Guest Blogger: Jennifer Bouffard

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Bouffard

JB2Our school district decided to use Project Based Learning (PBL) as the main delivery system for gifted education this year. The gifted teachers, along with myself, worked on writing PBL units for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students.  The premise of PBL is that students are engaged through a driving question; an authentic problem or question that they need to answer through in-depth inquiry. Ultimately, the students present their final products and findings to an authentic audience. This is where Voki came in to play.

I was looking for a way to engage my students, and Voki became my ultimate tool as it provided a way to improve reading/writing skills, and it provided an authentic audience. My 3rd grade students were researching endangered Ohio animals. They had to find out about the physical appearance of their animal, its habitat, its diet, how it survives and thrives, and finally, what we can do to help protect these animals. The students chose the bobcat, the Little Brown Bat, the Peregrine Falcon, and Shovelnose Sturgeon, and the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake. After researching and writing facts on notecards, I wanted the kids to write a speech that would teach others about their findings.

As most of us, most kids do not like to write, especially when it is a school assignment. They want to find other ways to present their information. Voki was the perfect way to motivate my students. I created a Voki speech that I showed the kids. It told them exactly what they needed to do for the project. Once I showed them my Voki and avatar, they were instantly sold. They created their Voki speeches first by writing them, doing a peer edit, and finally me editing them for a final revision. Once they were revised, I let them create their avatar, and type their speech into the Voki website.

JB1The kids really liked having their own login and password. Most of them memorized it instantly, but I still made sure they had it taped inside of their PBL folder. They could not wait to get started on their Voki speeches. It was interesting to watch them choose their avatars, colors, style of voice, backgrounds, etc. It gave them a voice and choice, another important part of PBL. I think the fact that they could make the speech their own, through Voki, really resonated with my students. I watched the students type their speech, listen to their speech, and rewrite their speech. The writing process naturally flowed, because the students really, really listened to what they wrote.

As a teacher, I was able to listen to my students’ speeches and provide feedback for them. I wish there was a way to see the text that the students had typed in while I was watching/listening to the speech. Sometimes, I could not tell what the student has written, and I wanted to provide better feedback for them.

Students need to be able to communicate their ideas and findings in order to be college and career ready.  For those students that are not totally comfortable speaking in front of a group, Voki was a great option. The students still stood up at the Smart Board while they were giving their Voki speech. They had to give their own introduction before the avatar spoke; however, it gave them peace of mind that they were not in the spotlight the entire time. One student even wrote on a reflection sheet, “Voki gave me a voice when I was afraid to use mine.” Pretty powerful.

JB3I used Voki with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students. I have to say that all the grade levels were totally engaged while using Voki. The 5th graders needed longer than the speech time allotted, so I added extra parts in for them. For example, they had Part I and Part II of their speeches so all of their information could fit. Ultimately, I liked that Voki provided an authentic audience, because the students’ work could be shared on various websites. The parents of my students enjoyed watching the Voki’s their child had created. They offered feedback to their children as well.

After having the students reflect on using Voki, the vast majority of them really enjoyed using the program. They offered these suggestions: More choices for avatars, especially animals and more choices for USA voices. Voice and choice is very important to them. Overall, it was a great experience for my students. I plan on using Voki again with my gifted PBL students next year.

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Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @BellflowerBouf

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Guest Blogger: Nancy Hniedziejko

Guest Blogger: Nancy Hniedziejko

Nancy Hniedziejko, M.Ed.

Library Media Specialist

Myers Elementary School

School District of Cheltenham Township, PA

nancy.hniedziejko@gmail.com

@nancyteaches

 

After a six week course of study on Digital Citizenship, I was looking for a culminating activity for my third graders.  Quite accidentally, I found Voki.  I’m a teacher/librarian who relies upon my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter, and I saw a few tweets about Voki and I began to explore. I was quickly intrigued.

While I had seen a number of ways to create avatars, I had never seen one that included not only a voice feature, but an abundance of creative choices.  I knew I had to find a way to include this in my library.  I began by setting up a free account.  Then, I tried to make a Voki that looked like me.  I was thrilled by the feature that used my cell phone so I could record my own voice.  Each step of the way was so user friendly.  My Voki told the students about the genre of the month after I easily copied the embedded code onto my library website.

When my third graders arrived for their weekly library lesson, I showed them the Voki on our library website.  They loved it.  When I told them they would be creating their own Vokis… well, let’s just say the enthusiasm included applause and high-fives.  In our district, the students all have a standard user name and password.  Prior to each class arriving, I had created Voki accounts for each student using the Voki Classroom feature.  This was a huge time saver.  It didn’t take too long and it insured that each student had an account with their correct user name and password.

Once I showed them how to navigate to Voki using our library Symbaloo (an exceptional time saver), I created another Voki. I showed them how to choose a character style, and the multitude of customization features as well as the background and player features.  (The bling was a huge hit!) One of the areas I didn’t stress strongly enough with the first group of third graders was the importance of saving their creations.  Luckily, as a librarian I get to try each lesson three times.  With each subsequent group, I modeled this vital step.

During this first introductory lesson, my goals for the students were to log on, create a Voki, enter text to make it talk, and save it.  When the students returned the next week and logged on, they found the assignment I created.  Not only does Voki have a place for teachers to share lessons, but you can create assignments for your students.  Each third grader was required to describe what being a good digital citizen meant.  Since we are always running short on time, creating the Voki the first week and focusing on the content the second week, made it much easier for the students.

Another great feature in the Voki Classroom is that the teacher can approve, disapprove and leave comments for the students.  Once I approved their Vokis, my next step was sharing. While each lesson automatically creates its own Web page, where you can showcase your students’ work, I wanted all of the students in the school to be able to view the Vokis through my library website.  When I clicked on the publish feature, I discovered that Voki had a feature for sharing the link on Symbaloo.  As mentioned earlier, Symbaloo is a great time saver if you are looking to save all of your links in one place.  I created a Symbaloo webmix that shared all of the third grade Vokis.  Now, everyone (including parents) could view the Vokis.  It didn’t take too long to copy/paste the Symbaloo Voki link for each link.  It was worth the time and effort.

As a library media specialist, I’m always looking for ways to excite my students about technology in a meaningful way.  Using the Voki as a culminating activity for our unit on Digital Citizenship was not only exciting and fun, it was meaningful.  It meshed different apps, typing skills, writing skills, summarizing skills and creativity.  An added bonus was when the teachers found out what the students were creating, they wanted to set up accounts and use Vokis in their classrooms.

Guest Blogger: Trine Mork

Guest Blogger: Trine Mork

I’ve been using Voki for a couple of years now in one of my EFL courses in one particular Japanese university class. This year I decided to procure some student feedback and reflect on how things were going with the platform. The main pedagogical impetus for taking on this application was threefold:

  1. to expose students to one of many fun tools available online through which they could practice their speaking in a safe and secure setting (privacy controlled).
  2. to expose students to computer applications in general, as computer competency tends to be low, and students need confidence to adapt to an ever increasingly digital world upon graduation.
  3. to provide a medium though which students could record and share some clips of their speaking for evaluation purposes.

Students in this particular full-year course used Voki twice in their first semester, and will do so once again at the end of the second semester. (Japanese universities generally start the academic year in April.) The time they will have spent with the platform is therefore minimal. For their first Voki assignment, they had to record a self-introduction and paste their Voki avatar onto their blogs. This first assignment was not only to help them get used to both Voki and the WordPress blogging platform (several students were not even aware of the concept of blogging), but also to get them used to having to deal with this technology in a foreign language. It was highly intimidating for some. The second VOKI recording also had to be posted to their blogs and was part of a larger semester review activity that was assessed and weighted at 30% of the semester grade, as will be the case for the 3rd assignment next term. I have always perceived formal speaking assessments as class time wasters and have preferred to assess student L2 (second language) speaking throughout the term through monitoring in-class activities such as task-based speaking activities and discussions. Tools like Voki have added another dimension in addressing teachers’ need to get feedback on student performance while at the same time maximizing the few contact hours they have with their students on campus.

From a teacher’s perspective, Voki indeed has a lot to offer, which is why I use it. There are issues I continue to have, however, but these actually have less to do with the Voki platform itself than other issues such as language ability. The first main problem I have is that despite having in-class screen demos on how to use the platform and embed Vokis onto their blogs, students still get stuck with the technology. Instead of taking the extra time (of which I have none, so I really don’t have a choice) to help individual students troubleshoot outside of class, I make it a point to challenge students to be autonomous learners and try to figure out how things work by trial and error; to have to the curiosity to click buttons to see what happens, and to take the initiative to collaborate with their peers if stuck. Sadly, this approach to learning does not come easily to Japanese learners, who by university age are used to a teacher-centered, top-down approach to acquiring any knowledge or skill.

A second issue I have is the existence on Voki of the option to type in desired speech. Despite what I hoped were clear instructions, and despite what I thought was an obvious goal that Voki was to be used as a speaking activity, almost 20% of my students in the 2013 spring term typed in their content and had the Voki speaking machine do its magic for them. Whether this was a result of foreign language misunderstanding, poor instruction on my part, or a simple lack of common sense from students is yet to be ascertained, but it is certainly not the fault of the Voki platform, and neither is the third problem I had: In any out-of-class speech recording, teachers cannot control how students record their voice. The goal is to have students prepare their opinions about certain issues before recording their voice, and to have those recordings be completely natural and unscripted. It is easy for teachers to know when second language learners are reading from a prepared script and when they are speaking off the top of their heads. Sadly, only about half of students were doing as I had reminded them several times to do: Don’t read from a script; speak naturally! At my university, privacy-related fears have prompted a ban on online video use, so teachers have unfortunately not been able to make use of tools such as Youtube for recording student work, despite the existence of privacy settings. However, even video to some extent would not eliminate the issue of script reading. Cues could be held off camera, after all. This is the main reason why I would use Voki or any similar tool as neither a major form, nor the only form, of speaking assessment.

As I was curious to know how students perceived the Voki platform, using Survey Monkey, I questioned my 31 students after having completed their second Voki assignment at the end of the 2013 spring term. 55% of students enjoyed using Voki, 18% enjoyed it sometimes, another 18% were neutral about it, and 9% did not enjoy their Voki experience. These are the optional comments I received regarding their enjoyment:

  • It is interesting to create my own character.
  • Making my Voki was fun!
  • To make my own picture was really fun!
  • It is good for practicing my pronunciation.
  • It was interesting because the picture spoke what I want to say. Also, I could listen to my own talking, so I can notice my bad point of speaking.
  • It was fun to listen other’s opinion by voice instead of just reading the text.
  • I enjoyed listening to some of my friends’ Vokis. I didn’t listen all of them because I wasn’t interested in other classmates’ Vokis.
  • I was too nervous while recording, so I wanted to enjoy more!
  • It was interesting that I can record my voice and publish on blog.  

When I surveyed students about Voki’s ease of use, none replied that it was extremely easy, but almost 37% responded that it was easy enough and they had no major difficulties. 18% said it was generally OK, another 18% said is was sometimes tricky, and unfortunately over 27% reported that it was challenging to use. These are the optional comments I received, from positive to more negative:

  • At first tiles, it is difficult to put voki on the blog, but once I understand how to do, it is not difficult to use voki.
  • I confused a little at the first time, but it’s ok now.
  • First , I had trouble, but easy to understand.
  • Hard to use it.
  • I didn’t like the homepage. Hard to understand.
  • I thought putting Voki on my blog was a little difficult.
  • I’m good at SNS tools, but it was difficult to find a microphone to record the voice. Our classroom is the only capable for record anyway…
  • I could’t record my voice at home, so I had to do it at university. Also, PC at university was limited to use, so I felt little confused to search the available PC room to use it every time.
  • At first, I was confused to upload Voki to the blog.
  • I think it should be easier to record and upload on blogs.
  • It was hard to record the voice. My Mac PC didn’t work. I could record but couldn’t save it… so I had to use school PC but the LLclass opening time was limited and also I had PTJ 6 days a week so it was really hard to make the pinpoint time for it ;( anyway, I enjoyed the system. so I wish it gonna be more smoother to save the voice.
  • It had some problems, for example, most of us couldn’t record with own PC at home, I mean we couldn’t do homework at home.

 The comments above indicate that students’ issues were more related to hardware access and blog embedding than using the Voki application itself. Inability to get the code to display correctly occurred often because students were pasting Voki embed code into the WYSIWYG editor as opposed to the html section of their WordPress blogs. Even though Voki has a short cut of getting them to login to their WordPress blogs directly from the platform, perhaps the additional method served to confuse students? Instruction on both methods was offered to students in class, so I can only assume that they failed to either pay attention, take good notes, or express any lack of understanding at the time. It could also be that the instruction session was either too difficult (it was indeed given in English), or given too far in advance of the homework assignments and students forgot. I imagine that most students did in fact have the necessary hardware (microphone, etc.) needed to record a Voki on their home computers, but did not make the effort to troubleshoot in English for reasons I have stated earlier.

Almost 64% of students indicated they would use Voki again on their own, and the rest said they would not. Again, here are their optional comments:

  • I think recording my voice and listening my speech will help improve my pronunciation skills.
  • I can record my voice and check my speaking skills.
  • I want to use Voki more to train my speaking!
  • It is the easy system to record my voice in English.
  • No, because I don’t have a private blog where I can put Voki.
  • No, because I don’t have any idea where to use.
  • I don’t have an opportunity to use it.
  • No, me and many people around me had trouble making a Voki.
  • I already used Facebook and Twitter. It’s enough.

 In my final survey question, I asked students to offer their general impressions about the Voki system in terms of how it related to their learning, and here are some examples of the feedback I received:

  • It is useful to take an oral test in English.
  • I think I study English while enjoying myself if I use voki
  • Useful: I could learn how I am speaking to people easily.
  • Not useful: hard to record!
  • Voki is so fun for me because I can record my own voice and check it after that. However, I don’t think Voki is not so useful for learning English.
  • It’s useful to know my speaking skill of English directly.
  • It was good to record my voice and listen to it because I can’t listen my English usually.
  • I could listening my own English speech and improve my English speech skill.
  • At the point of speaking in English, it is useful because they can record their talking and listen to them again and again. But I think it is more important that others listen to that and comment on that.
  • When I become a senior year, I didn’t have a enough opportunity to speak in English. However, Voki is a good chance to tell something another classmates. It is so nice that my friend replay me.
  • Useful. We could use Voki a few times for free. This was a good service for English learner.
  • I’m sorry to say but it was not useful for me.

 

In conclusion, overall Voki usage in my EFL class has been a positive experience. As a teacher, I perceive the platform to be extremely easy to use, but because students coming into the course in which I use it have had very limited online application experience, and because English is not their first language, there are obstacles for both teachers and students to overcome. With practice, teachers get better at explaining how to use Voki, and with practice, students will surely get over their anxiety in using the platform, and become more confident the next time they need to produce a Voki or dive into yet another English-only, online app.

Guest Blogger: Kyle Dunbar

Guest Blogger: Kyle Dunbar

me-smallI still remember the first time I was introduced to Voki, I was at a tech conference. The presenter was showing a number of different fun, new, tools, but Voki stole the day. Honestly, I can’t remember the next 20 minutes of the presentation because I was so busy having fun playing with Voki, recording myself, giving myself new outfits, sending emails back to my boss saying things like “Vokis are so much fun!” I was immersed in learning the new tool and practicing my digital literacy and fluency. It is the same for our students.

Voki opens up a world of hands-on creativity for your students.

Show any classroom of students Voki, and you will immediately see them trying it out in a myriad of ways. I had the pleasure of joining a student tech club after school one day and I did a quick demo of Voki. The teacher and I had a plan that they would use their Vokis to introduce themselves to me (a visitor for the day) and then we would share what each student did. It was a nice plan, and the students would have done it. But we quickly realized, we had set the bar way too low, these kids had more ideas about what they wanted to do!

Voki lets you have your Voki speak in several languages.

Some students immediately started playing with the language feature of Voki. While this tech club is in a richly diverse school, where many languages are heard every day, these students still had a great time listening to phrases spoken in languages they had never heard before.

Voki allows you to re-record until you like how it sounds.

Some students probably practiced what they wanted to say 5-7 times before they saved their Voki. This repeated practice is fantastic for English Language Learners and other students working on their oral language skills. Asking a student to re-read passages can be tiresome, but ask them to make a Voki and they will repeat the passage until they like how it sounds, over and over again.

Voki lets students play around with identity.

 Let’s face it, not all students are pleased with their self-image. I’ve seen students change their avatar dozens of times to find a “look” that they want to project. Don’t overlook the importance of this! As students travel the weary path of adolescence and pre-adolescence, they crave opportunities to try on different looks and personas. Using Voki to do this is a safe and fun way to change your hair color, add an earring or see how a British accent sounds. Letting students play with these avatars as they complete a content-based assignment is as developmentally appropriate as free play in Kindergarten.

Voki is a great way to discuss Digital Citizenship.

Our students might not need our guidance when it comes to figuring out how to make a Voki, but they do still need our guidance about what makes a good and appropriate Voki. Voki is a fun way to get students talking about what make a quality presentation. If the assignment is to have an Abraham Lincoln Voki talk about three of the most important parts of his presidency, showing him with sunglasses on isn’t the best way to convey your message. Likewise, students should never use Voki to share too much information about themselves or to embarrass others. It is imperative that we have these conversations with students and why not do it with a tool they love!

Voki can be used in any classroom:

Science: Make a Voki to explain the outcomes of a lab. (I’ve seen students do this for their Science Fair presentations!)

Social Studies: Choose a Voki of an historical figure and have them give three important facts about their lives.

English: Make a Voki that represents a character from a novel. Have them “saying” the theme of the novel.

Math: There is a lot of vocabulary in Math. Have a Voki provide definitions for key terms.

World Language: Provide a description of a person in the target language, see if the students can make a matching Voki.

Physical Education/Health: Let a Voki give facts about staying fit and healthy.

To get the most out of Vokis, make sure you give your students time to play when making their Vokis, you’ll be surprised with the results!

-Kyle Dunbar

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For Kyle’s blog, go here: EdTechDunny

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @edtechdunny