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Using Flipgrid to Increase Students' Connectedness in an Online Class

Special Issue: Instructional Technology in the Online Classroom

By Michelle Bartlett / December 2018

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Flipgrid, a free video discussion forum tool, increases students' perceptions of connectedness in the online classroom. Flipgrid works similar to a discussion forum with a question prompt from the instructor, students then post responses, and then peers can respond to each other's posts; however, Flipgrid uses video posts rather than typed text. The software transcribes the videos immediately for meeting the learner's needs and ensuring ADA compliance. Using video style discussion forums helps students get to know each other as well as increases communication efficiency. There are video authoring tools out there, such as Kaltura or Brightcove, that make it possible to embed videos into traditional discussion forums in a variety of learning management systems (LMS) such as in Blackboard or Moodle. Unlike traditional discussion forums, Flipgrid uses short video posts rather than just typed text and is easily embedded into your learning management system. The responses are nested similar to a written discussion forum; however, there are only videos and no typing with Flipgrid.

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Participants record and post an initial video according to a prompt. The members of the video discussion forums click on the larger square to watch the initial post and then on the smaller round thumbnails to watch the responses. It is simple to see those who have replied using video response by clicking the small photo bubbles within the square. The video discussion forum nests in the same way as a traditional text discussion forum with an initial response at the parent level followed by the peer responses within.

Using Flipgrid to Increase Students' Connectedness in an Online Class

Using the video style discussion forum helps students get to know each other as well as increases communication efficiency by showing body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. When surveyed, a student mentioned that he feels more connected to his peers in the class after one week of an 'introduction' Flipgrid forum online that previous online semesters, including working on group projects. Instructors can change settings to limit response time, etc. and these functions can all be explored on the Flipgrid website.

Connection to Theory and Research

My current role is the director of a fully online master's degree in Training and Development. As an instructor in that program, I integrate the "Model for Engaging the Online Learner" [1] in my instruction.

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This model encourages the importance of seven variables that impact online learners' engagement levels:

  1. Course engagement—student's perceived level of connectedness to the course material
  2. Peer engagement—student's perceived level of connectedness to their peers
  3. Instructor engagement—student's perceived level of connectedness to the instructor
  4. Program engagement—student's perceived level of connectedness to the program of study
  5. Community engagement—student's perceived level of connectedness to the community (impacted by things such as eService Learning, internships, job shadows, etc.)
  6. Technology efficacy—student's perceived level of ability to use the technology needed to navigate the course successfully
  7. Applicability—student's perceived level that skills gained through activities (such as assignments, required reading, discussion forums, group projects) will be applied outside of the classroom.

Surrounding those seven variables, are three outer circles are adapted from Ajzen's Theory of Planned Behavior:

  • Perceived Societal Importance—Does society, family, friends think this is important for me?
  • Perceived Importance—Is this important to me?
  • Self-Efficacy—What is my belief that I can I do this?

Aligning Flipgrid Use to the Model for Engaging the Online Learner

The first four components of the model: course engagement, peer engagement, instructor engagement, and program engagement are impacted by adding interactive video discussion forums in the course. Students were surveyed and 92 percent (n=24) reported Flipgrid increased connectedness to the course, peers, instructor, and program while 8 percent (n=2) reported being unsure. Community engagement can be impacted by using Flipgrid forums for students to report back on eService learning projects, job shadows, internships, or interviewing practitioners, for example.

Technology efficacy impacts students' views using video discussion forums; however, successfully navigating the video discussion forum can improve a student's technology efficacy. One student reported being frustrated at first at having to download something, even though it was free, but then reported it was easy to get started using and said "…immediately the benefits overshadowed the sign-up process."

Flipgrid increases students' perceptions of 'sense of community' and connectedness in the online classroom. Online learners often report feeling disconnected to their peers and instructor in online classrooms [2] and feeling they are navigating the online course alone on an island [3, 4]. Adding Flipgrid in the online classroom for an Introductions forum, for example, increases peer engagement, instructor engagement, and overall increases student connectedness and sense of community. Online students often work asynchronously and feel they are alone in the course. Video discussion forums show participants they are not alone and that there are others moving through the course, as well. Also, putting a face and voice to the instructor, helps students feel there is a captain of the ship which can positively impact students' willingness to reach out for help, increased view that the instructor is human which may impact participants' perceptions during instructor evaluation.

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Practical Application Strategies

In addition to being used for an Introduction Discussion Forum, Flipgrid can be used in multiple ways. Other applications include using Flipgrid to provide course feedback, provide an area for students to reflect on an assignment, and a help thread which is currently a typical type-only discussion forum. Flipgrid could also be used to bring in experts to answer certain questions and give students the opportunity to engage with those experts. In an advanced level course, I have a Flipgrid forum at the end of the semester so that students can share their thoughts about the course to the future semester students, offering them encouragement and 'you can do it!' support. I then place that grid in the beginning of the course the next semester so that incoming students, who are often nervous about the course, can get high fives and supportive messages from the students in the prior semester. The uses are vast and can't be covered in one short article; however, whatever way you use Flipgrid in your course you are increasing the connectedness of your students. Flipgrid has been valuable when replacing standard text-only discussion forums when talking about difficult topics. Students are more mindful of what they say, because they are talking to faces and not names on a screen. Also, students who are being exposed to various opinions are not as easily offended because they hear the tone of voice and see the body language of the person delivering the message. It is important to note the limitations/cons of using Flipgrid in the classroom.

Potential Limitations of Video Discussion Forums

Flipgrid video discussion forums do help increase connectedness, but you have to be mindful of the types of discussions they are used for. I wouldn't suggest using video discussion forums for things that need to use literature support or need to be written or presented in a more formal way, such as using APA format or citing literature to support assertions. Showing charts or graphs that need detailed explanation may be better suited for traditional discussion forums. It's also important to consider time. Discussions that will need more than two minutes of talking may take too long for people to listen to all peer posts and responses. Also, students may not feel comfortable being in front of the video camera. To help with this, I put in the instructions that students can put tape over their cameras and submit their voice response, so their tone of voice comes through. So far, in using video discussion forums, I have not had any students need this alternative. Some students did say that they had to be more aware of what they were wearing and what was in the background, rather than a traditional discussion forum which they could access in the middle of the night in pajamas.

Suggestions for Integration

Video discussion forums embedded in an online course can be used in many ways to connect instructors to students, and students to peers. Students can offer a short introduction via video discussion forums to bring a face to the name on the screen. Even if traditional discussion forums are used for the remainder of the course, the names on the screen have a person behind them. This increases student-peer connectedness and also increases civility in the online course. Instructors can use the video discussion tool to offer course feedback or provide an area for participants to reflect on an assignment. Instructors will want to provide students with clear instructions on how to access the Flipgrid website, access the video forum, and what is expected from the student to cover during their initial post, as well as the time limit of the video. Instructors should be mindful of the video length limitation they set in the settings. The shorter the video limit, the more the students will have to prepare in order to ensure their content fits within the time allowed; however, if an instructor gives more time, the overall time students spend watching their peers' initial posts and peers' response posts will exponentially increase. In my current role as an instructor, Flipgrid has supported opportunities to bring experts into online classes where they are able to engage with students and answer questions. In a time when technology use is pervasive, it's refreshing to have a tool that can use technology to connect instructors to students, students to peers, and students to course content.


[1]Bartlett, M. E. Integration of e-service learning: The trials and triumphs. Presented at the Lilly National Conference on Designing Effective Teaching, International Teaching Learning Cooperative, Asheville, NC (2017).

[2]Angelino, L. M., et al. Strategies to engage online students and reduce attrition rates. Journal of Educators Online 4, 2 (2007), n2.

[3] Fair, B., and Wickersham, L. E. The READI assessment as a possible predictor of student success in online communication courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education 13, 2 (2012), 115.

[4] Orlando, J. A comparison of text, voice, and screencasting feedback to online students. American Journal of Distance Education 30, 3 (2016), 156-166.

About the Author

Michelle Bartlett is a faculty member at NC State University and is the Director of the Masters in Training and Development program. Michelle has years of experience designing and facilitating training in areas of improvement in higher education, post-secondary education, business, and government programs. With extensive experience creating programs, Michelle has delivered career workshops, which include Leadership, Change Management, Conflict Management, Communication Skills, Empowering Middle Management, and Improving Training Effectiveness. Michelle received her PhD from Clemson University in Higher Education Leadership with a cognate in statistics. Prior to her doctoral work, she received her Master's in Human Resource Development at the University of Louisville.

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