Bill Ferriter at the Tempered Radical has set up a demo VoiceThread on overcoming cultural divisions in schools. I've been checking it out and, well, things may be worse than I thought.
1. The beauty of online text conversations is largely lost. Speech is far more difficult to search through and has no title, so instead of being able to quickly hone in on what you are interested in, you have to listen through whole texts.
2. The speed of reading is lost. One is quickly reminded of how fast the average netizen can read, compared to speaking speed. It just takes so long to listen to all this stuff. Combined with point 1, this quickly makes VoiceThreads unbearable.
3. The quality of writing is lost. Most of us write far more sloppily online, but still, there is a moment of editing, at least. Modern tools make it quick for us to rearrange, edit, root out that sentence that on second thought made no sense, etc. Modern recording techniques (even just Audacity) can do the same for the spoken word, but VoiceThread seems to encourage spontaneous speech: poorly structured, wandering, low information density. The quality of the contributions on the Transforming School Culture thread, for example, is far below what one would expect on an equivalent forum or blog comment roll.
4. The power of the spoken word is lost. If speech is so slow compared to reading, why do we so often get information through speech? Well, speech is easier because it requires no medium. Formal settings like lectures can compete with reading because we like the connection to a living person. The speaker's body language, movement, presence and so on can underline the message and help impress it on us. All this is lost in VoiceThread, so we have the disadvantages of speech without the advantages.
5. VoiceThread has some real multimedia potential.
- One clue seems to be to avoid recording your voice unless there is some special reason for it, but simply writing comments. Faster for the viewer, and easier to judge relevance. The combination makes for a richer feel, also.
- Slides with writing can be fine, but don't add voice explaining it, as this feels both insulting and bores the viewer before we get started.
- Pictures and videos make excellent centrepieces and starting points for conversations.
In this particular example, Bill Ferriter has included a recording interpreting each video or quote. It's quite the turn-off as it is unnecessary (everyone could just read the quote or watch the video) and takes up space. These are always first, as well. No insult if you're reading this, Bill, it's just this sort of public trail-and-error that we need to learn from each other. Thanks.
The good thing about VoiceThread of course, is that once you have got the picture, you can simply skip Mr. Ferriter's comments and dig deeper into the conversation.
So, next year, I'm going to take three similar topics and set up one as a text-only conversation, one as text with links and pictures and one as a VoiceThread. Afterwards, I'll get the students to compare. How do content and format interact?
...and, well, you can google the rest...