Saturday, May 5, 2012

Time to Talk [Lesson Idea]: Classroom Conversations with Voki

*Special thanks to Marde at Mardie's Muse for introducing me to Voki a couple of years ago.

Students in my Communication 1101 class, part of the Early College Program at Idaho State University, are required to incorporate two stylistic devices into their Persuasive Presentations.

While some have had experience identifying the devices in the rhetoric of written discourse, but actually composing stylistic devices represents a shift for these students.

To assist student learning of the stylistic devices, I use Voki and resources at American Rhetoric. The American Rhetoric site offers audio and visual examples of many stylistic devices from historical speeches, radio broadcasts, movies, and television. Look for "Rhetorical Figures in Sound."

I give students instructions for creating their Vokis in two formats. One is with my own Voki so that they hear the instructions. The second is with written instructions that appear below the instructional Voki. What follows is my first attempt at using Voki two years ago.

Student instructions:

1. Name and define a stylistic device.

2. Compose an original example of the device.

3. Create a Voki Avatar at

4. Choose a recording option: text to speech or phone it in.

5. Record your Voki.

6. Share your Voki with me via email.

7. Present your Voki in class.

After the students have create the Vokis, we post them on Moodle, which allows students access to them for review.

Student Vokis:

I first gave the Voki assignment in May 2012, and I incorporated it into my Persuasive Speaking unit this summer while teaching Communication 1101 at ISU's Upward Bound program.

Students have graciously consented to my sharing their Vokis, so here are a few examples that use the text-to-speech feature. Another option is for students to record their voices, which I did for the Voki above.

Litote by Jessenia

Anaphor by Mileena

Epistrophe by Maria

Anastrophe by Austyn R.

I would like to have embedded the student Voki's into this post, but I have not found a way to embed multiple Vokis. At present, linking is my best option.

Benefits of Using Voki:

Of course, before using any tech tool, it's important to consider what you want to accomplish with the tool. How will the tool improve student learning? How will the teacher use the technology to meet the lesson's objectives? Is the time it takes for students to learn and implement the technology worth the investment?

Since I'm concerned with both written and verbal discourse, finding ways to get reticent students to speak up is close to the top of my priority list. That makes Voki an excellent option for me.

  • It allows students to demonstrate their learning and test their stylistic devices in an informal setting. I encouraged students to create Vokis for the actual stylistic devices they planned to incorporate into their speeches. I also asked students to choose a device that's difficult to them. 
  • Voki reinforces classroom instruction. We had already spent time studying the devices in a lecture/discussion setting. Review is necessary to learning, and the student Voki's offered that review. 
  • It's fun! A little levity is vital to student learning. When students see I value fun and that learning can be fun, they're more likely to relax and enjoy the difficult task of writing in new ways, and the result is that they speak with authority via their Vokis.
  • Voki is about both speaking and listening. When we watch the Vokis in class and have difficulty understanding the Voki, the creator must then clarify the information presented. Thus, I am able to reinforce the messages about clarity of speech and accuracy of information we have talked about so frequently throughout the course. Getting students to fix a Voki that doesn't work is easy as they want their classmates to view their Vokis positively. 
  • The Vokis live in perpetuity on MOODLE. There they do their job of being available for student review. What could be better than that!
Stylistic Devices: 

Here's a list of the stylistic devices students are required to learn in my Comm 1101 class:

Rhetorical Question

Teaching Ideas:

Although this post is about using Voki in a speech communication class, Voki has many other classroom applications. Here are a few ideas:

1. In multigenre inquiry projects
2. As a way to promote participation in class discussions.
3. As a way for teachers to give instructions or reinforce a concept, particularly for absent students.
4. As a lecture students view in a flipped classroom setting.
5. Etc. I'm sure these ideas only begin to touch on the possibilities.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Seeing Red: Check Out the Billboard: Fashion Designer Kenneth Cole Lacks Ethos Regarding Education Policy

(Title change 4-30 to better reflect the content of this post)
"In my 31 years of teaching, I've seen the efforts of teachers to reinforce the rules of standard English usage and correct spelling undermined by advertisers repeatedly. Arguably, advertising burrows into a student's mind via reinforcement over long periods of time, yet Kenneth Cole, et al. continue to blame only (hasty generalization intended) teachers when students don't learn.

I posted my initial reaction to designer Kenneth Cole's billboard promoting misspelling red for read.  

The Gotham Schools blog reads the billboard as the latest jab at teacher's unions. I, however, read the billboard as an ironic commentary from those who undermine education and the efforts of hard-working teachers to teach the very concepts folks such as Kenneth Cole admonish us for not teaching. Rather than reinforcing standard usage, the billboard promotes its opposite. 

Yes, I get the play on words and appreciate its cleverness, but business can't have it both ways. I don't accept their twisting and manipulation of language to sell products and ideas on the one hand and excuse the impact of this among John Q Public on the other hand. 

In small print, the billboard poses a question: "SHOULD UNDERPERFORMING TEACHERS BE PROTECTED?" and is followed by an invitation to visit the Where Do You Stand website. 

Classic argument fallacies brim from the billboard. The question is based on a false premise: Underperforming teachers are protected. The question reduces the issue of education quality to an either/or fallacy. Cause/effect fallacies abound in the ad, which is typical of advertising and helps explain why it's so effective. 


As do the vast majority of teachers, I stand on the side of academics. I stand against those who fancy themselves education experts simply because they have the money to erect a billboard in New York City or spent time sitting in a student desk. I stand on the side of responsible use of power, including the power vested in language, whether on a billboard, in a blog, or behind the closed doors of policy makers who have closed those doors to teachers such as myself. Most importantly, I stand for students and against those who undermine their futures. 

The billboard clearly articulates where Kenneth Cole and his ilk stand: Far away from students and far away from education. It makes me see red.