Vocat grew out of a simple pedagogical question: how do we use video to help students learn to speak and present more clearly? For years at Baruch College, instructors recorded video of students preparing for oral presentations or debates, then watched the videos with the students pointing out a posture issue here, a projection problem there, all while commenting on the content and form of their presentation.
As the creation and sharing of video content became easier, the utility of Vocat expanded. When the redeveloped version launched in 2014, students could upload video, audio, and still images themselves, and instructors could provide feedback from any web browser. Faculty and staff have used it for diagnostic assessments of English Language Learners, to facilitate student analysis of well-known speeches, and as a space for students to perform interpretive readings of Shakespeare. Colleagues at the CUNY School of Law have used to to help first year law students refine their oral arguments, and at York College music faculty have had students post performance and original compositions to the tool.
Every media artifact that goes into Vocat becomes the foundation for discussion and dialogue. Evaluators can zoom into a moment in a video or audio file, or highlight a pixel in an image file, and discuss it with students. Evaluators can zoom out to the project level for more global feedback, while also tracking activity at the course or program level.
Openness is key to Vocat’s identity and utility, and the code is now freely available. Not only is it an open source project that anyone is free to fork and integrate with their own systems, it is also built in dialogue with committed teachers who guided and shaped its development. This process is at the heart of the open pedagogy that has distinguished teaching and learning at the City University of New York for well over a decade, and will continue to guide the development of Vocat and other open source digital teaching and learning tools.
Zach Davis, Cast Iron Coding, Lead Developer.
Luke Waltzer, Teaching and Learning Center, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, Project Co-Director.
Allison Lehr-Samuels, Center for Teaching and Learning, Baruch College, City University of New York, Project Co-Director.
Craig Stone, Center for Teaching and Learning, Baruch College, City University of New York, Project Manager.
Mikhail Gershovich, Emerson College-LA, Project Advisor, Development and Sharing.
Vocat was first created at the Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute at Baruch College, CUNY in 2006 to assess how students developed as public speakers in their classes and the overall success of Communication Intensive Courses (CICs) at Baruch. Developed by Cast Iron Coding of Portland, Oregon in the open source TYPO3 platform, Vocat saw heavy use at Baruch, especially in introductory theater courses and in the required introductory speech course. Over the next several years, Vocat became more and more popular with teachers interested in working with video recordings of student performance. Vocat offered an easy, user-friendly means of providing both qualitative and quantitative feedback on student work and was quickly adopted in a wide range of courses at Baruch including those in accountancy, finance, writing, and business communication courses.
The original version of Vocat was used by over 20,000 Baruch students in 40 different courses between launch in 2006 and the full redevelopment of the tool that began in 2013 with generous funding from Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business and alumnus Walter Barandiaran (BBA, 1979). Vocat 3.0 is now supported at Baruch College by the Center for Teaching and Learning.