Using VoiceThread to Increase Student Engagement and Community

Using VoiceThread to Increase Student Engagement and Community

VoiceThread is a dynamic online tool that is very visual and allows students to comment on images, videos, or instructor prompts with text, audio or video. It takes 4 steps to set up a new VoiceThread discussion, and the student experience can be enhanced by putting some time into this process. VoiceThread (VT) is also a great tool to build community in F2F, online, and blended courses.


As online learning has become a norm in higher education, student engagement has become a focus in online teaching and learning stategies. Student engagement in a traditional face-to-face classroom has been used in teaching and learning pedagogy for many years. Early adopters of online teaching have been working to overcome obstacles to online student engagement. Part of this work has been to experiement with new online social communication tools. This list of tools can include discussion boards, blogs, wiki's and even social media tools like Facebook or Twitter. 

Remember, it is not the tool that increases student engagement, but how the assignment or activity is implemented, use of pedagogy, and alignment with the learning outcomes of the course. The tool is just the platform. Online instructors can enhance student engagement by creating a communication plan with the students, making first contact before the course start date, starting with a student introductions activity with prompts to lead students in creating their community. It is also pertinent to plan ongoing opportunities for student interaction throughout the course that align with student learning outcomes. This blog will give ideas on how to use the interactive tool called VoiceThread to increase student engagement in an online course.


UAA students and faculty have access to VoiceThread accounts through UA Learn. Faculty can set up VoiceThreads as assignments, lectures, discussion boards, and quizzes. Students can use VoiceThread to participate in discussions or create presentation assignments. If you are not familiar with VoiceThread view the video below:



UAA Instructional Designers and faculty have pulled together some tips and tutorials to assist you in getting started with this tool. Remember to always focus on the pedagogy before the practice. VoiceThread is a powerful tool that can enhance student collaboration and learning when aligned with the learning outcomes in a course. Review the VoiceThread (VT) information below to get started using this amazing tool with your students:

  • Ideas on Incorporating VT into a Course
    • Use VT, instead of the Discussion Board, to do course introductions. If you ask your students to answer specific questions in the introduction, it allows them to see each other and learn a bit about their peers in a fun way. You can also require them to welcome and say "hi" to a certain number of students to further community building.
    • Students can submit assignments, ranging from digital stories to documents/papers, to VT for comments by both their peers and the instructor.
    • VT can be used to check for student understanding using 3-2-1 (3 things you learned, 2 things it reinforced, 1 question you still have) or K-W-L (What do you Know? What do you Want to know? What did you Learn?) strategies. After students complete readings, have them post these to a course VT you build for the week – this allows you to check for understanding and find out where they still have gaps and modify your content accordingly.
    • You can use multiple VT screens to create a case study. Additional information can be presented on each slide, students can be asked to comment on their thoughts and how they’ve changed based on the new information, etc. The final slide asks them to share their conclusions from the activity.
    • Consider asking students to complete a video reflection in VT at the end of the semester about the "big picture" things they have learned. Through reflecting on the semester and hearing/commenting on the reflections of others, you solidify their learning for the course.

    NOTE: For any discussion assignment, it is a great idea to create a rubric and set expectations and time limits for the student posts. While it’s great to share and hear thoughts, it’s important students not spend 10 minutes when you expected two, and for them to have an idea of what type of post is expected to complete the assignment.

  • Access to VT in UA Learn/Blackboard & Technology Tips

    Access to VoiceThread

    All UAA faculty and students have access to VoiceThread accounts through Blackboard. When you first log in, as an instructor to create an assignment, or as a student, you will see an LTI log in message. If it is your first time logging in you may be prompted to enter a password. Use your Blackboard password here. The LTI log in process can take a few moments to process. 

    Technology Tips

    • It is recommended to use Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with Blackboard and VoiceThread,
        • MAC Users please DO NOT USE Safari, VoiceThread does not render correctly with this browser.
    • When activating comments with video or audio make sure to select "allow" when VoiceThread asks to have access to your camera and microphones.
    • Use Video and Audio commenting for a more community feel.
    • Use images with permission, look for images in Creative Commons or the image libraries offerd through VoiceThread.
    • When creating a VoiceThread make sure to review the Thread Settings and set the Playback Options. For assignments, it is advised to deselect "Start playing when opened." You can also change download and export options and save your default options here.

    VoiceThread Thread Settings Interface


  • Setting up VT as an Assignment
  • Using VT as a Course Lecture
    • VoiceThread can be used for creating very editable online course lectures by using VoiceThread UAA and selecting “Watch VoiceThread," loading your lecture slides or images into the VoiceThread slides, and voice over each slide individually.
    • If you use VoiceThread for online course lectures, it is easy to modify, add and edit the lectures after the fact.
    • VoiceThread can upload multiple types of media, web video, web cam pictures, Powerpoint slides, images from your computer and images from other VoiceThreads, Khan Academy Video, flickr images, and New York Public Library.
  • How to Use VoiceThread (Example Student Instructions)
  • Accessibility in VoiceThread

    VoiceThread has worked to make their digital tool 508 compliant. They have a tool called VoiceThread Universal as an alternate way for users to view VoiceThread. If you are an instructor using VoiceThread in your online course environment you can share this Universal Tool for user accessibility.

    Instructor Accessibility Resources

    Student Accessibility Instructions:

    Set Student View Universal Accessibility Preferences
    1. Click the VoiceThread Assignment Link.
    2. Select the option “View VoiceThread in new window.”
    3. Go to the LAST PAGE of the VoiceThread.
    4. Select “+ Add to MyVoice Page” at the top right of information box.
    5. Select the “Universal” option in the menu at the bottom of the page.
    6. Select “Use VoiceThread Universal as my default site.”
    7. Select Default Site: Change to “VoiceThread Universal.”
    8. This should allow all VoiceThreads to show in the Universal view for the student from this point on.
    Student access to review and submit assignments in the VoiceThread Universal view
    1. Return to the original assignment link in Blackboard Select the Link.
    2. Select the “View VoiceThread in separate window” to view the Assignment using the universal tools view.
    To submit to the assignment
    1. Return to the Submit Assignment Window.
    2. Use the Comment feature to complete the assignment and Save.
    3. Select the blue Submit Assignment button to submit for grading.

Resources & Bibliography

Briggs, A. (2015). Ten Ways to Overcome Barriers to Student Engagement Online. Online Learning Consortium Blog. Retrieved from:

Communicate, Collaborate and Connect Using VoiceThread. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Dixson, M.D. (2010). Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging? Journal of the

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2), 1-13. Retrieved from:


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