VoiceThread Case Study: Professor Curtis Izen

This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Curtis Izen of Baruch College.

Before using VoiceThread, all my discussion board requirements consisted of text-based posts and replies to weekly research questions.  The results were not exemplary.  Students completed the assignments, but I wasn’t confident they fully understood the concepts they were expressing. Quite often, the text appeared to be copied from another source. Different size fonts, font sizes, and the appearance of the discussion board was challenging to read or traverse. I truly felt as if there was a disconnect. I desired to break the distance barrier by bringing in the human element – creating a community where the students saw and heard from each other every week while making an improved assessment.

Without VT, my class was simply an “asynchronous distance course.” I wouldn’t nearly be as successful in assessing those students who needed additional support. There would only be written correspondence, and the student’s lack of expressing themselves orally or visually would create an inactive course. Without this contact every week, students were more disengaged and not learning at their peak.

I wanted my asynchronous course to mimic a face-to-face discussion. VoiceThread accomplished this for me. This transformation occurred once I created my first assignment in VoiceThread. My week one ice breaker is creating a VoiceThread, where I introduce myself in about a two to three-minute video. I talk about my education, work experience, and interests outside of academia. Having a video and talking to the students creates a presence that makes the students feel more relaxed and identify who their instructor is. This, in turn, engenders a classroom atmosphere.

Once the students watch my introductory video, they are required to make their video comment. This requires introducing themselves, similarly to the way I have. The assignment is an excellent way for the students to test VoiceThread using their technology. It also allows those students who may not be comfortable speaking in front of a camera to break out of their comfort zone.

 The next assignment task is for each classmate to listen to their classmate’s video comment. The students are then required to reply to one of the video comments using either a video or voice comment. I truly appreciate how this creates a connection among the students that otherwise couldn’t happen. I have witnessed classmates working in the same industry, living in the same town, recognizing one another by name from another course, etc., not realizing until using VoiceThread.

Seeing the students finding how fluidly VoiceThread works, I began using it weekly for their graded assignments. This allowed me to create VoiceThreads that incorporated videos and additional multimedia – all in one location! In the beginning, some students hesitated to speak in front of the camera. Some of them mentioned that this was the first time they had to present to an audience. During the third week, I witnessed students’ confidence and a sense of community building in the class.  

Students complete ten VoiceThreads throughout my course. They also have a written research paper on a particular MIS (Management Information Systems) topic. This is where VoiceThread once again shines. For their signature assignment, each student creates their own VoiceThread PowerPoint presentation. This allowed them to present the material they researched, allowing the entire class ultimately to learn about their topic and research. Classmates were again required to respond to several VoiceThreads, creating an engaging and dynamic learning assessment.   

VoiceThread thrives in several ways (1) it fosters a class where the distant boundaries of students are eliminated, (2) The human element is present, (3) students build relations with their peers both academically and professionally, (4) students become more assured presenting in front of a camera or audience, and (5) assessing students is pedagogically thorough. Do any of your assignments consist of ice-breakers, case studies, discussion boards, research-based assignments, or any assessment? In that case, VoiceThread offers excellent ways to engage your students in a dynamic course – one of which they will actually feel part of.

Some of the anonymous course evaluations /emails are included below (these are verbatim from the students and not corrected for spelling, grammar, etc.)

  • “The VoiceThread definitely improved my communication skills.”
  • “The VoiceThread discussions were extremely useful, it really made me get more comfortable with public speaking and being able to use technology at the same time!”
  • “The course really helped me get more comfortable with public speaking and being able to give a presentation.”
  • “This course helped me in my current field of work. I’ve always had a fear of presenting in public. I find myself speaking up more on conference calls, in video conferences and in meeting with others.”

Having used VoiceThread extensively over the last eight years, I have witnessed a significant change in the dynamics, student engagement, assessment and learning.

About the Author:

Curtis Izen is a full-time senior information associate at Baruch College. He teaches asynchronous online courses at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Professional Studies and hybrid courses at Baruch College. He is passionate about bringing new philosophies and technology into the curriculum. He is a VoiceThread Certified Educator, a two-time recipient of the Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching and Pedagogy at Baruch College, and recipient of the Excellence in Technology Service Award from CUNY.