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Collaborative Case Study with VoiceThread in an Online Environment
Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) (2013)
  • Yu-Hui Ching, Boise State University
  • Yu-Chang Hsu, Boise State University


Collaborative learning has been widely used as an active learning strategy that engages learner interaction and idea exchange to develop shared meaning through solving common problems (Stahl, Koschmann, & Suthers, 2006). In an online learning environment, collaborative learning allows social presence among participants and helps motivate and sustain learning. However, collaboration and communication online can be difficult due to lacking face-to-face interaction or immediate access to the collaborators. In the past, asynchronous discussion forums featuring text-based discussion have been extensively used as a means for online collaboration where learners exchange ideas and provide feedback. However, text-based discussions present barriers for students who are poor typists (Girasoli & Hannafin, 2008) or students who have weak reading or writing skills (Bowe, 2002). Students may also limit their contribution in the discussions because constructing a post to communicate complex concepts takes too much time (An & Frick, 2006; Hew & Hara, 2007). Without verbal cues, text-based discussions may also increase the risk of misunderstanding among discussants (Hew & Hara, 2007).

As technology has advanced in the recent years, audio-based asynchronous discussion has been available for educational uses and it seem to have the potential to overcome the barriers identified above. Girasoli and Hannafin (2008) suggested that audio-based asynchronous discussion have the potential to enhance discussion in a more coherent and understandable way because the afforded inflections and expressions. Hew and Cheung (2013) conducted a study to explored Asian post-secondary student perception of audio-based discussion and identified six perceived affordances compared to text-based ones. For example, they found audio discussion permits participants to be more expressive, able to detect emotions and understand someone better. It also provides a more realistic environment that encourages participation and affords spontaneity that ensures originality of ideas. Interestingly, students reported that they actually preferred to use text discussion if given a choice because text-based discussion allows more time to structure responses and is more convenient to use. Students were also found to be self-conscious of how one sounds in the audio, which prevents them from choosing audio as the preferred medium. While Hew and Cheung (2013) study reveals student preferences on text-based discussion despite the benefits of using audio-based discussion, their study context was conducted in a face-to-face learning environment. Audio discussion may be particularly useful in fully online environments where there is no face-to-face contact among students or between students and instructors as suggested by Hew and Cheung (2013).

VoiceThread, a web-based application featuring audio and video comment sharing can be used for audio-based discussion that may help alleviate the barrier of online collaboration. It allows collaborators to comment on group video clips, images (e.g., flow charts and concept maps), or presentations in live audio conversation, text, audio files, video, and drawings. With the assistance of these multimedia artifacts, learners can build and refine individual as well as their group understanding of the learning materials (Hsu, Ching, & Grabowski, 2013). Augustsson (2010) investigated collaborative social interaction when using VoiceThread in a university course. He found that the use of VoiceThread supported the collaboration processes as it revealed students’ individual efforts, allowed the creation of “task ownership” for students, and strengthened students’ identification with the group.

Considering its pedagogical affordance, VoiceThread may assist the process of providing formative feedback on peer work prior to formal assessment as it has the capability of posting asynchronous written/audio/video comments (Burden & Atkinson, 2008). Peer feedback refers to a communication process through which learners discuss the strength and weakness of peers’ work with the purpose to improve learning and performance (Liu & Carless, 2006). Using audio and video comments, learners may feel more engaged in the discussion and provide more frequent and useful feedback to their peers, which in turn, facilitate and deepen learning.

Research Purpose

This study aims to understand learners’ experiences of using VoiceThread to provide peer feedback during a collaborative case study activity in an online learning environment. Specifically, the study will answer three research questions: 1) How do learners use different features of VoiceThread to interact with their peers when they work on a collaborative case study assignment? 2) How do audio and video interactions promote or hinder the quality and engagement of peer feedback activity during the collaborative case study? 3) How can the collaborative learning task be better designed to enhance peer interaction and deep learning of the subject?

Research Method

Study Context: This collaborative case study activity will be implemented in March 2013 in the context of an online master’s level course in a northwestern state university in the United States. The subject matter of this course is Instructional Design, one of the core courses students are required to take in the Educational Technology master’s degree program. Most of the enrolled learners are K-12 school teachers, with some college instructors, technology coordinators, and instructional designers.

Learning Activity: Students will participate in a case study activity that requires them to analyze an instructional design (ID) case of their choice. Three ID cases representing scenarios in different contexts will be provided and student can choose a case relevant to their professional contexts to work on. After individually analyzing the case, students will create a video presentation to showcase their analysis and post the presentation to VoiceThread for peer feedback. Each individual is asked to provide feedback to at least three peers, and specifically, take on a role of a stakeholder in the selected ID case to comment on the analysis. After receiving peer feedback, students will modify their original analysis and submit it for grading. The whole activity will take one month to complete it.

Data Collection: This mixed-method study will collect quantitative and qualitative data to answer the aforementioned research questions. The quantitative data to be collected include the numbers of different forms of feedback (written/audio/video). The qualitative data will be collected through a survey on student perception regarding the benefits of VoiceThread, their experiences of providing audio/video based feedback and preference of using VoiceThread. Students’ feedback in different forms will also be analyzed to determine the feedback quality. Content analysis will be used to analyze the qualitative data.


Findings will be reported and instructional design implications will be discussed during our presentation.

Publication Date
November 2, 2013
Citation Information
Yu-Hui Ching and Yu-Chang Hsu. "Collaborative Case Study with VoiceThread in an Online Environment" Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) (2013)
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