Online Instruction of Technical Skills Through VoiceThread

This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Jennifer Schultz.


How can I teach hands-on technical skills in an online environment? How can I be sure that students not only understand concepts, but can apply them to their future careers? How can I encourage students to do their best when I’m not in the classroom with them 3 days a week? These were the unknowns that I
faced as we attempted to deliver face-to-face training for speech-language pathology assistants in an online classroom. Fortunately, our instructional design strategist had a solution, VoiceThread. VoiceThread has allowed me to deliver content, build learning communities, assess student competence, and form positive relationships with students.

Initially, and still today, VoiceThread is the primary lecture and discussion tool used in our online SLPA coursework. Thirty- to 40-minute lectures are created for each weekly unit in 2- to 3-credit courses. Text slides, diagrams, video demonstrations, and illustrations are built into each VoiceThread to present information in visual, audio, and written formats to meet the diverse learner needs of the students in each course. I provide audio and video comments to explain key concepts, prompt students to answer review questions, and invite them to share their experiences related to the topic.

Students participate in discussion with typed and audio or video comments. Use of weekly VoiceThreads in our asynchronous course format allows students to comment and ask questions at the point in the lecture when their ideas and thoughts occur to them and on the day of week and at the time of day that fits their busy
schedules. Other students hear their questions and comments and build off them or respond to them. Typed, audio, webcam video, doodling, and upload commenting formats ensure that I have all of the tools I need to respond to students at the right time and in the best format to communicate the information they need.

Students share their work on larger projects including speech and language therapy plans and activities, and reflections on experiential learning projects by adding demonstration video slides and by uploading work products to VoiceThreads. Their coursemates provide feedback and ask questions to clarify content. These sharing activities allow students to learn from each other and leave the online classroom with multiple career resources.

Assessments have been expanded beyond traditional written assessment procedures through VoiceThread technology. By creating a moderated VoiceThread and embedding it within a test question in our LMS, I am able to present written clinical terms on text slides. Students record audio comments in which they pronounce these key terms or use them in meaningful sentences, which allows me to assess their ability to use career-specific language. In a reverse format, I am able to assess students’ ability to process and accurately document speech and language skills through transcription assessments. I record assessment stimuli in a VoiceThread created with a webcam video upload in which I produce speech and language samples. That video is embedded into an assessment question and
students transcribe the speech sample within their test.

VoiceThread also allows students to participate in supervision simulations. In one particular activity, students assume the role of the SLPA who is reporting progress to their supervising speech-language pathologist. They record a 2- to 3-minute webcam video in our moderated Oral Reports VoiceThread. After listening to their report, I respond with a private comment to ask a question, which prompts them to clarify the content of their report or to plan for future treatment activities. Students return to the VoiceThread to respond to my question to complete the oral reporting activity. This interaction allows SLPA students to gain experience and confidence in oral reporting and professional communication within a supervisor/supervisee relationship in preparation for their capstone clinical fieldwork experience.

VoiceThread has enabled me to deliver instruction efficiently and effectively, to provide opportunities for students to interact with me and with other online students, and to assess hands-on technical career skills. The reactions my students have to the use of VoiceThread technology gives me confidence that the tool is essential to their engagement and success in our training program. Many students initially express fears of isolation and limited learning/practice opportunities in online coursework. They quickly realize that they are not alone, but are part of a class with real students and real instructors.

They consistently identify the VoiceThread interaction they have with me and with their coursemates as one of the most beneficial aspects of their online learning experience. When asked in course surveys, “What was the most positive aspect of the way the instructor taught this course?,” comments like this one validate our use of VoiceThread in online learning: “I never had the chance to say this, but especially in the stressful part of coursework, it is nice to hear her smile come through while listening to the VoiceThread. In a strange way it inspires confidence and positivity.”

About the Author:

Jennifer Schultz is an instructor in the online speech-language pathology assistant program at Mitchell Technical Institute in Mitchell, SD. Before teaching SLPA students, Jennifer was a clinical speech-language pathologist in hospital and school settings. She can be reached by email at Jennifer.schultz [at] or on Twitter at @jschultz_slp