Wes Fryer spends a great deal of time and effort on his blog and in workshops touting VoiceThread as an important new educational tool. VoiceThread (and similar products) may in fact be interesting technical achievements, but a heathy dose of candor and critical reflection is needed.
I know that if I dare criticize Wes’ examples I’ll be called a big meanie and told that the examples presented are just quick vignettes not intended to be exemplars. However, lots of educators are being led to believe that such web-based software tools represent sophisticated practice and new learning opportunities. Such a conclusion would be wrong.
The VoiceThread examples I have seen are little more than digital book reports with images not owned or created by the student (author) and with narrations suffering from too little planning and editing. The audience for such “productions” eludes me.
Some of these multimedia collages are about as entertaining as a slideshow of someone else’s vacation photos.
In case you think I’m wrong, too harsh or making a rash judgement, please watch and listen to the VoiceThread video here.
I have been disappointed by how hard it is to engage the educational blogosphere in issues of social justice and civil rights as demonstrated in the following recent blogs:
In this blog, Wes Fryer shares a VoiceThread project he created about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Dream” speech.
It is unclear as to whether the voices you hear are a mixture of students and teachers or just teachers alone. (there are no credits) The “educational objective” of the activity seem to have to do with evaluating audio quality more than understanding Dr. King. However, the enormity of Dr. King’s contributions and sacrifice deserve more than a soundcheck.
The following are some questions and observations that arise from the King VoiceThread video published by Wes Fryer:
Did the students (or their teachers) listen to the entire March on Washington speech? (few classrooms ever do) Did they discuss the purpose of the 1963 speech or read the speeches of others present that day?
Did they consider (re: READ) other work by King or his contemporaries?
Do the students (or their teachers) think that the nation healed immediately after that speech?
Do the students (or their teachers) know that the Supreme Court just made voluntary school desegregation illegal?
One speaker says something like, “one speech by one man with one dream change everyone’s life even if you don’t think about it?” This is the filibuster of an unprepared student and then you used your platform to share such nonsense with the world.
Why should we be impressed by a web-based slideshow of what kids or teachers) think/feel/believe based on exposure to a few sentences uttered by a prolific political leader? This dangerously equates the teacher who rambles on about how American life is consumed by the “almighty dollar” with the Nobel Laureate. This is a display of egocentrism, narcissism and ignorance.
If the VoiceThread I watched and listened to is just an early draft, then why publish it? Respect your audience by keeping drafts private. Can someone please point me to the good VoiceThreads?
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.