Learner-Shaped Technology

February 28, 2011

Focusing and Connecting Presentations with Pecha Kucha and VoiceThread

Filed under: collaborate,data visualization,general,technology — Mike W @ 4:55 pm

Pecha kucha (20 slides / 20 seconds per slide) is a creative way to inspire focused presentations using constraints.  Here are a couple of great examples:


I’ve used this format for student presentations in class and have been really pleased with outcome; however, the way I designed the assignment (the first time), didn’t help us connect ideas from the various presentations very effectively.  This time, I explored VoiceThread’s potential to help us make these connections, mostly outside of class.  For the most part, I’d consider the experiment a success, but our class has some suggestions to make the interface more useful.


A VoiceThread, surrounded by comments.

First some background about the pecha kucha assignment: My goal was for students to gain a better understanding of the major geological processes that are thought to have shaped the Martian landscape, as well as for them to gain an even greater appreciation for the tentative and progressive nature of scientific knowledge.  Mars is definitely a good case study for the latter, as many theories exist for the development various landforms. Ideas have shifted over time, as we sift through and attempt to make sense of mountains of data from various landers (Go Phoenix!), rovers, and orbiters.   In this case, pecha kucha seemed to nudge presenters (myself included) towards a focus on developing concepts with carefully-chosen supporting details, rather than a relentless stream of disconnected facts. After I volunteered to deliver a pecha-kucha at last year’s NITLE summit, I realized just how hard it is to share an idea and advocate for action in six minutes and forty seconds.  I agonized over every word, and spent more time preparing my pecha kucha (the live versions carry much more energy) than I have on 90 minute workshops.

After the live presentations in class, students recorded their pecha kuchas and posted them to a VoiceThread group, visible only to our class.   Here’s the assignment:

Please provide a voice thread comment on 4 posted pecha kuchas (other than your own).  If a presentation has 4 or 5 comments already, find another one to comment on.  Watch the pecha kucha again before commenting.  Please provide insightful comments that extend and deepen the conversation.  Some prompts that might help.

1) I’m still a little unclear about [explanation here].  It would help me to know more about ____________________ or get clarification about ______________________.

2) This seems similar to the features we discussed on _______________________ because ______________________.

3) If I’m understanding _____________ correctly then it means _______________________ (state your interpretation here).  Could it also mean that ________________________?

4) It seems that knowing more about _____________________ would really help us understand ___________________ better because ________________________.

5) A good analogy to help me remember _____________________ process is _____________________.

If you’re familiar with the book They Say, I Say, you’ll notice I borrowed the idea of using templates to help guide student responses.  Okay, so this is the second constraint in the assignment.  I’m all about student freedom.  Really!  I just like the creativity and focus that these particular limits inspired. I was really, really impressed with the depth and quality of student conversation, as they asked questions and identified links between presentations.   I think the combination of student creativity, the VoiceThread interface, and the template above facilitated the discussion.

As the screenshot above shows, VoiceThread comments surround the main presentation, which can be an image, text, or  movie.  Comments can take several forms:

  1. Text comments;
  2. Voice – recorded through the computer, or students can even use their phone.  Students enter their phone numbers on the site (see below), and VoiceThread calls the student and records their comments, automatically posting them to the site;
  3. Video – If students have a web cam (which is more common these days), they can provide a video comment.


Call-in comment feature

The advantages:

  1. The phone option is great.  If a student is having trouble with their computer microphone, they can just dial in.
  2. Students can embed their comment at a particular point in the original presentation.  So if there’s a question about slide 11, you can add your question at the appropriate point in that slide.
  3. Every commenter can annotate the original presentation (called Doodling).  This is great for visual media—much better than a threaded discussion forum in this regards.  Check out the fun Wile E. Coyote example.
  4. In many cases, hearing the student inflection as they posed questions really helped me discern where we needed to spend some additional time in class.  Picking that out in a text-based discussion would have been more difficult.
  5. I was able to easily import a csv version of my roster, which made setting up the class simple.

The disadvantages:

  1. The cost is $99 for a single-instructor, higher ed license.  It’s pretty reasonable, but each student only gets 3 minutes of phone time; then you have to add more virtual coins; then you have to allocate those extra minutes to each student.  Can’t I just get a pool of minutes for all students, VoiceThread?  Better yet, at $99, maybe we should get more minutes included in the package deal?
  2. We ran into problems in which the main presentation got out of sync with a student comment.  For example, Fred (a hypothetical student) was highlighting a crater on the 4th slide of the main presentation to ask a question. But the comment showed slide two when I viewed his comment.  I could refresh the browser to solve the problem, but that was kind of a pain.
  3. You can’t nest comments.  Threaded comments are a must!  When students replied to a question, their comment had to include information to hook their response to a particular question—very inefficient. This will be a much better interface when threaded commenting is added.
  4. I wasn’t able to delete student posts.  They had to do that themselves.  The admin needs that capability.

All-in-all, we thought the interface helped to extend a complex conversation beyond the walls of the classroom.  With a more appropriate pricing model, threaded discussions, and a few bug fixes, this tool can really enhance discussion around rich media when discussion boards tend to fall flat.

Are you using VoiceThread? Pecha Kuchas?  Response templates?  How’s it going?

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