Sunday, February 24, 2008

Creating digital stories with VoiceThread

I have a couple of different posts about digital stories and digital storytelling in this blog. The first digital story I ever created -- to help enhance my teacher presence in my online courses (see Storytelling for presence) -- was done using Premiere, which is a fantastic tool. I have also experimented with iMovie and FinalCut, also great tools. But, the issue I come back to over and over is how long it takes to create a final product with those tools. I am an impatient person when it comes to technology.

When I have students create digital stories, I am mostly interested in the stories themselves, and the way the students have pulled together words and still or video images (and even music) to express their point of view or idea. And, although learning to use the tools mentioned above is helpful if they are going to use those tools with regularity for professional and personal endeavors, if the focus of their work with me is on self-expression through the articulation and sharing ideas and perspectives, I want them to use tools that allow them to achieve that goal with as little plug-into-the-wall technical effort as possible.

In my previous post about Flickr, I shared a digital story created in Flickr called Her first word. In the example below, I used VoiceThread for the same story, for comparison purposes.

Keeping in mind I already had the photos and text for the story in Flickr (and VoiceThread allows you to easily import your photos from Flickr, your computer, Facebook, and so on; or import documents from Word, PowerPoint, pdf, and so on), I was able to create this digital story in less than 10 minutes using my Mac with its internal microphone (the voice track would be a lot smoother with an external microphone -- like a headset -- but the quality is still good).

Other things I really like about VoiceThread is that I can use it to create how-to videos, showing students how to set up a blog or change setting in Moodle; the video doodle feature is especially useful for this. Another creative use is to have students share a design (for example, my students design websites and web pages) and then use the voice track to explain why they have made certain design decisions, or to share their work on a math problem and use the voice track to explain their work.

Another great feature is that you can have students share their work and ideas, and then other students -- or you, as the instructor -- can make their own text or audio comments. [Note: When you create a voicethread, you can choose to make it publicly accessible, or you can just make it available to a subset of folks you select. In this way, you can just involve your students in voicethread sharing and commenting, and not have to worry about moderating external commenting.] So, this is a great way to provide feedback on students' papers.

VoiceThread allows folks to create three voicethreads for free. If you decide you like the tool enough to use it frequently, you can pay a minimal annual fee.

Now, what do you lose if using a tool like this instead of Premiere, FinalCut, iMovie and the like? You lose all of the great editing tools and multitracking functionality those tools provide that help you create a professional quality product. For example, in the VoiceThread digital story I share here, I am not able to add a separate music track, or to do fade ins and outs with the images, or edit the audio (I can delete the audio and start again). All of those are incredibly useful features, and if I am creating a digital story or product that I know has a longer shelf life and a wider audience (e.g., beyond a single course or presentation), it is worth the time and effort to use those tools. But, for so much of my work or what I ask students to create and share, I prefer that our time and effort be spent on the content instead of the technology.

Bottom line, check out VoiceThread if you are looking for an easy way for you and your students to share stories, ideas, work, instructions, and so on.

Related posts in this blog:
Storytelling for presence
Flickr photo sets


Melissa Kreider said...

Joni: As the co-instructor for the CU online “Digital Storytelling in the Curriculum” (part of the CU Digital Storytelling Certificate), I have seen many students labor over the technical aspects of the story. They use the more “refined” tools, such PowerPoint, Premiere, Final Cut, etc. They have the time though; we spend almost 10 weeks working on the story. In my own classroom, where I teach 5th grade, we have a matter of days, not weeks, to create stories. But, I still feel it is very important for my students to be able to tell their own stories, less the technical pizazz. Digital Storytelling is a powerful process that combines writing skills with higher-level thinking and creativity. We are a Mac-based school and our computers come loaded with Garageband. We use the built in microphone to record right into Garageband. The students then take digital pictures or use a graphics program to create their own images (no copyright concerns!). We use the “jingles” that come with Gargeband and in a matter of days, 17 kids create podcast Digital Stories. Its quick and not as pretty as iMovie or Premiere, but very effective! It places the emphasis on the story, not the technical tricks. If students are taught from a young age that content matters – they will follow this into their higher-ed careers.

Joni Dunlap said...

Thanks, Melissa. I wanted to make sure anyone reading this exchange had access to more information regarding the Digital Storytelling Certificate offered through the University of Colorado Denver in collaboration with the Center for Digital Storytelling -- see I participated in a training offered by the Center, and it was excellent.