Sam Richards: Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University Park
This summer, the Sociology119 (Race and Ethnic Relations) course taught by Dr. Sam Richards and Dr. Laura Mulvey was taught online. To help create some of the remarkable student engagement that Sam’s resident version provides, his teaching staff selected VoiceThread as one of the tools to utilize for the online delivery. They felt VoiceThread at PSU offered them a chance to create rich and engaging synchronous, online discussions among students.
To get started, one of Sam’s TA’s for the course, Michelle Thiry, requested a Design Consultation with a Learning Designer. She and the Designer came up with an approach to using VoiceThread that best matched the courses’ needs in regards to peer-to-peer discussions.

How They Used It

Dr. Sam Richards and Dr. Laura Mulvey decided to create small ‘discussion groups’ of 6-7 students per group in their Sociology119 class. Once established, the TA’s, Michelle and Salim Shane-Omar George, initiated each conversation by creating a VoiceThread for each discussion group and providing an initial prompt. 
For example, one of the prompts asked group members to share a story from their life in which they truly “felt your race”. They also provided, in the prompt, some ‘framing’ statements to help them think about the issue.
Students were then required to respond to the prompt according to the following requirements:
  • Response to be at least 2 minutes long
  • Include one personal story
  • Include 2 questions to the other group members to respond to
  • Must comment in that particular VoiceThread discussion 3 different times during the assignment for the week
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During the week, Michelle and Salim would ‘check in’ to each VoiceThread to monitor the current conversation by listening to the student comments. They would then provide some type of feedback to the group that would either provide positive feedback on the current level of conversation or redirect the conversation based upon that particular group’s general direction. Occasionally, they would provide additional information and ask students to re-think their own responses. This kept the conversations in the VoiceThreads flowing to each group’s own dynamic.
Assessing The Students Performance in the VoiceThreads
At the end of the week, Michelle and Salim would visit each group’s VoiceThread to assess student participation per the rubric created. Their rubric included assigning points to each of the requirements mentioned above. As the semester went on, the TA’s did note that it was a lot of work to assess these comments but it did help keep student participation at high levels.
Guiding Principle for Use: Engage in Peer-to-Peer Conversations
The instructor and teaching staff’s primary objective using VoiceThread was to facilitate student-to-student asynchronous conversations. In the past, they had used blogs and blog comments to carry out these conversations. They felt VoiceThread gave them a chance to take discussion to another level in an asynchronous environment.
Outcomes, Effectiveness
In talking with Salim, he admitted he was a bit skeptical of using VoiceThread for maintaining discussions for this course. However, upon reflecting on the experience at the completion of the semester, he felt that about half the groups were engaged in some very rich discussions and conversations. He noted that participation by the students was full.
Future Use
The Soc119 staff is still debriefing on the summer session overall effectiveness. Salim felt that the chances were “very good” for it’s continued use in future deliveries of the online version of Soc119.
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