About the author

Kimberly Hoffman
Head of Outreach, Learning, & Research Services
River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester

About the Tool and Class

TitleTeaching pedagogical theory as related to teaching practice with VoiceThread
ToolVoiceThread (http://voicethread.com)
(UR IT support for VoiceThread – https://tech.rochester.edu/services/blackboard-voicethread-discussion-board/)
Tool descriptionVoiceThread is an asynchronous discussion board that allows content to be loaded and placed at the center of the conversation. It is typically most useful in situations where instructor and students (or colleagues in a more professional setting) are not in the same room but want to exchange ideas, even if that’s outside of real time. This can happen in pre/post class time or as a part of an online learning experience. VoiceThread can be used as a lecture tool that requires student participation and input or as a center piece for provocative questions to be asked and answered. It can assist with assessment strategies (e.g., user needs assessment, check for understanding, assessment of learning), serve as a student presentation platform, and bring together scholars who couldn’t otherwise meet in person.
Instructions on how to create a VoiceThread

Class/Target LevelProfessional development for academic librarians
Course TitleWorkshop entitled Designing Instruction for Impact: Engagement, Effectiveness, and Efficiency
Background information
about the class
Librarians and Instructional Designers at Humboldt State University (HSU) requested a workshop that could encourage a team of professionals to come together to learn more about what each other does and how they could work more collaboratively. The librarian team was fairly “young” in their teaching expertise so learning some basics in pedagogical theory (e.g., behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, active learning, backward design) and particularly how those theories apply to classroom practice was foundational. Furthermore, the librarian team was so successful in making connections across campus, that their schedules demanded some streamlining, consolidation, and off-loading of activities so they could sharpen their focus on key elements of the instruction program.
Lesson timeThe workshop itself was 1.5 days. The VoiceThread activity was assigned two weeks before the workshop and due within one week so that the presenters had another week prior to the workshop to absorb the input and plan workshop activities accordingly.
Number of studentsFor the workshop, we ranged between 15-20 participants as prior obligations took them away from the group activities from time to time over a two-day period. 11 participants engaged in the VoiceThread exercise.
Learning outcomesParticipants will: 
Review a variety of learning theories in order to situate their instructional practice in a bigger schema of teaching and learning
Relate one learning theory to research findings and their personal teaching approach in order to gain new ideas or solidify the foundation to their teaching methodologies
Ask a question or add onto the comments of a fellow recorded colleague in order to model conversations about teaching that can happen in their organizational culture

Lesson plan


The presenters recorded a welcome to the HSU participants, providing a general idea of the activity as a whole.


Several slides within VoiceThread (with accompanying recordings) walked the participants through the activity. On the last slide, participants were able to record their research findings, personal thoughts and experiences, and questions of their colleagues.


The workshop presenters listened to the recordings to gain a sense of understanding and practice of the different learning theories and adjust workshop activities accordingly.

VoiceThread related to this case study by Humbolt State University Workshop, with permission.


The presenters deeply valued the input into the activity as they were able to clarify the librarians’ grasp and use of theories like cognitivism and constructivism. Without hearing the personal recordings, the plan for the workshop might have jumped over foundational elements within the theory-to-practice continuum. For instance, following a previous online meeting with HSU staff, the presenters questioned why they would need to introduce different teaching examples based on constructivist theory during the workshop. The librarians seemed to be very knowledgeable about pedagogical practices and were even mentoring each other. The recordings allowed the presenters to hear about deep-rooted concerns of straying from a more behaviorist, controlled teaching environment in favor of ceding some control and providing freedom to the students to be challenged with a task and problem solve. The choice for finding a relevant article to read and respond to on a learning theory of choice provided new ideas and evidence that constructivist theory can work in a library classroom. Within the course of a recording, the presenters heard a-ha moments and an opening up to different ways to approach teaching. Given the interest in the more active learning techniques, specific examples and modelling were added to the workshop plan.


The power of VoiceThread is the ability to see and hear each other in a digital discussion board format, albeit asynchronously. However, audio and visual elements can cause learning barriers to some students. VoiceThread offers a VT Universal option (http://voicethread.com/universal) which strips the tool of audio/visual elements and is more text-driven.

Recording is a straightforward process that students can quickly pick up on. Several options are available – from webcam, to voice recording, to calling in a comment, to writing a textual comment – so that students who are nervous about recording their face can choose other ways to express themselves.


Preparation time/materials

This will depend on the extent of content desired to add to the VoiceThread. The process detailed here was to create a slideshow that the presenter could speak from and then jot down general ideas of what the corresponding text/recording would be. The slideshow itself took 30-60 minutes to create. Don’t make it too flashy or fancy with animations, because ultimately simpler is better. Animations within one slide will not work due to limitations of the tool. Each slide’s voice recording ended up being just about one minute long and the more at ease a speaker becomes with recording their voice, the quicker this process will go. In some cases, the one-minute take was all that was needed.

Benefits and challenges of the tool

As a preferred audio/visual learner, the idea of a digital discussion board where participants can see and hear each other is much more appealing than reading paragraphs of text from numerous participants in a class. Being able to see one another becomes more personalized and the inflections in one’s voice or facial expressions bring more meaning to the recording than a purely textual response.
While my example VoiceThread is very simple, there is a drawing tool available that can help highlight key points within the slide that students are investigating. When recording, there is a pencil icon that anyone can grab and circle or write on the slide that becomes part of the digital record.
The University of Rochester has subscribed to VoiceThread as one of Blackboard’s compatible tools. This allows all instructors free access to the full version of the platform with unlimited space for making individual VoiceThreads. Without this perk, the freemium version allows for only a few instances.

In-class experience

Having access to VoiceThread allowed me to work with the participants prior to the workshop, thus extending our time together in person. Furthermore, I was able to customize the workshop based on participant reflections in VoiceThread. VoiceThread provides options to send a link out to those who need to record or you can grab the embed code if placing the VoiceThread into a website is preferred. Instructions for recording are very simple so the learning curve for participants to get involved is minimal.

Ease of use/ranking

The ease of use of this tool can be placed at a beginner level. If you can upload images, slides, or videos, this tool is incredibly intuitive. As long as the desktop, laptop, or mobile device has a built-in web camera and microphone, you are ready to record.