Voicethread in Education – empowering students!

I’ve already said a few things about voicethread, on a thread here but I’d like to expand a little more on its potential and provide a few examples of how this technologically simple yet sophisticated application can be used by classroom teachers (TO AMAZING EFFECT!). Go Dog Go also has a good blog post. Here’s a recent example I started for EFL Classroom 2.0 Many more examples listed below

First, what is voicethread?

Well, it is an application where the teacher or students may post up a picture or a series of pictures/photos (up to 120 photos!). After the photos are posted, students and others may comment on each. They can also use their mouse to draw on the photo and indicate what they are referring to. Further, besides commenting with voice/microphone, they can just simply write a short message (100 words or less) about the photo.

Here are my reasons why teachers should use and promote voicethread.

***** I like voicethread for the simple reason it is not just “technology”. Too, too many applications today parade around as educational and suck too many educators in. They aren’t and are just click and flash and stimulate. There is no learning outcome that is large enough to justify the time, energy or use.

Voicethread not only teaches students computer skills and knowledge (facts/content) but also a few larger and very important educational goals.

1) Reflectiveness – this is the primary goal of education beyond the civic need to create a good citizen. Voicethread allows students to foster and interact with their own cognitive reflectiveness. It allows them to make connections with their own thoughts/beliefs and in that process become a critical thinker, a person who questions, the socratic model of “the unexamined life, is a life not worth living). Our world today, more than ever, needs reflective citizens who challenge the media, who challenge and think for themselves and who grow in humanity through awareness. Voicethread is a perfect tool for educators to contribute in this regard.

2) Social sharing. It creates community! It fosters a sharing and togetherness and connectedness which is the reality we live in. The more we know each other, listen to each other, share with each other, the better this world is and the better “educated” we are. Voicethread also is NOT CHAT, just superfluous dialogue. It is focused on a topic and as such, is a commendable social networking tool, a type so many others aren’t or don’t live up to be (facebook, myspace to name the biggeeees.)

3) Presentation skills. Voicethread allows students to practice and hone their communication skills. They present for an audience, a real audience and thus are compelled to focus and try to be “excellent”. Nothing like an audience or a camera to get the best out of students. Communication skills are the converse side of reflectiveness and they are a vital part of an “educated” person. Active reflectiveness Schon named it (see his Educating the Reflective practicioner).

**** Voicethread is technologically sound. It is simple. Not a lot of bells and whistles to learn. Just an image and your voice. Can be learned in a few minutes and I liken it to the technological, 21st century equivalent of the pencil or maybe a better analogy would be the chalkboard. So many new applications have such an immense learning curve, they are useless for the classroom teacher and drag them down a road to hell despite the flashy outcomes they pretend…..

*** Voicethread is about stories. Stories are the carbon of education. The element on which all is built. All subjects. We are hardwired visually (which Voicthread addresses) but also orally. Text is such a recent thing, no matter how great is has fostered democratization and educational advances. Stories are about the telling, this is the meat and bones and we learn so well in this fashion and not the dry book, read and write way! I highly recommend Voicethread especially for those students who just don’t learn well with books. A perfect way to present your lessons for these students who are too early and often labeled “slow”. They aren’t, we just don’t adapt our methods well enough (and yes, it is hard with a class of 30 to meet so many needs) and voicethread might be a godsend.

**Voicethread allows for diversity, creativity. Students can take the subject wherever they have an interest, experience, insight. You might be commenting on the story of the three pigs but students could comment on how they view the story, give their own version, draw a picture to show how they feel, make sounds, show others other examples etc….

It is the perfect example of an open ended and user friendly/freedom associative tool. There is no direct outcome and in this way, is very versatile and adaptive. A map of the world could be a lesson in geography but it could also become a lesson in so many other things.

* It works, it is fun! With its visual clarity, with it’s click and respond, with it’s great layout and state of the art voip (voice over internet protocol) , it is a should become a ubiquitous and common tool of educators. As common as the photocopier and AS USED!

Let’s look at some actual examples. Below, I’ve listen just a few of the possible ways to use it (the actual number of ways is almost infinite!).

1) introduce yourself – great for the beginning of the year, signing up for anything etc… Here is the Classroom 2.0 map started by Susan who helps me in my own community and I’m indebted to here contributions…

2) geography,where are you ,where have traveled (see above) love this one of an elementary 4th grade teacher Well done!

3) advice. One person posts up something and others come and ask for advice. They are responded to and so on… See the famous Love advice on the main page……he’s so cute!

4) Art appreciation. Art is posted and viewers comment. Here is one of my own from a very popular ppt I have on my resource site that I created.

5) Explanation, just like a chalk board and I have my own chalkboard picture I use for this application. What you write on the board fades after about 5 seconds.

6) Stories. Especially with multiple voices. Or each person is asked to continue the story, orally. See this amazing version of the 3 pigs.

Here is a thread that talks about overall features .

A couple cautions.

1) Some of the voicethreads are “heavy” and take awhile to load, especially if you don’t have the best of technology or internet streaming. This is because so many people have put up their “voice”. This isn’t so much a problem on the “lighter” and less commented voicethreads. But a caveat, use with good hardware!

2) Mostly voicethread is very SAFE. Not any adult content and I hope it remains so. But especially when working with children, monitor their access/use.

3) Microphones. You need a microphone. Part of the reason I think that voicethread hasn’t exploded is because so many teachers and adults are just not used to speaking and using a microphone. Your students for the most part won’t be! So don’t let the microphone aspect deter you.

Also for teachers, I’d have you first try something like Photostory 3 (the story application in Windows on your computer.). This would be quicker to use right away. Then after getting the basic hang of it, try voicethread. But I think most teachers should get photostory 3 under their belts first.

That said, there is merit in jumping right in too.

Go there and use it today! Let me know what you think.


I’ve often thought of using Voicethread as an assessment tool with students or just as a way for them to get over their fears of speaking, what is noted as “the silent period”. Take a look at this voicethread.

Send your students there or create your own. They can speak and you can assess their ability and it will be great motivation for them. Very basic and easy to do.

I’ve attached the photos, so if you want to make your own, for your own class, it will be easy to do! So teachers, help me with this experiment and send some of your students to practice their English here!

Also see this nice instructional document on how to create multiple identities on voicethread, for you and your students.


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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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