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Asynchronous Video-Based Discussions in the Online Classroom

Special Issue: Instructional Technology in the Online Classroom

By Katrina M. Wehr / December 2018

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My interest in asynchronous video-based online discussions is the result of a recent inquiry from an instructor with whom I was designing a course. As I perused the literature, I discovered the research on using asynchronous video as a discussion tool in the online classroom is surprisingly sparse.

Based on my prior knowledge regarding the use of video to increase social presence in the online classroom, as well as enhanced social presence's positive relationship with better learning experiences, the instructor and I chose to pilot this instructional strategy in his course. The rest of this article will review some of the existing research, discuss our methods, examine the students' perceptions of asynchronous video discussions, and recommend strategies for others who may be interested in employing this technique in their own online teaching.

Review of Literature

Many scholars have recognized the influence of social presence on positive learning experiences [1]. Moore [2] recognized early that feelings of isolation and distance can negatively impact learning, but that frequency of communication can override physical distance. This idea was tested by Dawson [3], who found that increased frequency of communication was linked to online students' sense of community and belonging in the course. In another study, Richardson and Swan [4] found that a perceived increase in social presence was related to positive impacts on perceived learning in online courses, and by extension, students' satisfaction with the course. Rovai [5]surmised that increased community positively affects student persistence and supports increased "flow of information" between students.

As a result, instructors and designers have begun developing learning activities that emphasize community building [3]. One popular strategy, demonstrated by existing research to generally support perceptions of social presence in online environments, is the use of video. My review of literature found a distinct lack of research focused on student-to-student asynchronous video interaction, with much existing research instead targeting the exploration of asynchronous video's impact on student perceptions of instructor social presence [1]. As Dawson notes, this is perhaps a reflection of the challenge of measuring concepts such as community and social presence [3]. What does exist supports encouraging students in social participation, and instructors can emphasize group identity in order to improve perceived learning [6].

A pilot study conducted by Griffiths and Graham [7] found that asynchronous video in general can convey "verbal and non-verbal signals necessary in developing positive levels of immediacy and social presence that can be motivational to students in regular face-to-face learning environments, and at the same time maintain the time and location flexibility benefits of distance education." In their study, students were preparing video clips and sharing them with classmates and the instructor. Griffiths and Graham note that their study was limited to students who attended the same campus, but were taking an online course. In addition, their data, like much of the data used in existing research on this topic, is comprised mainly of student feedback collected through surveys and course evaluations.


With this prior research as a backdrop, let's shift our focus to asynchronous video discussions in practice. In our course, a fully online graduate-level marketing analytics class, students were exposed to the use of self-recorded videos as a tool for communicating, beginning with the first assignment wherein they were asked to introduce themselves to the class. To set the students up for success, we posted instructions detailing how to record video using the learning management system.

In addition to allowing the students to feel more connected to the course, the instructor felt this strategy would best align with his face-to-face teaching style. In resident instruction, the instructor asks students to complete their readings before coming to class. The instructor then integrates the content of the readings into the lecture to enhance the class discussion.

In an effort to create a similar atmosphere in the asynchronous online course that would not hinder the medium's flexibility, we designed this activity to be completed asynchronously at a pace that worked for each individual. In the course, students were assigned readings almost every week. Our LMS, Canvas, allows us to control a student's progression in the course based on prerequisite assignment completion, which was critical to the success of these self-recorded video discussions. We set up each lesson in parts using the "Modules" feature in Canvas, and then configured the module settings for the first part of each lesson to lock until a specific date. After that date, students were able to access the readings and discussion questions.

Students were required to answer questions about the readings via a self-recorded video posted to the appropriate discussion board in Canvas before they could move forward to the next part of the lesson, which was stored in another module and configured with prerequisite settings that triggered availability to students. In this and subsequent parts of each instructional unit, students were able to view the instructor's summary video and the lecture for that topic. That page would also include the reading and discussion questions for the next part of the lesson, if one existed.

Results and Findings

Though not required, students could and did comment on each other's video responses via text and additional self-recorded video posts. The level of activity in each discussion remained consistent, ranging from about 20-30 posts per discussion for a class with a total of nine active students participating through the majority of the semester.

I also talked to the instructor to gauge how he felt the self-recorded video discussion assignment affected his course. He said he "found that by doing this exercise the students seemed more prepared to digest the material in my video lectures having already put quite a bit of thought into the background reading, something my live classroom students do not always do as much as they should."

While the instructor was happy utilizing this instructional strategy, as a designer, I was also curious to know what the students thought about this activity, especially given the existing research on the topic. Toward the end of the course, students were asked to take a survey about the class experience, including their experience with the video discussion assignments. Part of the survey is based on the design of Beckett, et al. [8].

Of the nine active students enrolled the course, all participated in the survey, but only six of the students agreed to share their responses for the purposes of this research. The opinions of those six students regarding the video discussion assignment were mixed. The table below shows results from a portion of the survey in which students were asked to rate the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with statements about the video discussions.

[click to enlarge]

One interesting result is the responses to the statement "The video discussion assignments have a positive impact on my learning" and "I prefer video discussion assignments to text-only discussion assignments." The first statement accrued three positive responses, with two students indicating they agreed with the statement and one indicating they "strongly agree." The second statement registered zero "Agree" responses, with all students responding that they disagreed, or did not agree or disagree, with the statement. The responses to these two questions could support the findings of Hew and Cheung [9], whose study of audio-only asynchronous discussions discovered that, while students valued the ability to perceive and express emotions through the medium, ultimately, they preferred text-only discussions because of efficiency of reading versus listening, and the ability to better structure their comments.

For more insight, I turned to the open-ended response section of the survey where students were free to compose a written response to the following questions:

  1. In your own words, what do you like best about the video discussion assignments?
  2. In your own words, what do you dislike most about the video discussion assignments?
  3. What would you do to improve the video assignments?

In their responses, students noted the element of practice that was involved in creating their video responses. One student said, "I know that preparing for them helps me better understand the content in order to present during them. It takes me longer to compile my responses because I rehearse and prepare for them but after I complete them, I know that I have grasped the concept." Another student also alluded to the feeling of more thorough understanding of topics, stating, "[The assignment] forces me to practice and articulate the presentation more than a text discussion. [The assignment] requires more preparation but deeper knowledge." Those open-ended statements appear to align with the instructor's opinion that students seemed more familiar with their readings, and therefore more prepared for their discussions.

When sharing their thoughts about what they disliked, the most common aspect was being on camera. Three students directly noted the "awkward" feelings associated with seeing themselves on camera. Another student made a thoughtful comment about the tradeoffs between text and video.

"When I read the text I can better understand what they are conveying as they can ensure they are adding all details. In a video, due to the presentation, there are points that get missed," the student wrote, presumably referring to the inability to easily edit one's video commentary after posting it.

Noted throughout the open-ended responses were issues with technology. Specifically, one student pointed out trouble with the size of their video files and the time it took to upload them on their connection. While the course syllabus did note technical requirements for the course, technical difficulties in the online learning environment are an ongoing challenge that time and experience might help assuage in future offerings of this class.

Of course, this investigation is limited by sample size, so these results at this time are not generalizable to a larger population.

Discussion and Recommendations

Perhaps the most noteworthy finding of this endeavor is that thorough research surrounding the use of video-based discussions in asynchronous online environments is limited. What does exist is not always generalizable, such as the case study conducted by Broup et al. [10]. There is much room for exploration into what generalized conditions could make this strategy effective, such as discipline, introductory vs. advanced students, etc.

What I found through my own small-scale investigation is that the opinions of the students in our marketing course mirrored the mixed results of existing research. While there are benefits to the video-based discussion assignment, such as the amount of preparation time students spend focused on course material in order to create their videos, there are also tradeoffs. Student preferences about showing their faces to the class, as well as comfort levels with technology tools required to complete the assignments, are factors that must be considered. Additionally, existing LMS tools for threaded discussion do not lend themselves well to implementing video discussions [10].

From an instructional design perspective, the feedback from the asynchronous video discussion assignments indicates that the time spent engaging with course material in order to prepare videos is the main benefit, as well as the instructor's feelings of reassurance as a result of seeing student videos. Based on this first experience running the course using this method, in combination with findings from existing research, I would make the following recommendations to those interested in implementing a multimodal asynchronous discussion strategy in an online course:

  • Consider using a specific tool designed for multimodal asynchronous communication rather than the threaded discussion space that comes standard in an LMS.
  • Consider using an audio-only option so that students do not have to show themselves on camera.
  • Understand the students' current comfort level with technology at the beginning of the course, perhaps through the use of a survey.
  • Offer students a low-stakes opportunity to test their ability to record and submit a video to avoid or resolve technical issues early.
  • Provide clear instructions that communicate the expectations to students, especially with regard to responsibilities for responding to classmates' videos and comments on their own video. Consider using a rubric to illustrate how they will be assessed on their video responses.


[1] Borup J., et al. Improving online social presence through asynchronous video. Internet and Higher Education 15, 3 (2012) 195-203.

[2] Moore, M. G. Independent study. In R.D. Boyd, & J. Apps (Eds.), Redefining the Discipline of Adult Education. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA (1980) 16-31.

[3] Dawson, S. A study of the relationship between student communication interaction and sense of community. Internet and Higher Education 9, 3 (2006), 153-162.

[4] Richardson, J.C. and Swan, K. Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students' perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 7, 1 (2003).

[5] Rovai, A. Building Sense of Community at a Distance. International. Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 3, 1 (2002), 1492-3831.

[6] Caspi, A. and Blau, I. Social presence in online discussion groups: Testing three conceptions and their relations to perceived learning. Social Psychology of Education 11, 3 (2008), 323- 346.

[7] Hew, K.F. and Cheung, W.S. Audio-based versus text-based asynchronous online discussion: Two case studies. Instructional Science 41, 2 (2013), 365-380.

[8] Gulbahar, H. et al. Students' use of asynchronous discussions for academic discourse socialization. Distance Education 31, 3 (2010).

[9] Griffiths, M.E. and Graham, C.R. The potential of asynchronous video in online education. Distance Learning 6, 2 (2009), 13-23.

[10] Borup, J., et al. The influence of asynchronous video communication on learner social presence: a narrative analysis of four cases. Distance Education (2013).

About the Author

Katrina Wehr has worked in instructional design for private companies as well as higher education institutions, developing learning experiences for K-12, undergraduate, and professional graduate learners. She is currently working toward a doctoral degree in learning, design, and technology. Her areas of interest include applications of learning analytics, community building in online learning, and next-generation learning environment design.

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  • Sat, 13 Apr 2019
    Post by Tony

    Great article. I have been using video discussions in my intro to linguistics course for the last 6 years and really like the results!