Increasing Student Social Presence in Online and Blended Courses

Author Information
Jill M. Leafstedt
Jaime Hannans
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
CSU Channel Islands
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Faculty at CSU Channel Islands aimed to improve student social presence in online and blended courses through the use of Voicethread. Student presence in online and blended course is a key factor in reducing the isolation often associated with online and blended courses. We have learned how to implement Voicethread in order to ensure students connect with one another and engage in interactions around the course content.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Through the use of Voicethread, we have been able to increase students’ social presence in blended and online courses. Increasing social presence in courses with reduced face-2-face time is imperative to combat perceptions of isolation, which are often reported by students in the online learning environment (Palloff and Pratt, 1999). The use of voice and video comments in the Voicethread application creates an environment that allows for equal participation and individual engagement. Students have a voice, are able to hear one another’s opinions, and analyze course content. Asynchronously through Voicethread, student’s are able to listen to each other, reflect on the comments they have heard, and build upon these comments and ideas.

Voicethread alone will not ensure increased student presence in the learning environment. We have learned that there are key factors to ensuring all students have a presence or voice in the course. First, the instructor must require the use of voice and video throughout the semester. Although, students are often timid about this at the beginning, it is imperative to use these features to ensure students connect with one another. Next, establish norms for the learning environment. Let students know your expectations and have clear requirements for participation and peer interactions. A focus on creating a safe space where students can voice their thoughts, while professionally critiquing other points of view are also key. Initial Voicethread activities should begin with low stakes, ungraded assignment where the norms of the application are laid out, so students are able introduce themselves and ask questions about the course. This method helps students work out the kinks of the technology and get comfortable using Voicethread. Additionally, we have learned that students need to be encouraged to build on each other’s responses. In the absence of guidance directing students to build upon peer responses, they will often default to posting a personal response. One way to facilitate building upon other’s ideas is to require all student responses posted after the first three to five participant postings be expected to mention a previous comment in their response. Using this concept, the discussion develops with students often revisiting the Voicethread again to comment, beyond what is expected for the assignment, in response to peers.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Building student presence in online and blended courses can be evaluated by student participation and reflections on the impact of the tools. We have analysed student work to learn more about how the integration of Voice and video comments using Voicethread has impacted students. Based on these analysis, we have concluded that at the close of a course using voicethread in the manner described above, students increased their participation and connected with other students regarding course material. In addition, students had a positive experience using Voicethread, preferring it over the traditional discussion board written assignments. Below are a student quotes that exemplify these findings.

"I felt that this was a very important part of class because it brought the class together to share thoughts and ideas on the subject. I find even in classes where you are physically present you do not always participate with others inside class. I have gone whole course semesters without talking to a single person about the course material or anything in the class. I feel this technique of having Voice Threads is incredibly crucial to an online class. The idea of getting the class together to discuss topics and their ideas is very important. The Voice Threads provided an area where we as students and our instructor could get together and discuss the issues and learn off each other. I feel that in all classes not just subject to online courses it is important to get the group involved on the issues and course work. This would better provide students and the instructors the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the content of the course."

“This was my first time using Voicethread and I really like it. At first, I was iffy about the video recording but I got used to it and it was a fun interactive to not just learn new material but to see and hear other people's opinions as well.”

“I really liked this. I thought it was really cool. It was nicer than reading peoples comments. It was nice to be able to hear people’s voices or see them talk. It was more engaging.”

“It was funny to watch myself, but I know I am a kind of a talker so I feel like it was pretty natural for my personality. I liked that it was more interactive and I was more engaged because it was more interactive and I did really want to hear what everybody had to say and reflect on it. It was pretty fun and it was rough around the edges and I enjoyed that.”

“I was a little nervous about this whole voice thing but actually I really enjoyed it. I am glad it is something a little different. I really enjoyed listening to everyone and commenting and adding on. It definitely felt like I was in the classroom.”

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

This innovative concept of implementing Voicethread in online or blended courses to increase students’ social presence has been effective while academic integrity and student learning outcomes were maintained. Per faculty feedback, student learning was equally effective, if not more effective than prior methods used based upon faculty views of increased student engagement. Another benefit was the integration of Voicethread as a tool was no additional cost to students or faculty, and accessible through the current learning management system. Faculty and students were committed to learning to use Voicethread because of the simple steps to use and access the tool. Asynchronous online learning that engages students in a similar way to classroom engagement additionally adds the element of student self-directed time management without limitations in peer learning. Faculty and student satisfaction with the use of Voicethread has been positive from various aspects of learning, engagement, and subsistence.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

In order for faculty to implement this effective practice, they will need a personal or sitewide license to Voicethread. Students need access to a webcam and microphone or may use the telephone feature to leave voice comments.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Individual license approximately $100.

References, supporting documents: 

Pacansky-Brock, Michelle, (2013). How to humanize your online class with voicethread. Smashwords,

Palloff, R. & Practt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco: Josey Bass.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Jill Leafstedt
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Jaime Hannans
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