A small-scale study into the use of Flipgrid for Fostering Peer Community in an Online Classroom
The purpose of this action research study is to create an inclusive and social learning community through the use of Flipgrid and to explore its effects on peer interaction and social presence.
Despite tireless efforts to continue teaching and learning effectively, student attrition was high after moving to online learning during the first wave of Covid-19. Those learners who did continue with their course felt isolated without their usual face-to-face lessons (AONTAS, 2020).
Context and background to the research
As a Health Care Teacher in the Further Education and Training (FET) sector of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB), my role involves teaching adults Health Service Skills at level 5 of the Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) framework. For the context of this study, I will be focusing on a group of mature students who were completing the Palliative Care Support module of the programme. Like many educators around the world, I have been teaching the group remotely from home as all learning in the FET Centre moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Microsoft Office 365 as a Learning Management System (LMS) and Moodle as a virtual Learning Environment (VLE) are employed for teaching and learning. The learners appear to be confident in using this technology, and our lessons took place synchronously using Microsoft Teams.
The Irish National Adult Learning Organisation (AONTAS) published a report in July 2020, which was developed from findings gathered through a FET COVID-19 learner consultation. The results of the report found that isolation and the absence of community was a common theme when students were learning online. One learner explained about learning more from class discussions and social interaction than anything else. The learner found the interaction was part of the learning and needed to continue somehow. Another learner reported that they missed learning from each other and not just from the tutor, learning from everyone's experiences. (AONTAS, 2020, p. 66). Findings from the report pointed to how learners missed the social interactions and exchanges that were facilitated in face-to-face classroom settings. Similar observations were noted by my level five class. A question was presented to the class during our first online lesson using the live polling tool, Mentimeter. The question asked was, 'What do you miss most about attending face-to-face lessons?'
Figure 1. Pre-online Course Mentimeter Question
Figure 1 shows that the students missed the interaction. The social learning aspects of the face-to-face classroom were dissipated when we suddenly moved to remote learning earlier in the year. Before Covid-19, incidental learning also took place in the Centre's corridors and canteens where students would meet and socialise at break times. These meeting places can no longer be accessed. Such barriers of remote learning can lead to isolation (Forester, 1989; Gurjar, 2020)
This study aims to explore the use of Flipgrid to foster a collaborative, inclusive and social learning environment as a way to help alleviate feelings of isolation during online learning.
Flipgrid is an asynchronous video discussion platform where the students respond to a topic posted by the teacher. Students can have online discussions using videos, allowing them to quickly engage in a recorded conversation with other members of the class. The teacher can choose a video length between 15 seconds and 10 minutes for students' responses. The videos can be used for assessment with an incorporated rubric and also for informal topics such as introductions.
Figure 2. Example of the Teacher's Group page in Flipgrid
Each group represents a class or a course, as seen in figure two. Discussion topics are posted to the group.
Figure 3. View of a Topic in the Educator Dashboard
The educator dashboard is where the teacher can moderate videos to ensure appropriateness and quality before posting to the grid.
Figure 4. A Student's View of Flipgrid
As shown in figure 4, students react and comment on other students' videos, similar to social media sites.
Axiology - aims and research rationale
My motivation for carrying out this research is driven by my values of inclusive and collaborative education and also my interest in online social learning. These passions are heightened, given the unprecedented closure of all educational institutions due to Covid-19. Online learning has become the core resource of all educational establishments as a way to reach learners safely. I believe that no student should be disadvantaged by the new situation in which we have found ourselves. Traditionally, in my face-to-face lessons, the students help and support one another whilst evolving together by learning from, and with their peers. I hoped to recreate this sense of connectedness in my online classroom while gaining the student's perspectives of the experience.
I believe in the meaningful use of educational technology in the classroom - that it's not merely 'tech for the sake of tech'. I believe in driving inclusive classroom practices and making learning accessible to all. I appreciate the digital tools that enable me to cater for the diverse range of learners that I have; the students who are struggling and the students who are excelling. I value technologies that encourage and facilitate active teaching and learning.
I hope to foster a greater sense of community amongst the students by facilitating collaboration through the use of Flipgrid, while also promoting the enjoyment of teaching and learning. For this research, I will focus on the following questions:
- How does the use of Flipgrid affect peer interaction?
- Does Flipgrid help in promoting a social learning environment?
- Does Flipgrid foster an inclusive place for learning?
Critical review of the literature
Isolation in the online classroom
Online courses have been plagued with high dropout rates, which have been attributed to feelings of isolation and disconnection among students due to distance learning (Phirangee & Malec 2017). Working from home without a social network or community can be lonely and unproductive for many people. In Forester's paper (1989), the findings show there were psychological reasons why people do not want to work from home. Although this is an old paper, it is a theme worth revisiting as it is relevant to what is happening today. Forester argues that the levels of psychological problems from working from home are seriously underestimated with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a growing desire to "escape the same four walls" (Forester, 1989, p.9).
Furthermore, Serembus and Murphy (2020) found that the main reason for attrition is a lack of student engagement that can lead to feelings of isolation. Students are likely to have negative experiences of alienation and isolation because of their physical separation from other learners (Wei et al., 2012). These findings reflect how many FET students felt during online learning earlier this year when digital learning was described as lonely and impersonal (AONTAS, 2020).
Brown and Duguid (2017) draw an analogy between the homeworker and a deep-sea diver, “The deeper a diver works alone beneath the ocean, the sturdier the connections to the surface must be” (p. 83). Thus, pointing out that for people to be able to work alone, technology may have to reinforce their access to social networks. By creating online social interaction and social presence, feelings of isolation and alienation can be reduced (Wei et al., 2012). This theme will be discussed below.
Flipgrid in supporting interaction and social presence in an online social learning environment
Social Learning is an environment of connecting and learning where we join with other people to make sense of the ideas in the world around us. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory (SLT) espouses that people learn behaviour from their environment through observation, imitation, and modelling, with the emphasis that behaviours result from both the social interaction of people and their environments (Bandura, 1977).
According to Stoszkowski (2018), Flipgrid is a handy tool in facilitating social learning as it encourages direct peer interaction and collaborative discussion. Furthermore, Spencer (2015) presents a perspective of Bandura's (1977) key principles of Social Learning Theory (SLT) that she believes can be applied in a virtual learning context. Spencer (2015) posits that observational learning can be recreated in the virtual classroom using video and audio to demonstrate and verbally describe a task physically. Similarly, imitation and modelling are recreated through attaching context, emotional connection and storytelling to make learning memorable, therefore retaining the information. Furthermore, Gurjar (2020) emphasises that one of the ways to facilitate social learning is to integrate video-based technologies to create meaningful social presence.
Serembus and Murphy (2020), suggest that Flipgrid video discussions incorporate social presence and increase student engagement while promoting authentic collaboration. Similarly, Gurjar (2020) states that asynchronous video discussions create social presence by not only having the human connection but also bringing in multimodality with visual, audio, and text. The evidence highlights the importance of social interaction and social presence for effective eLearning while identifying that asynchronous video discussion can be applied to the social learning paradigm.
Video discussion platforms in promoting social connectedness and a sense of community
Students who feel a sense of connectedness and community, rather than isolation, are more likely to become actively involved with course learning and experience real world success (Young & Bruce, 2011). Encouraging a strong sense of community among students in online courses is seen as essential in supporting students' learning experiences. According to Meyers (2008), with thoughtful care from the instructor, virtual classrooms can become engaging and enhance a sense of community amongst learners.
Similarly, Kannan and Munday (2017) found that using Flipgrid simulated face-to-face interaction and created the group cohesion that is often lacking in written conversations. Students who participated observed that because they exchanged ideas, they got to know each other better, and this improved their learning. The video medium gave students a chance to express their personality, visually display their non-verbal cues, and build social connectedness. Likewise, Agan et al. (2019) found that Flipgrid enhanced communication, learning experiences and outcomes for students whilst reporting that the technology helped to create a ‘warmer online environment’ (p. 37).
Furthermore, Gurjar (2020) observed conversation amongst a group of mature students that was generated by Flipgrid. The sharing of personal stories resembling an in-person conversation evoked deeply seated emotions reflective of open communication and group cohesion. The authors point out that there is a distinct lack of research focused on the use of video-based discussions in asynchronous online environments, and very little research has been conducted on students' perceptions of using Flipgrid.
Approach to the research
The design for the research was a mixed-method approach. Both qualitative and quantitative data was collected, analysed and interpreted to gain an insight into participants’ experiences, perceptions and activity.
Participants and Setting
The population for this action research consists of 7 mature Healthcare students in level 5 of the Further Education and Training Sector (FET). All participants are female and based within the local community. Five students are early school leavers, and two students have English as their second language. Six students are parents, and two students also work in the health sector whilst studying.
Data Collection Methods
Qualitative data was collected via a Microsoft Forms Survey (see appendix A) consisting of six questions, including a Likert-scale survey. Three of the questions were open-ended to gain an insight into the aspects of Flipgrid that students liked best and least. Mentimeter was also used as a pre-course poll.
Quantitative data was collected via Flipgrid's automatic tracking, where individual and group participation levels were monitored. The number of video views and comments were tracked, as well as total engagement time across the group.
Anecdotal feedback was collected from students during reflective synchronous video sessions using MS Team. Students Flipgrid Videos served as student artefacts along with teacher journals as data collection tools.
The purpose of this action research study was to attempt to create an inclusive and social learning community using Flipgrid and to discover its effects on peer interaction and social presence.
Effects on Peer Interaction
The first question in the focus of this study set out to explore the effects of Flipgrid on peer interaction.
Figure 5 Statistics from Flipgrid Tracking
Figure 5 shows the tracking of responses, views, comments and student engagement. The 'topic' in figure 5 was active for one week. During that week, Flipgrid's automatic tracking shows student engagement time was 79.7 hours. Student interaction is also visible as Flipgrid's tracking shows the six videos posted by students had a total of 602 views from the same group of six students. Lesson time per week via MS Teams equates to 4 hours. These figures show a significant amount of extra peer interaction during that week.
Results from the Likert-Scale in figure 6 below, show that almost all students enjoyed interacting with their peers when using Flipgrid. Comments from the students included, ‘I enjoyed the sense of interaction that it brought with my classmates’ and ‘getting to see everyone's thoughts and reactions was great.’
Figure 6. Students Responses to the Likert-Scale Questions
The second study question was about social learning and a sense of community
The Likert-Scale results in figure 6 above show that two-thirds of the participants felt more connected with their peers with fewer feelings of isolation in the online classroom. At the same time, almost all of the group agreed or strongly agreed that Flipgrid created a sense of community.
Students benefited from observing examples of their peer's videos as they ‘felt motivated to complete the task to a higher standard’. They felt rewarded as other members of the group responded positively to their videos, thus further engaging the students in the discussion topic. During reflective sessions, students commented on how they could listen to the tone of their peers' voices and see their facial expressions. They were able to see how passionate they were about the topic and construct meaning from what they were saying. They reported that they found an increased depth of knowledge from evaluating and constructively critiquing each other.
During this research project, I was struck by how confident the students were and how much they wanted to say in their videos. Flipgrid was a safe space to talk and reflect upon their own experiences whilst showing their subject knowledge. There are many positives to using synchronous video for online learning, and it is required for live lessons. However, Flipgrid provided something different - the phenomenon of the student's voices being heard, loud and clear, with no interruptions, allowed for a connection to be formed between the group.
My third study question looked at Flipgrid in fostering inclusivity in the online classroom
Students reported how they were able to articulate their content knowledge more explicitly and with greater confidence than in synchronous or text discussion. One student described feeling empowered when creating her video and reported having trouble verbalising in usual discussions due to English not being her first language. With asynchronous video, once given the topic, the students were free to practice their video discussions beforehand and edit them. Subsequently, they were able to explain their knowledge clearly to their peers through Flipgrid while emphasising that this gave an ‘overwhelming sense of confidence’ and ‘more time for reflection’.
Furthermore, a larger portion of the group preferred the video discussion task to text-only discussion assignments. The following comments suggest that Flipgrid addressed the needs of particular learning styles: ‘It was a better way for people who are more comfortable talking about a subject rather than writing about it’ and ‘I found this to be a fun way of completing assignments rather than just writing’. More than half of the participants felt that Flipgrid allowed them to participate more than in the face-to-face classroom. The quiet learners, who generally do not contribute during synchronous video lessons, were confidently articulating their thoughts and knowledge in a fluent and engaging discussion.
Recommendations and limitations
The findings of this study have been seen in light of some limitations. Firstly, due to the small sample size (seven students), the quantitative data results of this research should not be generalised.
Secondly, the students in this cohort had met before online learning in a face-to-face classroom setting before closures of Further Education Centres. Therefore, the peer community had already been partially formed. As Brown and Duguid (2017) point out, digital technologies are proficient in maintaining communities already formed, but "they are less good at making them" (p. 211).
Thirdly, some students were uncomfortable about being on the screen because they felt shy and nervous. One student did not participate in the video discussion as she did not like to record herself talking and felt intimidated by the technology.
It is recommended that Flipgrid be offered as an optional, or 'plus one' assessment where the student is given a choice. Like most technology applications, Flipgrid is unable to cater to every student's needs. However, the app did cater to the majority of learners.
For this research, I have explored the use of Flipgrid, a video discussion platform, in enhancing the online community for a group of mature students. This study has shown that the main factors which impact upon feelings of isolation in online learning are a lack of social presence and interaction.
The evidence suggests that Flipgrid has a higher affordance of social presence than synchronous video discussion as peer interactions increased. Flipgrid improved peer community and alleviated feelings of isolation which resulted in a more connected, engaged, and motivated group of learners. Social learning took place as the desire to achieve new levels of learning through observing and modelling peer behaviour was evident. Flipgrid discussions allowed for creativity and community building while students gained an in-depth knowledge of their subject area. Allowing the students to present their work in this novel way kept an online course from becoming stale and repetitive.
In conclusion, the introduction of Flipgrid was a positive experience. Further research is suggested in the effective use of Flipgrid discussions for formal assessment in Further Education.
Appendix A – Microsoft Forms Survey distributed to 7 students
Microsoft Forms Questionnaire.
Question 2: Likert-Scale survey
Questions 3 to 6
List of Abbreviations
AONTAS The Irish National Adult Learning Organisation
BTEI Back to Education Initiative
ETB Education and Training Board
FET Further Education and Training
KWETB Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board
LMS Learning Management System
QQI Quality and Qualifications Ireland
SOLAS Further Education and Training State Agency
VLE Virtual Learning Environment
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