Bill Bigos: Assistant Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Education, Penn State Harrisburg

For Bill Bigos, assistant professor of behavioral sciences and education with Penn State Harrisburg, educational technology should meet a few criteria, such as addressing a specific need and ease of use. Bigos has found that the collaborative online application VoiceThread meets those criteria.

BillBigos.jpegVoiceThread is basically a sharable multimedia slide show that allows the user to include documents, images, and video. The VoiceThread creator can share this multimedia with friends and colleagues. Those who are included in the share list can then navigate the pages and leave comments in five ways. These include voice either with a computer mike or telephone; text; audio file; or video via a web cam.

VoiceThread also is not software that students would have to download onto their computer, since it is an online application. Therefore, they can use VoiceThread on any computer.

Bigos is part of the teaching and curriculum masters program, which is delivered to students face-to-face at the York and Harrisburg campuses, and online to the Beaver and New Kensington campuses. He has used VoiceThread in EDUC 586 Education Research Design and EDUC 591 Education Seminar.

The setup of these courses, Bigos said, makes them a natural for VoiceThread. “What’s interesting about these courses is they are both highly writing intensive courses. Students have written work every week,” he said. “One of the problems you run into with online education is how to get students to share their written work and their assignments with one another in a way that allows them to collaborate and for me to be part of that collaboration. That’s the basic way I used VoiceThread, to solve that problem.”

Bigos uses other technologies for teaching, including ANGEL, Skype, Jing, and Google Docs. While Google Docs is a collaborative tool, he described VoiceThread as one step above Google Docs.

“It was actually designed as a digital storytelling device. People could upload slides onto the Internet for other people to go in there asynchronously to not only view the slides but interact with them,” Bigos said. “You can provide written response right on the slide, you can record on the slide, and you can put text on the slide. You have a little cartoon balloon on the slide where you can respond.”

Bigos gave an example of how he uses it in the classroom. “Let’s say a student uploads her paper and I assign two or three other people to work collaboratively with her. When she uploads it, it sends an invite to those three people and you get the invite via e-mail,” he said. “You click on a link in the e-mail and you can view that person’s paper anytime you would like to. You can do peer editing and offer peer feedback on the papers.

“I can also get on there and listen to the responses people give, but also give responses to the paper and also to the people about the feedback that they gave. It has a double use from that standpoint.”

Bigos said he decided to start using VoiceThread after reviewing a lot of different technologies. “VoiceThread meets a need. To me, it was perfect,” he said.

Bigos gave several reasons for why he found it met his teaching needs:

  • VoiceThread is free: “The basic version is, anyway, it has some limitations but you can use it in the classroom regardless,” Bigos said.
  • Ease of use: “VoiceThread is actually written for an 8- to 10-year-old to be able to use,” Bigos said.
  • Relevance to a student’s future career: “We try to use technology that teachers and other people will be able to use in their own jobs and their own classrooms,” Bigos said.
  • Students like it: “I get very positive response from students because they actually use it,” Bigos said.

One minor drawback of the free version of VoiceThread is students having to invite people so they can get online and review a VoiceThread. While he has access to up to 50 student VoiceThreads and he assigns students to VoiceThreads, he would like easier sharing options. “That’s one of the reasons this year I put it in the budget to upgrade it,” Bigos noted.

Bigos said that he will continue to use VoiceThread in his class, and hopefully expand the use of it some. The students will use it for peer editing, and he will also continue to use it in face-to-face classes.

For those interested in using VoiceThread in their classes, Bigos offered some advice and help.

“We are always looking for new tech, looking for new ways to use the existing tech. If any would like to get in contact with me with other ideas or would like to learn, I would be happy to do talk to them,” Bigos said. “We did that last year with some of my colleagues who did not use VoiceThread. I asked students to include them as member of the groups so they could learn what was going on.

“We strongly encourage people to go on VoiceThread and see the literally thousands of examples of how people have used it. I got on and saw how people were using it, which inspired my VoiceThread use.”

To talk to Bigos about VoiceThread, you can e-mail him at wbd13@psu.edu

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