Instructors Embrace Voice Technology to Better Student Engagement

(Getty Images)

When Dr. Sharon Lauricella, a professor in the department of Social Science and Humanities at Ontario Tech University, embraced voice technology this past winter, she had no idea that it would be such a game changer in the faculty-student relationship and make such an impact on student engagement.

Dr. Lauricella started using Mote—a Chrome extension that allows anyone to add voice notes and feedback to documents, assignments and emails. It has helped tremendously in her online, asynchronous undergraduate course, and found that her students appreciated this tech addition to the feedback that she gives in the senior-level class.

When Dr. Lauricella first learned about Mote, she was looking for a better way to give detailed feedback to students without having to post a letter grade. She had adopted a gradeless policy in an effort to increase motivation amongst students.

Fierce Education Virtual Event

Higher Education: Technology- Profiles in Success, Fall

Thursday, October 21 @ 1pm EST to 4:30 pm EST

Higher education institutions have had to accelerate their technology usage and investments to better engage students, ensure accessibility, and to more effectively assess knowledge and progress, while keeping their data secure.

This half-day, virtual event will showcase essential ways universities and colleges can embrace technology effectively to improve the student experience in this new blended learning world and address how the decision-making process needs be fast and inclusive to meet market demands.

“Students have found that this policy significantly reduces stress and allows them to learn for their own sake rather than just for a grade,” she said.

However, since Lauricella removed grades, it was even more important to provide her students with constructive and encouraging feedback.

Previously she had given written feedback through GoogleSuite – making editing suggestions and providing comments on their submissions. She found this solution to be a bit one-dimensional and students could misinterpret comments as overly critical. So, Dr. Lauricella wanted a way to be more emotive with her support.

And she found that by using Mote, she can express the correct tone in her comments

“I wanted students to know me as someone who sincerely cares about their progress and success, and that connection is more possible when they hear my voice and get an added layer of support,” she said.

While Dr. Lauricella said there were no initial challenges to installing and using Mote, she is still trying to figure out what is the preferred balance between written and verbal feedback for her students. By using Mote, Lauricella provides voice notes and a transcription of the voice notes so that students get both delivery methods. 

“They can then re-read the transcription of my comments and/or replay the voice note if they like,” she said. “Motes don’t expire either, so students have a permanent audio note and written transcript to which they can refer anytime.”

Dr. Lauricella said that the technology has helped her to better connect with students and helped them feel more empowered. She likes that if a student’s work is outstanding, a voice note can convey her enthusiasm even more clearly than a glowing written comment. By contrast, if a student’s work needs improvement, she can use a more emotive voice note that not only gives students advice, but also indicates care and support. 

“Many students think of professors as unapproachable or intimidating – that’s totally not my style,” Dr. Lauricella said. “I find that reaching out to students and showing my authenticity in a Mote really breaks down the barriers between myself and students, and it indicates my accessibility as an instructor.”

Dr. Lauricella was surprised by how much students appreciated the personal connection as well. 

“I think that this is particularly important during pandemic times because many students feel isolated from campus or classrooms. The Mote voice note simply feels more personal and unique,” she said.

This spring, Dr. Lauricella is teaching an online undergraduate course, so she has never met any of the students in this course face-to-face. In their first assignment, she provided written comments, together with a 60-second Mote voice note. One student emailed Lauricella that while she appreciated the written comments, the Mote helped her the most because she struggles with anxiety.

“Hearing comments in my own voice (rather than the ‘sometimes mean,’ imaginary voice in her head) made a difference.” 

In fact, the student explained that online learning has further complicated the interpretation of feedback from professors because there is not an opportunity to build an in-person rapport. 

“Given that this student is a self-professed overthinker and tends to be self-critical, hearing my voice gave her a fuller sense of my intent to help her improve and my friendly demeanor, ”Dr. Lauricella said. “Overall, Mote can defuse potential misinterpretations and can help facilitate a level of familiarity between students and faculty in circumstances such as online delivery, remote learning, large classes, or of course, pandemic life.”

Dr. Lauricella said that she will continue to use Mote after the pandemic because creating clear communication between faculty and students is always beneficial.  

Mote is also faculty friendly in two ways: First, it lends a personalization to the student experience that is hard to obtain as universities switch to more online teaching and learning. Second, the interface is user-friendly in that faculty click to record and insert, and all students need to do is click once to hear the Mote.  

Ontario Tech University provides GoogleSuite to all students and faculty, so Dr. Lauricella still uses this space for submitting work. Then she uses Mote with Docs, Sheets, Slides, Gmail, and even pdfs to provide feedback.

Mote now has 1 million users and recently celebrated its one-year anniversary with a $2 million seed round (led by Craft Ventures). The funding will help the startup scale operations and expand its technology platform with additional features and functionality.

More than 10,000 schools in 170 countries and across all 50 U.S. states have implemented Mote’s technology. Software developers, graphic designers, writers, sales teams, customer experience teams, HR managers and more are also finding innovative use cases for Mote.

“Sometimes expressing our ideas clearly in an email is really hard,” said Mote Co-Founder and CEO Will Jackson. “Voice messaging is a beautifully simple way to convey what we really mean and make a human connection. We’re really excited to see how our amazing educator community embraces voice messaging in email, and we also hope it will help introduce Mote to new communities.”