This past Summer, I was able to sit down with two very inspiring figures in the world of Educational Technology. These two executives from VoiceThread delved into their system for stimulating more student engagement and really "engaged" the crowd at our Rocket Session! After their speech, I caught up with them for a few minutes to hear their thoughts on where Education is going and what role VoiceThread would play in it.
Lisa O’Sullivan: Sure, I’m Lisa O'Sullivan. I’m the Director of Sales at VoiceThread. I’ve been with the company for a little over a year, but I’ve been in Higher Ed for over 20 (years).
George Haines: I’m George Haines. I’m the Instructional Designer and Online Educator at VoiceThread. And I actually used VoiceThread when I was in the classroom and that’s how I got to work for the company. I’ve been a fan of the tool, since I used it with my own students.
MS: Great, and could you give a brief once over of what the company is all about?
LO: VoiceThread is a multimedia tool and it plays like a slideshow. It really enables people to have a conversation around the media that they’ve uploaded. It’s interactive, it’s asynchronous, and it’s a great compliment for online learning (such as) hybrid courses and flipped courses. It really allows the students to participate when it’s convenient for them and still have a meaningful experience in that platform.
MS: Very cool! Omni-channel is something we talk about all the time on my Marketing team. Seems like a similar approach. So, one thing you guys stress a lot is convenience in joining the conversation. I’ve heard a lot about how Competency Based Education (CBE) tries to stress that too, especially when self-paced or broken down into smaller chunks. Do you have many people draw comparisons between that what you’re offering and that style of course?
GH: Competency Based Education is really what every type of learning should really be. You want to make sure everybody’s competent. I think some of that stuff stems from different subjects. I used to be a gym teacher when I first started and I know that music teachers feel the same way. Their mode of teaching is based on immediate feedback as to whether the student is getting it or not-- which maybe a history or economics teacher doesn’t necessarily have. You can give an hour-long lecture and think that the students understand it but you don’t really find out until two weeks later at the test. If you’re a music teacher or a gym teacher or a dance teacher, you’ll know right away if your student understands what they’re supposed to be doing. Does the student make the shot in basketball? Do they know who to pass to? Does she know how to “Plie”? Whatever it is, you’ll know right away if its sunk in. So, you get that feedback from them and then you can give feedback to them, so it’s a loop that goes on. And that’s the core of what VT is; It’s a feedback tool. So, you can use it to deliver information but I think you’re really only going to find value when you start asking students to give that information back to you. And then you can assess them. So, it’s all formative assessment, it’s all feedback and it’s a two-way street that makes it really easy.
MS: You know that sounds a lot like something I heard during your presentation about the 1 on 1 commentary with professors especially for students who might be a little too afraid to speak. Do you have any numbers into less active parts of the classroom that speak up a little bit more when they’re just speaking with the professor?
GH: Yes, I don’t have formal numbers off the top of my head but we do have a blog post, on our site, that I can share with you at some point. It was written by a high school teacher, but he was talking about the fact that VoiceThread gives shy students a voice. And I think the real benefit is it’s not so much that they can record themselves, it’s that they can delete what they’ve recorded. Right, so it’s not live. Even if they are in the comfort of their own house, if it’s a live setting there is still a level of anxiety. They don’t want to screw up, they don’t want to say the wrong thing. But when you know you have complete control of it, it calms you down. You can say what you have to say. If you stutter, if you forget your words, if you have a lisp, none of that matters because you can listen to it played back. If it sounds good to you, you save it. If you don’t like it you cancel it and re-record it, until you have a version you like.
LO: And in opposition to the traditional classroom, where you may have that group of 3, or 4, or 5 students who feel very comfortable responding to the instructor- they can truly take over the course- and you have those remaining students on the fringes who never really get the chance to speak up for those fears or (for) other reasons.
GH: It levels the playing field.
MS: Sounds like a great tool for that. On that note, VoiceThread sounded a lot like recorded interviews, something that’s catching on nowadays, do you see it as taking that kind of bump in popularity? Recorded interviews came on extremely quickly once they were proved effective.
GH: Not only do we see it happening, we do it ourselves. When we hire people that’s one of the tools that we use. We have them work with VoiceThread. We ask them questions on VoiceThread, (and) we have business school faculty that do the same thing. They have students practice using the phone comment option to practice what they would do on a phone interview. So, I think that it’s something that’s already out there. The more people that know about it, the more people that read this, will
be able to see that they can do that too.
MS: Very interesting! One other thing that rang true to me, as a former ESL Instructor in China. One thing that we always had problems with, was getting captioning, especially for our multimedia. It was such an important thing to our Chinese students and it was also pretty darn hard (to get). The closed captioning tool looked pretty straightforward on your device. How do you feel about that specifically and do you think it gives you an outlet to international markets?
LO: Absolutely. Right now, VoiceThread allows the person who records their comment to either upload a caption file or if an institution has a transcription service they work with, we can make that connection for that institution behind the scenes. Then that allows the institution (to) say, “This faculty member, these students are able to request closed captioning.” But there’s much more to it and I know George can speak to where we think we are going. It’s just reliance upon how accurate technology is going to permit us to be.
GH: So I think the big issue is that you want to make sure if you’re going to supply people with a tool, that it meets the requirements of what they need. From a legal standpoint, the courts tell us that transcription needs to be 99% accurate for it to be legally defensible and meet the compliance standards that you have for accessibility (in America at least). And right now, the best tools are 75-80% accurate when it comes to transcribing speech to text. So, I think that’s something that we’d love to include in VoiceThread, where you can get the speech to text, but then have an editor option in there so you can go through and check yourself. Make sure to fix those mistakes, and there are always embarrassing mistakes whenever you auto- transcribe something. There are always mistakes that you do not want students, or parents, or the community at large to see. So, having the ability to edit is really huge and that’s something that we’re working towards.
MS: Well that will be really interesting to see going forward. And that about wraps it up for me. Do either of you guys have a favorite quote that you want to put out there (for our audiences)?
LO: When there’s no wind… row.
And never pet a burning dog.
Hahah, well it sounds to this observer like VoiceThread is going to enable a whole lot more rowing for students that want to be out on the water. If you want to check out the blog that George referenced earlier, which is currently showcasing new features like: limiting comment lengths, and constraining formats available for comment- you can check that out here.
And for all other things concerning VoiceThread, check out the link below. And remember… never pet a burning dog. Bbworld17, over and out.