The Asynchrony of Remote Learning
Not knowing when students are available online is one of the biggest challenges facing educators during this period of remote learning. Seeing other people is incredibly important when practicing physical distancing so that it doesn’t become social distancing. Plus, there are lots of activities that happen a lot more efficiently when people can talk to each other.
So, how do we help students connect with each other, regardless of their schedules?
The students in my Argument and Debate class entered quarantine just days before their final debates. After a week doing research with partners into their topics and planning their arguments, their chance to use their efforts seemed lost.
I immediately started an internal debate: How can we pull off student interactions online? Although lots of the students had video chat capabilities, I knew getting them online at the same time was unlikely.
My solution? “Four Days of Flipgrid!”
Flipgrid: A Controlled Video Creation/Sharing Environment
Flipgrid is a free service where educators set up sections and subsections where students and educators record short videos. Folks with the links can view the videos. Folks with an (educator-specified) e-mail address domain can, at the teacher’s discretion, post reply videos. And the educator who set up the Flipgrid can leave either video or written feedback. There’s also an option for feedback via a basic or customized rubric.
Flipgrid puts lots of control into educators’ hands. Some key features:
- Limit length of video responses–set the amount of time responses can last, from 15 seconds to 10 minutes.
- Add media and attachments to a topic (subsection), providing additional information or resources to students during recording.
- Toggle moderation on or off for student posts–on means videos are hidden until the teacher reviews them.
- Toggle student-to-student replies
- Set specific “open” dates for a topic (subsection).
- Toggle “likes” on or off, allowing basic peer feedback
- Toggle “view count” on or off, potentially removing some anxiety for students.
- Allow student addition of attachment links, providing them the opportunity to support or expand on a point made in their videos.
- Provide feedback via basic or custom rubrics
- Record live or upload pre-recorded videos–if students have a device but not a strong enough wireless signal to record audio and video, they can record to their device, then share to a teacher for uploading, or upload themselves.
Creating Asynchronous Debates
For the asynchronous debates, I created a separate “topic” (subsection) for each of the debate propositions. I e-mailed the links to those topics with the students involved in each debate. (I used a spreadsheet of their e-mail addresses and an e-mail merge to auto-send individualized e-mails to each group of students. This made it less likely that students would interfere in a debate that wasn’t “theirs.”) When they followed the links, students only saw what their teammates and opponents had posted.
Then I gave them the overview:
Day 1: Record your individual 2-minute opening arguments that support your side.
Day 2: Watch the opposition’s arguments and record your individual 1-minute counter-argument.
Day 3: Watch the opposition’s counter-arguments against your side and record a 1-minute rebuttal supporting your side.
Day 4: Watch the opposition’s rebuttals, and re-watch their other pieces. Then record a 1-minute closing that explains why the audience should judge your side as the winners.
I’m not going to lie, there were hiccups. They mostly fell into two camps:
- Students using Apple products had lots of issues until they downloaded the Chrome web browser.
- Following directions was not always a strong suit. This was also partly my fault, as I ended up having to send a few clarifying e-mails, which added to some of the confusion.
Overall, though, things went pretty smoothly! Students didn’t have to be in the same place at the same time to have a debate!
This will never be my preferred method for debating. But it worked well enough with the difficulties imposed by remote learning. I’m already planning refinements for next marking period!
Other Flipgrid Possibilities
There are lots of ways to use Flipgrid to enhance remote learning. The control afforded by the moderation and other tools allows for a safe student interaction space. Here are a few possibilities:
- Book talks: Students, librarians, and teachers can exchange suggestions for titles (and online services)
- Book clubs: A slow-motion book club could have participants exchange their ideas over the course of a few days.
- Read-alouds: Because the reading is not in a public venue and is under the educator’s control, Flipgrid offers a possibility of copyright-friendly read-alouds.
- Student sharing of work: Instead of having every assignment be text on a page, students can share verbally, either in place of, or in addition to, other assignments. The ability to append links to other files provides lots of possibilities!
Flipgrid can be a powerful tool, not only for remote learning, but for ongoing educational opportunities. Please be sure to share your ideas for other Flipgrid uses in the comments below!
Author: Steve Tetreault
Steve has been teaching for over 20 years, mostly middle school English Language Arts. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!