Design Solution: Using Video-Based Discussion to Build Online Learning Communities

A man and a woman using their cellphones.

Please note: This blog post is a course related assessment for the Master of Arts in Learning and Technology program at Royal Roads University.

“Learning is not safe. In fact, to learn is to take a risk, to become an aerialist, to put your head in the lion’s mouth. Learning is a death-defying act. And though it takes place largely within the confines of silent classrooms and sterile learning management systems, within the mind of the learner, riots can occur.” (Morris, 2016, para. 40)


We are professors in post-secondary education, teaching in the fields of skilled trades and digital technology. As we worked through the design thinking process, we found that we resonated with each other’s solutions. Throughout the design thinking process, we were able to empathize with our student’s experiences and build upon each other’s ideas.

As we look to provide hybrid learning opportunities for our students, through online and face to face interactions, we believe it is important that learners become actively engaged.

Problem Statement

Throughout the design thinking process, we identified three common themes:

  1. Building community in an online environment.
  2. Safety in asking for, and providing feedback in an online environment.
  3. Using educational technologies to promote student interaction and engagement.

Based upon these themes, our problem statement became: It is difficult to build an OLC where members feel safe to collaborate and share experiences.


The first activity of the course will be an introduction using Flipgrid, a video-based discussion application that promotes student engagement and discussion.  Flipgrid allows an instructor to set a discussion topic and then allows students to respond via video (Flipgrid, 2018).  Studies have shown that video-based discussions (VBD) have increased interaction over text-based discussions. As noted by Clark, Strudler and Grove (2015) in their study on video vs. text-based discussion tools,

Students also indicated the VED video conferencing tool made collaboration much easier
and more productive as it was possible to “know” your group-mates’ strengths and
weaknesses. The video features of the VED provided the ability to see both verbal and
non-verbal social cues, helping develop feelings of trust and belonging. (p. 60)

Flipgrid allows for asynchronous video interactions between students, providing risk-taking and a safe form of interaction due to the students not having to interact in real time.

The Activity

Instructions will be provided to the student to introduce themselves on video in the private Flipgrid grid, with the professor providing an initial exemplar post and technical assistance if required.

In their introductions, the students will share challenges they may have faced in previous online learning and how those challenges were overcome.  If this is their first experience in an online environment, the students can express any fears or concerns that they may have participating in an online community. After posting, the students will be encouraged to provide video feedback on two other posts.  This could be in the form of a question, a statement, an affirmation, or encouragement.

In our discussions throughout the design thinking process, we both agreed that engagement starts with a sense of safety and that sense of safety can come from empathy and understanding from both the instructor and fellow students. Black, Sanders and Dandavate, and Buchenau and Fulton Suri (as cited in Mattelmaki, Vaajakallio & Koskinen, 2014) discuss that  “The more a designer can live and experience the user’s emotions, the better she can transform the ideas and constraints into appealing and pleasing design solutions” (p.70).


We ask for feedback on the preceding activity and the following questions:

  • Given the opportunity to work asynchronously, will students feel safe to engage?
  • Will this model work in the context of the outlined courses?
  • Will students who are not technically proficient find this a barrier to engagement?  

We will be replying to all responses we receive before 4 p.m. on Tuesday December 04, 2018 (Pacific Time).


Clark, C., Strudler, N., & Grove, K. (2015). Comparing Asynchronous and Synchronous Video vs. Text Based Discussions in an Online Teacher Education Course. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 19(3), 48-69. Retrieved from

Flipgrid. (n.d.). Flipgrid Home Page. Retrieved November 26, 2018, from

Mattelmäki, T., Vaajakallio, K., & Koskinen, I. (2014). What Happened to Empathic Design? Design Issues, 30(1), 67–77.

Morris, S. (2016, August 16). Not Enough Voices, [Blog post]. Retrieved from

0 thoughts on “Design Solution: Using Video-Based Discussion to Build Online Learning Communities

  • Hello Brandon and Chad,
    Thank you for sharing your design process and prototype. I like your use of Flipgrid as it allows for asynchronous interaction between learners. I believe that students will feel more comfortable being able to think about their responses and not having to reply in real-time. The use of asynchronous video also allows students to film, edit and reshoot their response as they see necessary allowing the student the option to reflect before posting.
    While I would agree that the use of video increase interaction and discussion over text based tools, some students may feel uncomfortable filming their responses. For some students, mental health and anxiety may play a role in a student being unable to complete this activity. When designing activities, I try to follow Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to offer more than one way for a student to respond, unless the students are being evaluated specifically on their ability to use a specific platform or skill. Gordon, Meyer and Rose (2014) identify that all students are unique and learn in different ways (p. 49). Could you see a way for students to reply using an alternate format to increase their comfort level? I am not sure of the specific demographics of your students, however, I like to take into consideration students access, or lack of access, to technology. In my case, not all of my students would have access to a video camera on a regular basis. For a non credit activity, I would consider what I am asking students with less access to technology to complete, and would offer an alternative to all students to not draw attention to those with limited means. Have you considered the demographics of your students? Perhaps this does not apply to your situation.


    CAST. (n.d.). About Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved November 26, 2018, from

    Gordon, D., Meyer, A., & Rose, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: theory and practice. Retrieved from

    • Brandon Carson says:

      Hello Tanya,

      Thank you for your thought-provoking critique and feedback to our design solution. You brought up several points that we will need to address in the formal critique. Incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approaches into our course design will help improve the learning environment for all students. By incorporating additional ways for students to introduce themselves to their peers and the professors through text-based and in-person communication methods, we will allow for multiple means of engagement and multiple means of action and expression (CAST, 2018).

      Additionally, your student demographic question was very helpful in the event that this course expands and is offered outside of our original course setting. As of right now, Chad and I both teach in courses where students have access to computers. This is a privilege that all students may not have and we should ensure students are aware of the resources available to them to access a computer through the computers labs and campus libraries.

      Thank you again for your helpful feedback and we look forward to improving our design solution based on your critique.


      CAST. (2018, August 31). The UDL Guidelines. Retrieved December 3, 2018, from

  • Brandon and Chad,

    Excellent empathetic design approach. Given the opportunity to work asynchronously, we do believe in this approach, students will feel safe to engage. This is an emerging technology that looks to be useful in part of introduction, debate, personal exploration, and reflection activities.

    This model looks to be a good approach in the context of the outlined courses. The video format bridges the distance gap in course conversations and offers benefits of providing contextual details, emotion, and individual personality while also enabling asynchronous flexibility. We believe that this looks at empathetic design and addresses an increased sensitivity to people, tools, collaboration and designing.

    We do not believe that students who are not technically proficient will find this as a barrier to engagement. Your approach starts with a simple introduction, offers assistance, and builds on it throughout the course. In terms of technology adoption, this crawl – walk – run is a very appropriate approach. The only additional advice we could offer you is posting a “cheat sheet” with a series of steps for students to use when conducting initial activities, and doing a talk/walk through with the actual technology.

    Gwen and Joyce


    Chang, R, (2017), Flipgrid Introduces New Student Voice Video App, Grows to 40,000 Classrooms. The Journal. Retrieved from

    Mattelmäki, T., Vaajakallio, K., & Koskinen, I. (2014). What Happened to Empathic Design? Design Issues, 30(1), 67–77.

    • Brandon Carson says:

      Hello Gwen and Joyce,

      Thank you very much for your words of encouragement and feedback to improve our design solution. We agree that resources would be beneficial for our learners, showing them how to use the FlipGrid video-based discussion application and best practices for completing an introduction. Since our initial post, we discovered a helpful user guide for faculty members to walk them through the process of setting up and using the online tool (FlipGrid, 2018). After viewing this resource, we brainstormed ideas to build upon this resource and create a student-focused version. The learner document would provide step-by-step instructions to using the Flipgrid platform, with both text, image and video-based demonstrations.The resource would also give the learner examples of video-based introductions and best-practices for filming with a webcam such as adequate lighting, ensuring the individual is a proper distance from the camera and that there is no background noise. For those not comfortable filming themselves we will show best practices of how to fulfill the activity without being in front of a camera. Options that come to mind include sing slides with narration, or using PowToon.

      We appreciate your critique and look forward to implementing your suggestions in our design solution.


      Flipgrid [Flipgrid]. (2018, Dec 02). This next guide though…. @KarlyMoura + @SEANJFAHEY have 📈 produced #SOLIDGOLD once again with their latest… [Tweet]. Retrieved from

  • Hello Chad and Brandon,
    Your prototype activity sounds very engaging and appears to be an effective way to ‘break the ice’ when with new students. I have assumed that your class in a fully online or a hybrid course, and this would be a way of introducing themselves as they will not meet in person. The tool of flip grid appears to be user-friendly and if the instructor will leave detail technology support. Like Gwen and Joyce, I do believe you have set up a relatively safe and comfortable starter activity.

    You project enables the students and teachers to engage and collaborate on a topic and as Bates has suggested, this process can improve communication, interpersonal skills and therefore their overall learning process (Bates, 2015). As we have experienced some similar activities in our course introductions, I would say these are challenging, messy at times, yet we all have learned a great deal.

    My only suggestion might be to have a structured response outline that the students would fill out while watching the video to ensure thoughtful responses. This would allow the responses to remain about the topic and not distracted by the video.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Bates, A. W. (2015). Teaching in a Digital Age. Retrieved from

    • Hi Danielle

      Thank you very much for your response. When designing the prototype we did have a fully online or hybrid class in mind. That being said, this could also be used in a face to face setting. At the beginning of the course or even before the start of the course, the students could be asked to engage in the activity as described in our post. As most teachers have experienced even in face to face classes it is difficult to foster engagement. It often takes time for classes to “warm up” and start to feel comfortable with each other. This activity could help expediate that process. Indeed these activities can be uncomfortable and messy but they also can be enriching and a potential for growth.

      Your idea to provide a structured response outline has a lot of value. It could be easy for some students to go off on tangents if not provided with some specific prompts to guide them. It also could talk away some anxiety from those who may not feel comfortable initially with the activity.

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