This is a guest post by professor of Law & Ethics and VoiceThreader, Matthew Phillips.
Today was the first day of classes for my university, but it was also a snow day. I drove into work anyway, in part because I’m just that stubborn and in part because I wanted to be ready for my classes, which were having their first meetings tomorrow (what was to be the second day of school). By the time I got to campus, it was clear that we would be experiencing a delay (at best) for the second day of classes too.
I’ve used VoiceThread as a just-in-time snow day solution before, but this was a bit more complex because it would be covering my first meeting with students. There was also the possibility that only some of my classes would be canceled, so the virtual session would need to match up well with the in-class experience that students would have in afternoon classes.
Here are some of the highlights of my approach to this VoiceThread project:
- Invest in the introduction: I wanted students to have a clear introduction to me as an instructor, so I taped an introduction with my iPhone (and a good mic with extension cable). I did some quick editing in Camtasia before uploading to VoiceThread, but I could have easily uploaded the file directly to VoiceThread after trimming with the iPhone’s native tools.
- Tell students why this is good for them: I’m sure students would prefer not to have any snow day work, but that would create an awkward beginning to the semester. I tried to outline exactly why I created this virtual class session (so that they’d understand the course framework before they needed to master next week’s readings), and to be upfront about the fact that I like snow days too, but their learning outcomes drove me to take this extra step.
- Adjust for the medium: VoiceThread is great for sessions like my introductory class—lecture with supporting slides—but it’s still different than being in person with students. I usually try to inspire students a little about the power of openness and curiosity with regard to my discipline, and I also usually push a little when talking about participation and use of electronic devices in class. I dropped those parts of my introduction because I’d rather do those things when I can see their reactions and adjust tone and content accordingly.
- Invite comments specifically and provide instructions: I know some students won’t have used VoiceThread before my class, so I specifically invite comments, and I use a text-based comment to mention that the option exists, because I don’t necessarily want a dozen students adding video comments in this context (though that’s a great VoiceThread feature!).
- Be careful about lighting and angles: It’s not hard to get the camera—even a laptop webcam—aimed properly and to get lighting to work to your advantage. I put my computer on a stack of books so that the camera is at my eye level (avoiding the “up-the-nose” angle that’s so common with webcams. I also turn my desk lamp so that it’s shining at my face from just beside the computer so that my face is not dark and doesn’t have bad shadows. Those may seem like shallow issues, but they communicate your investment to students: I need them to know I took this seriously so that they will too.
Good luck! Stay safe, warm, and on track with your syllabus in the new year.
About the Author:
Matthew Phillips is the John Hendley Fellow and an associate teaching professor of law & ethics at the Wake Forest University School of Business and the director of Wake Forest’s BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism. Phillips has won teaching awards from Wake Forest and from the international Academy of Legal Studies in Business. You can find him on twitter at @mtppilot and you can find his school at @wakeforestbiz.