In the Interior Architecture Graduate Building Systems course, students learn about the different building systems that essentially make a building “work”. The mode of instruction is traditionally a combination of lecture, quizzes, exams, projects, and most importantly construction site visits. A construction site visit allows a student to experience in-progress construction giving access to many of the systems discussed in the course such as structural systems, mechanical systems, electrical and plumbing systems. One of the challenges faced with the fall semester, 7 week, graduate level building systems course is the evening time frame, which, although best accommodates graduate student schedules, becomes problematic when attempting to coordinate site visits during working daylight hours.
The implementation of VoiceThread was an attempt to solve the site visit challenge mentioned above. VoiceThread is a cloud-based discussion thread with a focus on creating a true presence among its participants beyond traditional text-based interaction. VoiceThread allows users to upload and share documents, presentations, images, audio files and video and supports varying modes of discussion and commentary through audio, webcam/video, text and phone.
The 7 week course was reconfigured to contain one lecture based class and one “floating” site visit per week. Although encouraged, students were not required to attend each weekly site visit, however, each student had to attend at least one and author a corresponding VoiceThread presentation. This offered flexibility and allowed the students to plan ahead in determining which site visit best suited their schedule outside of the evening class time. In addition, to make up for lost contact hours resulting from not being able to attend a weekly site visit, each student was required to comment and participate in all site visit VoiceThread’s developed by their peers. So to summarize, a student would attend and develop a site visit VoiceThread based on images and video taken at the site and would also participate in VoiceThread discussions authored by their peers.
Overall, VoiceThread offered flexibility to learning outside of the classroom as anticipated. The VT dialogue among the students continued and evolved over the duration of the course in a fairly natural and organic manner and peer-to-peer teaching/learning was evident from the VT authorship requirement for each student. In addition, the application gave a more interactive dimension to an otherwise lecture-based type of course. As with implementing any new technology or software there was a slight learning curve to overcome for both the students, and myself however, it was fairly short lived and we were all able to utilize VoiceThread through its desktop and mobile applications. Perhaps not a challenge but a drawback of the software is the way it organized all comments and added the actual discussion thread to the end of the original presentation. Although this method of organizing the thread is sequentially accurate as to when the comments were made, it made reviewing the entire discussion unnatural and slightly disjointed. The newer version of VoiceThread has reorganized the overall thread to where it now adds the comments to the end of the relevant slide instead of at the end of the entire presentation.
Initially, students were reluctant to participate in the discussion thread using the video and/or audio method of commenting and, overall, they felt more comfortable using the text-based method only. We started using the software through an introductory exercise called the “Everyday Task” VoiceThread. Students were asked to author a short VT presentation explaining an everyday task to help overcome video/audio anxiety and gain familiarity with the software. After watching the “Everyday Task” VT the following week, students quickly overcame any reservations and seemed to relax and enjoy the thread. The course continued with a total of 5 construction site visits over 5 weeks and ended with a final documentary VT of an architecturally significant building focusing on its integrated building systems. The final VT documentary was a means in testing and evaluating student competency in both the VT application as a teaching/learning tool and the building systems course content. At the end of the course the 5 students developed 16 VoiceThread’s containing a total of 115 video-based comments.
I’m planning on implementing VoiceThread again in future Building Systems courses with a more systematic method in place to collect feedback, user data and to better measure and evaluate its effectiveness in this type of application. I will also be experimenting with alternative uses in other courses beyond a presentation and discussion tool.