Online Voice Recording Thoughts

Voxopop or Voicethread

I ended up using voxopop mainly for cost reasons. Voicethread only allows three free discussions. Otherwise the costs are quite high. That said,  I do like the way you can have a central picture (or even video) in voicethread,  that you can embed discussions, and that the overall outlook is slightly better. However, voxopop is free and you can have unlimited discussions. Perhaps it is also easier to use, although now I am more used to using it. I do understand that expecting good things to be free is unsustainable, but for now, especially as I am unfunded, I am using voxopop.

Using Voxopop

I first used voxopop in semester 1, 2010-2011. While I was able to use it, it was all a little confusing and I ended up with extra talkgroups.  Now I realise that for each class you need to create a talkgroup, and then you can have discussions in that talkgroup.  So, this semester,  I have two talkgroups, one for ELEP news and one for the PRLT course, ELC3203. I have three ELEP News classes and four ELC3203 classes. You could set it up so that each class has its own talkgroup, but having them use the same talkgroup has worked ok so far.

My Introductions

The first time I made recordings, I could really emphasize with students as I made a series of false starts, saying things by mistake or forgetting to say other things. I want to sound natural, so I avoid writing a script, instead just writing a number of key points and taking from them. Basically I introduce the discussion topic, tell students to say their name, keep their posts to under one minute in length, and to listen and reply to each other. I tell students to say their name to help the discussion element- if you know who said something you can say whether you agree or disagree with them. The time limit is there to keep the discussion moving, although there is no penalty if students record for longer. The time limit also helps if you give feedback.  I first used voxopop in semester 1 2010-2011 and students were basically just giving their comment without responding to each other. I wanted the discussion to have more interaction so I gave the instruction of replying to each other.

Student Use

I used it with ELC3203 in one week early in the semester (week 2 I think). I recorded four new discussions for each class, but classes later in the week could also participate in existing discussions. Each class had around 50 minutes in a computer lab. They had to first create an account and then join the ELC3203 talkgroup. The first class, on a Tuesday, registered fine, but were then quite shy about being the first  to start a discussion. Once one student had recorded and saved, they were then more enthusiastic about using the system. Subsequent classes were more forthcoming – I think perhaps because they could already see that many students had participated before them.

With ELEP news, I record one weekly introduction, and then students discuss whichever news interests them. I don’t want to dictate to students what they record, so I leave it open as to which of the stories they give their opinions about. This means that there is less interaction in the discussion group though, as students could be talking about different stories. This is something I need to work on – maybe get students to record twice – once giving their opinion and the second time responding to another.

Popular Discussions

University Exchange 20 posts

Asian Games (should be held in HK?) 26 posts

Education level / career link 30 posts

Women working /men at home 33 posts

web based learning 27 posts

MPF / Health fund / Elderly people all had under 10 postings.

The popularity might be partly due to the time the discussion started (early or late in the week). As might be expected, discussions that are more relevant to their lives are more popular. However, in the assessment they do not have any choice in discussion and it could be something dry like financial planning for retirement!

Out of Class Use

Almost none at all.  For ELC3203 we first used in class time for a 50 minute session. Students were encouraged to use it out of class. An extra discussion was posted about tour guides (a popular current issue in Hong Kong) but it attracted no participants.  For ELEP news, again the vast majority of recordings are during class time.  Possible reasons for this include: English having a very low priority among university students  – they attend class but do not do much else;  students are unwilling to be the first to post on the new discussion; lack of a microphone at home; lack of a quiet environment to record in (note that currently the computers in CILL do not have the updated software to run voxopop).

Student feedback

Students participated which was encouraging, but not out of class, which was disappointing. I got feedback from one student (about comments from another student) saying he really likes it, as talking to a computer is much easier than talking in a group – less self conscious. I had not thought of this beforehand. I would have guessed the opposite – students would prefer talking face to face in a group.

Technical Problems

The voxopop website was down once, for around 20 minutes, for just one of the sessions when I was using it with ELC3203. Once it came back online, it worked ok. I suppose it might have gone down because too many people were using it. Besides that incident it has worked well. I remember a few years ago using sites such as wikispaces and blogger and having no end of problems, so in general I was very satisfied (especially as I don’t think the site has much funding).

Generally a recording is saved very quickly – taking just a few seconds. If the saving % stays at 0%, then there is a problem and the recording has been lost. Students need to refresh the page and start again (another reason not to have a long recording!). To save, you need to click the stop button, and then save, I think there might be problems if the pause button is clicked instead of stop.

Discussing rather than mini presentations

This was an aim compared to last semester. I need to listen and check.

Recommendations if using for first time

  • Under Admin/Edit for the talkgroup, switch from restricted to open and back again to make student joining easy.
  • If you have multiple classes, recording four discussions for the first class but then two new ones for each subsequent class will reduce your workload.
  • Test first-make sure you have the right version of Java on your computer / in computer lab. I use with Firefox, but IE should be ok as well (if up to date version).
  • I think for the first time, having students in a computer lab will get it started better. I am open to suggestions for getting students to use it for further out of class use. In a school setting where homework could be set, it might be easier, but for adult /university level learners (less motivated), it can be a problem.
  • Be aware that not all students will first have a microphone at home, or second have a quiet environment in which to record.  Fairly fast connection speeds are needed, but not as fast as for videos. If self learning areas with computers can be made available, this would be a bonus.

Use of audioboo

Audioboo is wonderful. How long will it last though? Going back to my earlier point, how can we expect to have these fantastic things available free of charge. Unlimited recordings (with a 5 minute length limit; fine by me) which can be recorded easily online and then embedded. Private voice messages as well. Really good and highly recommended.

It was used first last semester in a new course – ELC2603.  Students had an out of class reading requirement, and as part of the reading, they had to record a summary of the article and then share the summary on the blog.  It worked ok, although it is quite tough for some students. It looks like it might be used in a new course which nearly all first year students will take.

I also used it in ELEP News last semester, and this semester I plan to use it in most weeks with students recording a summary of the new article they read / viewed and then posting it on their blog. While in normal lessons, it is just some extra speaking practice, in the ELEP News Online version, the idea is that students will ‘share’ their stories by sharing their audio summaries.  The jury is still out on this though.

Giving Feedback

If a student gives me written work,  giving feedback is fairly straightforward. I can look for grammar, vocabulary, organisation and style errors, as well as at the content.  I would probably give written feedback. What about for audio recordings of student work? As well as the feedback for the above aspects, there would also be pronunciation, fluency and intonation problems. While for a written piece of work it is easy for me to scan through it identifying errors, for a spoken recording I’d need to pause and stop – perhaps a one minute recording would take me five minutes to listen to (another reason to keep student recordings short). Then, what medium do I use to give feedback – spoken or written. It is easier to correct pronunciation errors using recorded feedback, but the time it takes to make a recording can be much longer given the number of false starts you make. Self feedback is one option; peer feedback another; but students do expect, and perhaps rightly so,  personal feedback from their teacher. And what type of feedback do students prefer?


A word for vocaroo, because it was vocaroo that got me started on all of this. It is still a good site to use, but as they clearly state, it is only for fun. Recordings are now only kept for 6 months, and when a strong student has recorded a nice piece about university misdemeanors, and it is lost when you go back a year later to find it, you end up looking for more reliable  sites.  I still use vocaroo for one thing – they have a recording button that you can embed in a website. I have then used it for interview question practice. Embed doesn’t work on wordpress though.