As Spider Man said, "With great power comes great responsibility." In this case, the power is the knowledge. The responsibility is to share it. So, share I do. I'm active on Mark Carl's VoiceThread NING and I incorporate VT in my conference presentations. (Full disclosure: I don't work for nor do I receive any compensation from VoiceThread. I annoy them for free.) I find that many people contact me with questions about using VT with their students. Being an educator, there's nothing I love better than to light that fire and see someone get excited about what they've just learned. I'm always happy to help.
So, I was very excited when my phone rang at lunch yesterday and it was Ben Papell. He told me about some simple additions to their site and some new features coming soon:
VoiceThread now has a print manual. The first chapter on SHARING is in there and they'll be adding about 6 more chapters. There are some OK manuals out there; I've even created one myself, but this is really nice and to the point. You'd think for a self-proclaimed Geek, I'd be ashamed to want something I can print and refer to, but I have to say that I still like to have some printed directions in front of me once in awhile. I know teachers I work with will appreciate this too.
They also updated the look of their K-12 Education pricing page and I say, "Hallelujah!" I've been asking them to do this for awhile. If you ask 15 VoiceThread-using educators what the difference between a Pro Educator, Free Educator and Regular Free VT account is, you will probably get 10 different answers. It shouldn't be so difficult to figure what you're getting. I think the new layout is much clearer. It's important to me because I've heard teachers say they are frustrated with (what they think is) the teacher account because they can only create 3 threads. So, they give up. If educators are aware of what VT is offering them, they can take advantage of the great deal that the Free Educator account offers and truly not have to spend any money if they don't want to.
Did you know if you sign up for the plain old regular-free-to-anyone VT account, you are limited to only 3 VoiceThreads and 75MB of storage? But if you sign up for the Free Educator VT account you can now create an unlimited number of VTs and have 2GB of storage? I think previously, most people didn't know that. I'm not trying to sell anything here, but the Pro-Educator account is a lot better because now you get to create groups (have you seen the new groups feature?) and up to 10GB storage! Additionally, now you can work in the EdVT environment.
What's Coming for VoiceThread?
(Remember, you read it here first!)
- Public cloning! You will be able to clone other people's VTs - if the original author sets permission, of course. This enables you to start from a "template" and work from there, or just take it "as is." You'll be able to take the VT with our without the comments. I think this is huge.
- Large upcoming partnership(s) where users can pull content for their VoiceThreads! Right now you can pull content from your own library, Flickr, FaceBook or a URL but there are lots of organizations and sites with oodles of content, just waiting to be added into our threads. I'm really looking forward to this one...or two...
- Ed Community - They will also be focusing on improving the Ed site. They're looking to make it more of a community for educators and students. They know they've not done a good job of that at all. Yet, we've all seen communities evolve on their own. There are tons of outstanding resources and examples to help educators use VoiceThread; yet not one of them resides on their site. They aren't looking to replace anything; they're actually looking to embrace those who have taken the time to create, communicate and share them. We can look forward to a sort of 'one stop shop' at EdVT.
In many of our schools, we are using the full class subscriptions. Our teachers have kicked it up a notch beyond what you can do with the free accounts, because all their students have legal accounts and everyone works in the EdVT environment. Running this small pilot in this manner has snatched the attention of many people who have never imagined lessons could include so much collaboration.
What's Next for Us?
The University of North Carolina has integrated VoiceThread with their teachers and students automatically authenticating into the system through their network. To be able to authenticate like that is a pretty big deal for us where we have over 170,000 students and 12,000 teachers. If we could penetrate just 10% of our teachers with a product like VT, that would be huge.
I'd love to see more of our teachers introduced to VT next year as a means for instruction during the year (rather than after testing is over - when all the good stuff comes along)? For now, I'm thrilled to see some instructional technologies, such as VT, making headway onto our radar. Our use of VT and global collaboration is starting some great conversations that will hopefully, give more of our teachers some Web 2.0 opportunities - should they want them.
What are your thoughts on all of this?