Self-portraits in VoiceThread

Edie Allen, Instructor, English for International Students, Graduate School

Edie Allen was one of fourteen faculty and one graduate student who participated in a Spring 2010 CIT Fellowship for language faculty interested in exploring with colleagues the most effective and most efficient ways to increase students’ oral production in the target language, in order to increase students’ language learning.

Edith (Edie) Allen, a Program Coordinator and faculty member in the English for International Students (EIS) program, wanted to enhance a self portrait project she regularly used in GS 320B, Integrated Oral Communication. She also wanted to create an effective rubric to help assess the assignment.

In GS 320B, students take photographic self portraits and discuss them in class, analyzing both meaning and the photographic choices made by the photographer. This project builds community and allows students to talk about conceptual topics outside of their field, while improving their English speaking skills.

Self-portrait examples
Examples of photographic self-portraits by students in GS 302B

Allen was looking for a better technology to record student responses, and decided to use VoiceThread. VoiceThread is an easy-to-use technology that provides an online space for students and faculty to post pictures, videos, or presentations and for other students and/or faculty to respond by making an audio or video comment.

For GS 302B, using VoiceThread was an in-class assignment. Students met in the language lab during class so Allen had the opportunity to watch students record, listen, delete, and re-record numerous times per utterance. In addition, she herself could comment on student pictures to model appropriate language usage. The resulting threads contain the central self-portrait, surrounded by comments from the portraitist’s classmates.

The most valuable practice element introduced into the design of the self portrait project by VoiceThread is the ability of the students to self monitor their speech production.

— Edith Allen

Using VoiceThread during class allowed Allen to provide just-in-time feedback for students who encountered difficulty with certain parts of speech. She could listen to the recordings and provide students with immediate feedback (in VoiceThread or verbally in class) so they could fix their mistakes and re-record. This formative assessment process provided students with a lot of instructor feedback and involvement in the assignment, as well as helping them learn to identify their own mistakes through careful listening.

Allen would also adjust her grading rubric as she identified common student errors. After listening to all of the student responses, she would discuss specific common errors with the entire class and ask them to listen to their own comments to find and fix that error. She then added fixing the specific errors as a requirement on the final rubric.

At the end of the semester, students were surveyed about the VoiceThread project and evaluated it favorably. The average student rating for usefulness was a 4.4 on a scale of one (least useful activity) to five (most useful activity). Using VoiceThread increased student practice time and interaction, and offered additional assessment opportunities in the activity.