2008). Evaluating pedagogical affordances of media sharing web 2.0 technologies: A case study. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melburne08/procs/burden-2.pdf

(June 2009) 7 things you should know about voicethread. Retrieved from www.educase.edu/eli.

Heintz, A., Borsheim, C., Caughlan, S., Juzwik, M.M., & Sherry, M.B. (2010). Video-based response & revision: Dialogic instruction using video and web 2.0 technologies. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 10(2), 175-196.

Freedman, T. (2009). Using new technologies to enhance learning experiences. Originally published in Computers in Classrooms. Retrieved from http://www.ictineducation.org/home-page/tag/edmodo

Orlando, J. (2012). Using voicethread to build student engagement. Teaching with Technology. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/

Wier, L. (2008). Voicethread extends the classroom with interactive multimedia albums. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/voicethread-interactive-multimedia-albums

Wilson, B. (2012). Engaging learners with voicethread. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/98580896/brad-wilson-engaging-learners-with-voicethread

see my sample VoiceThread:

 Arts Integration sample with VoiceThread

Lesson Plan for Using VoiceThread in an Arts Integration Professional Development

An Arts Integration Professional Development is offered to an elementary school.  Half of the teachers from each grade level will learn techniques for using the arts to leverage learning in their curriculum.  VoiceThread will be used to support their learning process by seeing examples of integrated lessons with comments from teaching artists; record the novice teacher’s journey towards arts integration with reflection and feedback from peers; showcase the arts integrated lessons created and allow for peer, student, and teaching artist feedback.

At the end of this learning phase, these teachers will then be able to share the process with the teachers in the school that did not receive the arts integration professional development.  Using the VoiceThreads of exemplar lessons, the teacher’s journey and their own arts integrated lessons, new teachers will understand how to develop their own arts integrated lessons and using VoiceThread themselves, can receive feedback from their peers and the teaching artists. The process of posting, watching and reflecting create a self and group evaluation cycle of how teachers and learning and the efficacy of the arts integrated lessons they create.

 Lesson Plan:

Session One: Teachers experience an arts integrated lesson led by a teaching artist.  Teaching artist shares general arts strategies for creating arts integrated lessons.  Teachers brainstorm ideas about how arts could be integrated into their own curriculum.  A general overview of VoiceThread is given. As session one was videotaped, it is then uploaded to VoiceThread.  Post-session, teaching artist adds comments and poses questions on Voice Thread.

Session Two: Prior to this session, teachers view and add their own comments on VoiceThread of session one.  In this session, VoiceThread and comments from session one is reviewed as a group.  Teaching artist shares a sample VoiceThread of an integrated lesson’s final project and then breaks down the process of creating that particular experience.  Teachers, in groups, create mini-lessons with materials provided by teaching artist and videotape them.  Lessons are then uploaded to VoiceThread.  Using VoiceThread, each group views and comments on lessons created in session two.

In a two-three week period before the next session, teachers begin to plan and create their own arts integrated lesson plan.  They reflect this journey using VoiceThread.  Prior to session three, teachers view and comment on at least two other teacher’s VoiceThreads.  Teaching artist views and comments on all VoiceThreads.

Session Three: Teaching artist shares two to three VoiceThreads reflecting teacher’s journey planning their integrated lesson. Teaching artist works individually with teachers as teachers also share their lesson plans in small groups and receive feedback from peers.

Between session three and four, teachers implement integrated lessons, documenting it on VoiceThread.  Students are asked to add comments to VoiceThread reflecting their experience as well. A separate VoiceThread may be used to showcase any final products that come out of the lessons and the school community may be invited to review it and add their own comments.

Session Four: Teachers share VoiceThreads reflecting using arts integrated lessons and final products.  Teachers experience a new arts integrated lesson with a teaching artist.  Teachers brainstorm other ways that arts integration can be used in their curriculum.

Between sessions four and five, teachers implement a second art integrated lesson and use VoiceThread to showcase final product, inviting the school community and other teachers to view and comment.

Session Five: Share second integrated lessons and view VoiceThreads. Experience a third integrated lesson from teaching artist.  Brainstorm others ways to integrate arts into their curriculum.  Split into groups and create mini-lessons on teaching arts-integration to their peers.  Share mini-lessons with whole group; brainstorm ways to show others how to use arts integration techniques. As session five was videotaped, it is uploaded to VoiceThread with comments and questions added by teaching artist.

Between session five and six, teachers work with a peer to create and integrate arts into the peer’s curriculum.  Process and lesson are documented on VoiceThread.  Other teachers are invited to watch and comment on at least two VoiceThreads.  Teaching artist comments on all VoiceThreads.

Session Six: Best and worst practices are shared.  Teachers give feedback on success or failure of teaching peers to integrate lessons.   Group creates a final VoiceThread together, summarizing best practices for teaching peers how to integrate arts into curriculum, including samples of their own arts integrated lessons.

Links to VoiceThread samples:



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