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Serious Games Encouraging Students Collaborative Conversation

Via: Edutopia - VoiceThreads: Extending the Classroom with Interactive Multimedia Albums

Bill Ferriter knew his sixth-grade language arts and social studies students spent time online outside of class, surfing the Web and instant messaging. So when he discovered he could engage his kids online in a collaborative, multimedia slide show called a VoiceThread, he decided to see if he could use it to, as he puts it, "steal some of their online minutes."

VoiceThreads might best be described as interactive media albums. They are essentially online slide shows of images, documents, or videos that enable viewers to comment on any slide (or at any point in the video) by typing, recording an audio or video comment, or drawing on the image itself.

Teachers have been early adopters of the easy-to-learn technology, which has led the company to launch, a secure site just for educators and their students, says VoiceThreads co-founder Ben Papell.

In his inaugural attempt using the application, Ferriter posted VoiceThreads about a variety of topics online, encouraging students to comment on them voluntarily on their own time. He got dozens -- even hundreds -- of comments on each. It was a revelation. "I can basically extend my classroom," he says.
Have "a taste of" one of Ferriter's threads, by clicking through the series of images surrounded by small boxes below.

Each small box displays the chosen icon of a student and represents a comment by that student. The comments play in turn -- some are in audio form but appear as text that pops up in a bubble long enough to be read before disappearing to make way for the next comment. Often, a temporary drawing appears superimposed on the main image, where the commenter has circled or underlined a particular feature of the image. These doodles, as they're called, fade out as the student's comment finishes.

Ferriter says more students participate more actively in digital discussions than in the classroom. "You don't have to be the loud one or the popular one," he points out. When he asked his students about their online involvement, he said they cited the sense of safety: "They can think about their comments beforehand." They also liked the fact that any VoiceThread has multiple conversations going on at once. "In a classroom conversation, there's generally one strand of conversation going at any one time, and if you're bored by that particular strand, you're completely disengaged," says Ferriter.

The teacher exploits the students' enthusiasm by pushing them to engage in free writing, an activity he thinks is too often overlooked. "Because it's so motivating to the kids already, they're willing to do those bits of writing I could probably never get them to do in class," he says. "If I asked them, 'Take out a piece of paper and do some writing about your thoughts on the Sudan, or injustice,' I probably wouldn't get much." Yet his VoiceThread on the Darfur conflict drew sixty-plus comments from thirty-six of his fifty-three students.
All VoiceThread participation is voluntary for Ferriter's students, but he links the topics to their classroom studies. Ferriter introduced VoiceThreads with lessons on how to comment effectively and thoughtfully, emphasizing what he calls "collaborative conversation."