Active language learning with VoiceThread

During the last academic year, we all had to adapt to online / blended learning due to the pandemic. In the case of language learning at LEAP (Languages for All Programme), lessons consisted of live tutor-led sessions (synchronous teaching) and a series of assignments and activities that students completed in their own time (asynchronous teaching).

Synchronous teaching allowed language tutors to provide plenty of opportunities for students to interact with peers and their tutor, receive immediate feedback, practice communicative skills, and meet their classmates. Although asynchronous teaching can also allow students to have the same learning opportunities, students tend to perceive asynchronous teaching as passively taking in information, disconnected from their tutors and peers and therefore feel less engaged and committed.

Seeking to provide similar opportunities during the asynchronous learning, where students could engage into active language learning and still feel the presence of their classmates and tutor, I created a weekly VoiceThread (VT) in Blackboard for each of the levels I was teaching to:

  • Present new content
  • Provide opportunities for interaction between students and with the tutor
  • Practise communicative skills (reading, listening, speaking, and writing)
  • Provide regular formative feedback
  • Provide the means for students to be prepared for the synchronous session (Bergmann and Sams, 2014, flipped classroom)

Each VT included the ILOs for each teaching week, presentation of new content using a mix of media followed by a series of tasks that involved activities to practise the content and develop different communicative skills using the recording options offered by the tool (audio, video, and text). Subsequently, students would receive formative feedback to assess their own performance and receive suggestions for improvement. The feedback consisted of self-assessed tasks or recorded messages that were addressed either to each student or to the whole group.

There was evidence that students completed the tasks through their recorded contributions, in written, oral and video form. Students would also raise questions about the tasks and the input provided during the synchronous sessions. Students mentioned that they enjoyed the variety of tasks, the interaction, the flexibility, and the feedback.

Evaluation / Student Feedback

I asked students to provide feedback regarding the tasks they completed in VT, if they noticed any benefit in their language learning process, and to provide recommendations for the use of the tool in the future. Some of their comments were:

In general, I enjoyed VoiceThread presentations because they were so varied. There would be a bit of grammar, a bit of reading, a bit of listening to audio or watching a video. It made preparing for the live lecture quite engaging. (Student at A2 level of the CEFR)

I think VoiceThread was a beneficial tool to use to supplement my language learning. It was like having an interactive textbook. This way, even though I am working on my own, it is very directed and focused. (Student at A1 level of the CEFR)

Compared to traditional PowerPoint presentations, VoiceThread is more interactive, allowing the lecturers to record and students to interact with each other. Meanwhile, since I am studying in a different time zone, it offers the flexibility to review the material whenever I am free (Student at B2 level)

It offered an opportunity to practice multiple skills, from grammar to listening and even some speaking. It also provided a clear structure for preparing for live lectures. Seeing other people comment was great because it would motivate me to engage with the content more thoroughly as well – when you are studying by yourself and all online, it can get a bit lonely. (B2 level)

The activity I enjoy most is the recording and asking questions to fellow classmates. Because I think, it enables us to interact between each other under remote conditions. (A 1 level)

I found voice thread good because it allowed me to go back when revising and do the lecture again, which you cannot do if the class is in a classroom. It also helps because you can go at your own speed. (A2 level)

I had the opportunity to record myself speaking Spanish or give examples in written form. Afterwards, I received feedback from my lecturer, pointing out my mistakes. I benefited and improved a lot during this interactive process. (A1 level)

It was great for giving opinions and responses and then getting feedback. (B2 level)

It was great preparation for the next class and the feedback was useful. (B2 level)

  • The VT presentations allowed students to prepare for the synchronous session whilst engaging into active learning.
  • Students had opportunities to engage with the material in different modes and to individualise their own learning.
  • The nature of the tool, facilitating asynchronous communication, allows students to work at their own pace, to be more involved with the learning tasks, and gives them the opportunity to speak more at ease.
  • Students took charge of making their own decisions as to what, how, how much and when to publish their work.
  • The tutor can monitor students’ participation, understanding, kind of interaction, and identify problems using the language.
  • Through the tasks, students could practice their communicative skills (listening, reading, speaking, and writing).
Top Tips
  • Provide clear instructions on what is expected from the students, how to use the tool, how to access it and emphasise the importance of using the material before the synchronous session.
  • Remind them of the instructions at various stages of the course.
  • Make sure there is interaction and feedback involved in the asynchronous session to increase students’ engagement.

Bergmann, J.,and Sams, A. (2014) ‘Flipped Learning’, Learning & Leading with Technology, 41(7), 18–23.

Bonswell, C. and Eison, J. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. Eric Digests.

Brunvand, S., and Byrd, S. (2011) ‘Using VoiceThread to Promote Learning Engagement and Success for All Students’ , Technology for teaching and learning, 43 (4), 28–37.


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School: Arts, Languages and Cultures

Discipline: Languages

Academic: Sandra Torres

Course: LEAP Spanish, levels 1, 2 and 4

Cohort Size: 60

Themes: Enhancing learning with technology, active learning, teaching ideas.

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