Megan Baril: Assistant Professor in Health and Human Development, University Park

Megan Baril, an instructor in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development, has been using VoiceThread in her “Introduction to Human Development and Family Studies 129”  course. She has been using VoiceThread in teaching this class through the Penn State World Campus for the last three semesters.

How She Uses It: “Discussion Kickoffs” for Groups
Megan’s pedagogical approach to using VoiceThread in her course (HD FS 129) is to prompt students to think about and discuss the upcoming week’s subject matter. She calls these pieces “Discussion Kickoffs” and here’s how it works:
  • In her class of 60 students (30 students per section), she divides the students into groups of 7-8 that make up each VoiceThread discussion group for the semester.
  • She provides one VoiceThread assignment at the beginning of the week for each lesson and makes a version for each discussion group.
  • Megan sends the VoiceThread notice out on Monday and requires students post their comments by Wednesday of that same week.
  • To assess the comments, she had a basic rubric that asked comments to “Qualify as a substantive contribution and pushes class discussion forward”. Points were awarded on an “all or nothing” basis; 5 points for meeting the rubric, 0 points if not.
To scaffold students into the assignments in VoiceThread, Megan creates the first VoiceThread assignment by telling her own story via a video comment. To record it, she decided to sit on the deck outside her house to create a more ‘relaxed’ mode. This is the first comment in VoiceThread that her students see in Week 1.
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Guiding Principle for Use: Students Share Personal Experiences to Relate to Lesson Material
Megan recognized that the nature of this course (stages of human development) lends itself to students being able to relate personal experience to the subject matter. She recognized VoiceThread as a way of getting students to share these experiences in their own voice with her and fellow classmates. The “Discussion Kickoffs” assignment had existed prior to using VoiceThread but she felt that using VoiceThread made it that much more effective, especially because this was an online class. Being able to see and hear fellow classmates’ personal stories makes the assignments much more engaging. Megan noticed this engagement when she observed instances of students’ having peer-to-peer discussions within a number of the groups. This was exactly the type of engagement she was hoping the mash-up of this assignment via VoiceThread would elicit.
Outcomes, Effectiveness
Here are some observations Megan shared about using VoiceThread in her course:
  • Builds a sense of community in an online course: She felt these assignments helped build community in an online course. Being able to see and hear the instructor as well as fellow classmates facilitates this sense of community. 
  • Students liked using it: In her course assessments, Megan has consistently seen that students like the “Discussion Kickoffs” assignment being done through VoiceThread. She considers that a very good sign for this online course.
  • Peer to Peer Discussions: As noted above, she was thrilled to see that students were addressing each other in a number of the groups and not just commenting to meet the requirement.

Future Uses and Issues
Megan continues to use VoiceThread for this course. Here are some areas she would like to improve upon in some way:
  • Get more microphone (voice) comments: She noticed that many students continue to comment via text. She is hoping more will use the microphone in the future.
  • Make onboarding to VoiceThread smoother: Megan said she is still noticing her students struggle at the beginning of the semester to properly use VoiceThread. She’s not sure where the confusion is but she is wondering if a custom-made tutorial might be the answer. They latch on quickly but she is hoping to make this process easier.
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