The traditional Learning Management System discussion forum is the go-to method for hosting online student discussion. However, faculty members need not limit themselves to text discussion. Widespread access to video recording systems makes video discussion a realistic alternative to traditional text discussion.
Cynthia Clark, Neal Strudler, and Karen Grove of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, experimented with using student videos for discussion in their online courses. Students used webcams to record themselves making comments that they would have made in text discussions. Because their LMS discussion forum did not support video, they used the Hangouts function in Google+. Students first signed up for a free Google account, which includes Google's services. The researchers also set up a Google account for the class itself. The students were then put into a “circle” for the class, which is how Google+ makes private groups.
From here, the instructor posted a discussion prompt on the class page. Students replied by recording themselves on their webcams using the Hangouts feature in Google+.
The researchers found that video discussions increased social presence in online courses. “Social presence” is the ability of online participants to project their personal characteristics to others to show themselves as real people. Social presence helps counteract the isolating effects of online education and makes students more likely to stay in a course.
Students expressed their feelings of increased social presence in post-course surveys and interviews. One student said that the video discussions “made you feel like you're in class instead of just being online.” Another noted that something in the background of one student's video prompted the student to ask the speaker about it, starting a conversation that better connected students to one another.
Instructors also posted videos of themselves discussing concepts, which helped connect the students to the instructor, creating “teaching presence.” One student noted that she “got a better feel” for her instructor when the instructor posted videos rather than text comments. This is in line with findings that voice commentary allows listeners to pick up nuance better in speakers' messages.
Google+ Hangouts is also useful for hosting live events. The person speaking fills up the main screen, with the video feed of other participants at the bottom of the screen. Plus, it is easy to show a YouTube clip in the main window, whereas most live meeting systems have difficulty with video due to bandwidth issues.
Hangouts is also an excellent tool for recording screencasts. An instructor who wants to demonstrate a process, such as how to navigate a website or how to create a function in Excel, can simply record their screen while walking through it on Hangouts On Air. The result will automatically post on the instructor's YouTube account, which can be linked to the course. The Hangout can also be downloaded as a video file to be hosted elsewhere. This is also a good method for students to use when creating screencasts explaining digital projects they have created.
The one drawback of Google+ is that there is no easy way for students to post video replies to other student videos. Once a student has posted a video, other students reply by text in the comment function beneath it.
If you would like to have students post a series of videos as a discussion, then your best bet is hosting it on VoiceThread. The instructor can seed a discussion by creating a single-slide VoiceThread with video comment. Students can then post their own video replies that run down either side.
Take a look at this tutorial on how to use Google+ to host video discussion as well as record screencasts and live events at http://bit.ly/1GkJrXY. Consider adding video discussions to your online courses to improve student engagement and presence.
Clark, Cynthia, Neal Strudler, and Karen Grove. 2015. “Comparing Asynchronous and Synchronous Video vs. Text Based Discussions in an Online Teacher Education Course.” Online Learning Journal 19 (3): 48–69.
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