We’ve all had it happen – a class discussion gets thrown way off schedule by a “rabbit trail” – an unexpected path for a conversation that leads somewhere other than we wanted (or even needed) the conversation to go. This is obviously a problem in live, in-person courses. However, I don’t think it is necessarily a problem in asynchronous learning situations. Instead, it can be an opportunity to engage students in areas of special interest to them. Maybe the trails aren’t such a bad thing.
VoiceThread is a tool allowing such rabbit trails to develop without forcing all students to go down that particular path. It can help us meet ISTE Standard 6a for all students at once.
This rabbit trails thing isn’t just my own hunch. ISTE Standard for Educators #6a observes that professors should, “Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.” This standard converses directly with the rabbit trails mentioned above. If a student gets excited about a certain area of the subject matter covered in class, we should make it easier rather than more difficult for them to explore it.
Using VoiceThread to Encourage Rabbit Trails
With this notion in mind, I attempted to utilize VoiceThread in my Canvas classroom for one of my all-online classes on negotiation. In particular, I used it as a starting point for a conversation on maintaining our ethics and our preferred emotional state. I let students know more about the capabilities of VoiceThread and asked them to chime in with whatever kinds of comments or questions they had. I highlighted that VoiceThread allowed them to leave response videos, text or audio comments, links – whatever they wanted. I was hoping students would start leaving video comments or questions on particular points they appreciated or wanted to know more about.
Wait – No One in My Class Knows What VoiceThread Is (Yet)!
What happened wasn’t exactly what I intended. Students watched the optional VoiceThread lecture, but they didn’t engage on VoiceThread itself. Instead, they left Canvas comments under the Canvas Announcement post in which I provided them with the embedded VoiceThread. My guess is that students didn’t know how to use VoiceThread or whether they’d have to pay for a new account. It was less integrated with Canvas than Flipgrid, for example, where students simply login using their existed university Google or Microsoft ed account. I think it was easier to simply reply with Canvas comments rather than learn a new app/platform.
In retrospect, I should’ve followed Holmes’ (2021) advice and providing lower-stakes learning opportunities on VoiceThread itself first. I could’ve built up to students utilizing VoiceThread to help them explore areas I touched on and that they wanted to learn more about. I assumed they were tinkerers like me and would more or less figure it out for themselves.
Use What Works
VoiceThread is pretty cool, and I think my students would benefit from it, especially in terms of ISTE Standard 6a. I think VT uniquely allows for ongoing and diverging conversations without the worry of taking up too much of any class’ or professor’s time. However, my students aren’t trained on VT.
I think a better annotation option for my class and me right now is Canvas Studio’s newish video annotation option. Students can interact with my videos in a way in which they feel more familiar and comfortable.
Ferlazzo, L. (2016, September 24). Response: ‘Freedom to Fail’ Creates a Positive Learning Environment. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2016/09/response_freedom_to_fail_creates_a_positive_learning_environment.html
Holmes, A.J. (2021, March 9). “VoiceThread for Interactive Online Teaching.” Moving Forward Online – Online & Blended Teaching. VoiceThread for Interactive Online Teaching | Moving Forward: Online & Blended Teaching (gsu.edu)