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Amplifying All Student Voices and Inclusivity in Digital Learning Communities

Lisa R. Gedak & Leigh McCarthy

Designing and fostering inclusive online learning environments led us to propose the free, web-based platform Flipgrid in our blog post entitled Amplifying All Student Voices and Inclusivity in Digital Learning Communities (Gedak & McCarthy, 2019). The primary purpose of our design-thinking process and subsequent proposed online component was to reduce barriers “to student participation, based on a range of personal and ‘glocal issues’ (Campbell and Schwier, 2014)” (Gedak & McCarthy, 2019, para. 1). Explored through the Hasso Plattner Institute’s design thinking process (Stanford University, 2019), we cross-compared our educational contexts. We explored our direct experience teaching French as a Second Language (FSL) in the K-12 learning environment, and first-year post-secondary courses (Gedak & McCarthy, 2019). We concluded that the problem of students not taking intellectual risks in online communities is cross-generational, and affects many students from both learning contexts (Gedak & McCarthy, 2019, para. 1). We were focused on addressing our concerns about marginalized communities not having a voice in many online learning environments, leading to lower levels of inclusivity and intellectual risk-taking. We identified demographics who often face systems that are not inclusive by design, learning systems that fail to create inclusive learning environments that speak to our instructional design goals of this assignment (Black & Hachkowski, 2019; Davis, 2015; Eliason & Turalba, 2019; Gedak & McCarthy, 2019; Westwood, 2015). This critique of our proposed online component of Flipgrid was shaped by our synthesis and reflections through the lenses of our peers’ feedback, and an ongoing focus on our learners’ needs, assessment practices, empathetic, and participatory design. Our evaluation of our proposed online component of Flipgrid is neither entirely negative or positive, but a mixed evaluation, determined at this point through a reflective dialogic process (synchronous and asynchronous), and the aforementioned, essential feedback from our peers.

The feedback from our peers identified two mutual and resounding considerations. The first being that due to “the continual blending of human populations and increasing accessibility [,] our classrooms are often very diverse. This diversity demands critical thought and consideration” (Kuipers & Lloyd, 2019, para. 1). The second consideration is that of concerns about how to meet “cross-generational” needs in our online learning communities (Gedak & McCarthy, 2019, para. 1; Kuipers & Lloyd, 2019, para. 1). A key component of our peers’ feedback on cross-generational digital learning needs considered Prensky’s (2001) digital immigrants versus digital native typology,  and then more specifically, White and Cornu’s (2019) digital resident versus digital visitor typology. One of our peers questioned how we would “mitigate any potential reluctance from [our] mature-aged students from engaging with Flipgrid?…[an] initial concern would be the learner’s ability to implement the chosen platform digital literacies sufficiently to enable learning” (Kuipers & Lloyd, 2019, para. 2-3). The value of our peers’ perspectives led us to further define and extrapolate both strengths and weaknesses of our proposed digital learning component.

In further consideration of Kuipers and Lloyd’s (2019) perspective and through a reflective dialogic process (L. Gedak & L. McCarthy, personal communication, December 7, 2019), we examined and confirmed potential disadvantages in our proposed solution of using Flipgrid to promote intellectual risk-taking. A plethora of research exists that illustrates the need to support technological inclusivity in our ever-growing, intertwined, learner populations who come from diverse backgrounds and include students who have unequal access to devices, the internet, the financial means; and who can vary significantly in digital literacies and the ability to implement the technology (Kuipers & Lloyd, 2019; Gilbert, 2010; Warf, 2019).  Moreover,  Kuipers & Lloyd (2019) emphasized the need for consideration of cross-generational abilities citing White and Cornu’s (2019) digital resident versus digital visitor typology and claimed the age of the student could affect their ability to use the proposed Flipgrid component. Additionally, physical and mental barriers, language barriers, technical language, cultural dialects, culture, ethnicity, and gender were discussed, and we postulated the potential impact they may have on the learners within our respective teaching contexts (L. Gedak & L. McCarthy, personal communication, December 7, 2019). Hall, Vue, Strangman, and Meyer (2003) postulated that the intersection of differentiated instruction and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) involve a curriculum that is “enriched with multiple media so that many paths are provided to develop the talents of all learners” (p. 10). During our reflective discussion (L. Gedak & L. McCarthy, personal communication, December 7, 2019) we also agreed that Campbell and Schwier (2014) convincingly argued that digital learning technologies are often implemented without purpose, and in a lacklustre fashion; further negatively impacting the quality of the learning experience (p. 369). Reflecting on the potential disadvantages of using Flipgrid was a thought-provoking process and allowed us to consider new perspectives. In the same way we dissected the potential disadvantages to the implementation of Flipgrid, we comparatively examined the potential benefits this tool could have for our cross-generational, diverse learner groups.

Consequently, the intersection of technology and pedagogy can positively impact learning. We have both experienced students displaying a higher level of engagement and motivation when we have facilitated activities using innovative technologies in our respective teaching and learning environments (L. Gedak & L. McCarthy, personal communication, December 7, 2019). The integration of mobile learning using the Flipgrid video component can provide our students’ further opportunities to engage, be motivated in learning, increase peer interactions, and take intellectual risks (Johnson & Skarphol, 2018). In addition, Flipgrid is a free application that can be used on both iOS and Android devices, addressing potential financial constraints and device specificities. Bartlett (2018) claimed that Flipgrid provided opportunities for diverse students to build community and to increase communication with peers through the ability to observe each other’s expressions, body language, and voice fluctuations. We have witnessed first-hand, the benefits of community building as a catalyst to increased sharing by those who may have otherwise been hesitant or non-participatory (L. Gedak & L. McCarthy, personal communication, December 7, 2019). Supplementary to the strengths of building community, engagement, motivation, and opportunities for increased peer interaction and communication, there is evidence to support that mobile learning opportunities can provide some flexibility and learner agency. Brown, Brock, and Závodská (2019) noted that the rise in the use of mobile devices challenges the instructional design of static learning spaces and that institutions will need to increasingly modernize to meet the needs of future learners, which is relevant to both of our learning contexts. Finally, we have noted that the majority (if not all) of our students do have a mobile device, and have all accessed our learning management systems, and online content in past classes we have taught with little issue (L. Gedak & L. McCarthy, personal communication, December 7, 2019). The comprehensive examination of the potential strengths and potential weaknesses in implementing the use of Flipgrid in our learning contexts using peer feedback, our own experiences, and research-based evidence, allowed us a wide range of considerations to cross-compare and synthesize.

Our goal to be leaders driving change continues to be informed by the feedback received from our peers, and our synthesis of the strengths and weaknesses of our proposed use of Flipgrid. To meet the needs of marginalized student communities in online learning environments, we need to keep our learners’ needs as the guiding foundation for building effective communication, assessment practices, and empathetic and participatory design. Based on our exploration of our peers (other bloggers) prototypes, we would suggest an alternative model to connected learning in addition to Flipgrid, to better address challenges such as physical, language, and technical barriers. One of our peer groups blogged about a prototype called Collabzone (Reid, Ruth & Sharples, 2019). This group used fundamental principles of empathic design (Mattelmäki, Vaajakallio, & Koskinen, 2014) to propose the creation of a multi-lingual format (translator function built into the app) to primarily connect learners with each other, versus with their instructor (Reid, Ruth & Sharples, 2019). Another group looked to gamified learning to support participatory design in creative ways (Einarson & Mami, 2019). Perhaps the addition of gamification to our proposed use of Flipgrid would further engage students through visual and emotional connections to encourage intellectual risk-taking? Empathic design principles confirm our desire to incorporate an online communication platform such as Flipgrid that seeks to understand some of the emotional experiences of marginalized students and how this affects our instructional design, as well as designing instruction (Mattelmäki, Vaajakallio, & Koskinen, 2014). Differentiated instruction and exploring Universal Design for Learning remain priorities and support our choice to use Flipgrid as well as a choice of another communication platform, to meet barriers to learning  (Hall, Meyer, Strangman, & Vue, 2014). Choosing the right combination of online communication platforms aligns with the synthesis of our proposed online component to reduce barriers to student participation and to create inclusive online learning environments and communities.

Nurturing individual potential is essential in learner-centred, inclusive online learning communities. Rose (2013) provided a powerful and articulate reminder when he spoke to instructional design, pointing out that “if you design those learning environments on ‘average’ [students’ needs and ‘measurements’], odds are you design for nobody” (7:35). Rose also stated, “We have this chance right now, to create learning environments that are so flexible that they can truly nurture the potential of every single individual. It sounds expensive, but it does not have to be. In fact, we can make great strides with simple solutions that we take for granted in our everyday digital lives. For example, translation devices and read-aloud apps…” (11:08). An “intentional mindset that includes designing, making, engagement and curiosity” (Crichton & Carter, 2017, p.18) will be a guide for our future-thinking when creating a prototype to amplify all student voices and inclusivity in our design of digital learning communities. By differentiating instruction and assessment, we will provide enough choice to meet individual learner needs and potential. The online components that we propose (i.e. asynchronous video platforms such as Flipgrid) will encourage more intellectual risk-taking, better nurturing individual potentials, even if our instructional choices are not universally suitable for all students. A resounding consideration in our peers’ feedback on our proposal of Flipgrid as our chosen solution, was a “potential reluctance from mature-aged students” (Kuipers & Lloyd, 2019, para. 3). Our peers’ feedback was thought-provoking; however, we returned to White and Cornu’s (2019) digital resident versus visitor typology for reassuring reminders that age is not as much of a consideration in gauging our learners’ digital skills and literacy as is the way that learners engage with online communities. Similarly, our peers’ concerns about whether our learners’ abilities to implement the chosen platform, to sufficiently enable learning, speaks to the natural tendency of any educator to question the scaffolding of instruction that will prepare all learners to find success (taking into account different points of entry to a given technology or concept in learning). We agreed that it would be ambitious for any proposed technological tool to be universally suitable for all students (L. Gedak & L. McCarthy, personal communication, December 8-9, 2019). We are confident that Flipgrid, an established and user-friendly platform of connected learning, can be made accessible to cross-generational learners (L. Gedak & L. McCarthy, personal communication, November 23, 2019). Nurturing individual potential is not only essential in learner-centred, inclusive online learning communities but becomes more authentic and dynamic for marginalized learners through technological tools such as Flipgrid (Bartlett, 2018; Davis, 2015). We will continue to search for ways to amplify all learners’ voices in our instructional design and designing of instruction efforts; nonetheless, Flipgrid is a valuable tool in our kit.


Bartlett, M. (2018, December). Using Flipgrid to increase students’ connectedness in an online    class. Special Issue: Instructional Technology in the Online Classroom, eLearn. Retrieved from

Black, G., & Hachkowski, C. (2019). Indigenous learners: What university educators need to know. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43(8), 1092-1108.       doi:10.1080/0309877X.2018.1450495

Brown, J., Brock, B., & Závodská, A. (2019). Higher Education in the 21st century: A New Paradigm of Teaching, Learning and Credit Acquisition. Proceedings of The 14th IAC  2019, 87.

Campbell, K., & Schwier, R. A. (2014). Chapter 13: Major movements in instructional design. In Zawacki-Richter, O. & T. Anderson (Eds.), Online distance education: Towards a  research agenda. AU Press.

Crichton, S., & Carter, D. (2017). Section 2: Making the connection: Designing, making, and a  new culture of learning. In Taking Making into Classrooms Toolkit. Open School/ITA.

Davis, R. (2015). The missing voices in EdTech: Bringing diversity into EdTech. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Einarson, E., & Mami, T. (2019, November 29). A gamified ideation app [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Gedak, L., & McCarthy, L. (2019, December 1). Amplifying All Student Voices and Inclusivity in Digital Learning Communities: Part A [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://malat- learning-communities/

Gilbert, M. (2010). Theorizing digital and urban inequalities: Critical geographies of ‘race’, gender and technological capital. Information Communication and Society, 13(7), 1000-     1018. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2010.499954

Johnson, M., & Skarphol, M. (2018). The Effects of Digital Portfolios and Flipgrid on Student Engagement and Communication in a Connected Learning Secondary Visual Arts        Classroom. Retrieved from

Hall, T., Vue, G., Strangman, N., & Meyer, A. (2003). Differentiated instruction and implications for UDL implementation. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the      General Curriculum. (Links updated 2014). Retrieved from

Lloyd, O., & Kuipers, S. (2019, December 3). Re: Amplifying All Student Voices and      Inclusivity in Digital Learning Communities [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://malat- learning-communities/

Reid, S., Ruth, S., & Sharples, K. (2019, November 29). Collabzone app [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Mattelmäki, T., Vaajakallio, K., & Koskinen, I. (2014). What happened to the empathic design? Design Issues30(1), 67-77. doi:10.1162/DESI_a_00249

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants: Part 1. On the Horizon9(5), 1-6. Retrieved from

Rose, T. (2013, June 19). The myth of average: Todd Rose at TEDxSonomaCounty [Video file]. Retrieved from

Stanford University Institute of Design (Producer). (2016). A virtual crash course in design thinking [MOOC]. Retrieved from

Warf, B. (2019). Teaching digital divides. Journal of Geography, 118(2), 77-87.   doi:10.1080/00221341.2018.1518990

Westwood, P. (2015). Commonsense Methods for Children with Special Educational Needs. Retrieved from ebooks/detail.action?docID=200201.

White, D., Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday: Peer-Reviewed Journal on the Internet. Retrieved from

Instructional Design vs Learning Design – New Perspectives, or Conceptual Semantics?

Merrill’s (2002) seminal paper asserted that there are profoundly similar core principles of learning shared between various instructional design theories; and cross-compared distinct models, which identified standard ideologies.  While this paper was written nearly twenty years ago, the identified fundamental principles are still widely used as an effective tool for analyzing the pedagogical quality of course design.  Several scholars have supported the effectiveness of these identified principles since publication, including Gardner’s (2011) study on the impact on student performance when these standards were put into practice.  These principles synthesized by Merrill (2002) resulted in a pragmatic framework that has provided a standard blueprint for instructional designers to use; nevertheless, what about the consideration for the modernized shift from instructional design to learning design?  Muddy is the waters surrounding the distinction of these terms.  There has been a shift in design approach over the past decade with rapid advances in educational technologies, and open pedagogies.  The focus is much more learner-centered, with significant consideration of the needs of learners, and the design of the learning activities (Beetham & Sharpe, 2013; Conole, 2014).  As I begin to carve out my designer identity, (current title ‘teaching and learning with technology strategist’), I acknowledge that my role is underpinned seemingly by both models, and I am toggling between them throughout my practice; Merrill’s (2002) principles can provide a foundation on which to build in these modernized approaches.  Are new considerations required which demand a re-thinking of pedagogical approaches? Otherwise, are we just wrapped up in job title semantics?


Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (2013). Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: Designing for 21st century learning (2nd ed.). Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Conole, G. (2014). The 7Cs of learning design: A new approach to rethinking design practice. Paper presented at the 9th International Conference on Networked Learning 2014, University of Leicester, pp. 502-509. Paper retrieved from

Gardner, J. (2011). Testing the efficacy of Merrill’s first principles of instruction in improving student performance in introductory biology courses. (Doctoral dissertation, Utah State University, United States of America). Retrieved from

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.

Image Retrieved from:

Network Connections – A Graphic Representation

Contemplating digital presence this week has been a valuable exercise.  I have explored where I am spending my time when I am venturing into the digital world through a conceptual digital map and will add to this exploration with a graphic representation of my digital connections.

Similar to my digital map, this depiction is dualistic concerning professional and personal connections and relationships.  There is a fairly even balance between connections in my personal life and those that are related to work or school.  Some networks are used only for one or the other, but the majority are compartmentalized and managed with similar approaches and energies.  I have noted, as I had in my previous blog; that some of the connections are insubstantial and this inspired me to re-evaluate the necessity of such connections (or lack of).

Creating, Cultivating, and Reflecting on My Digital Presence

Upon reflection of my previously created visitor-resident typology, I was able to identify where and how I was allocating my time, and creating my digital presence.  Why was it important to me?  Was my image consistent?  What did I want that image to be?  Did I want to maintain my current affiliations?  Schryver (2013), poses similar questions in her New York Times blog post (The Learning Network) article

“What kinds of things do you tend to post online, and how much thought do you give to choosing or creating them?  What would you not post?  What mental processes do you go through in deciding what to post, when and how?  Do you have a different personality, presentation or persona on different sites or services?  If so, why, and how do they differ?  How do you think you are perceived online?  Why?”

Now that I have contemplated how I want to present myself online as a graduate student and beyond, I have identified three primary goals in cultivating an online presence:

  • To increase the quality of my contributions
  • To join the online scholarly community
  • To increase my awareness of changes concerning digital learning environments

This shift will take a conscious effort, and will require constant reflection as a digital presence is fluid.  “Search for yourself online. Are you proud of your digital presence?  Will you be proud of it in ten years?  Are there things that are untrue or pertain to someone with the same name?  What can you do about that? (Schryver, 2013).

In addition to recurring pause and reflection, I am eager to acquire as much knowledge as I can through educational, professional, and personal learning opportunities that arise; and I anticipate that many will with the emergence of more and more online opportunities.  As I develop and nurture my presence, and except for prescribed institutional apps and software; I will be mindful that the luxury of online self-reinvention is always within my grasp.  “Membership, frequency, and extent of participation in virtual communities is driven by volitional choice, and may be terminated by the member relatively effortlessly” (Park & Floyd, 1996).

Looking back, and looking forward, I am excited to begin consciously molding my digital identity.

Schryver, K. (2016, February 5).  Who Are You Online? Considering Issues of Web Identity [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Park, M., & Floyd, K. (1996). Making friends in cyberspace. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication [Online], 1 (4).  Retrieved from

Conceptual Map of Digital Technologies Using the Resident-Visitor Typology

Creating a digital map using the visitor-resident typology (White, & Le Cornu, 2011), allowed me to reflect on my digital presence and where I am dividing my time when contributing in and on social media, online platforms, and applications.  I observed that within my personal digital presence, I am often a visitor when perusing recreational apps that serve no other purpose than to entertain or amuse.  As a visitor within the institutional context, I noted that the majority of items being mapped in this area were utilized for communication or acquiring information and were much more purposeful in nature.  The items that fell under the resident designation were starkly different from the two perspectives, with my personal use being related to day-to-day tasks such as online banking and shopping and interactions with friends and family; as opposed to the institutional presence consisting of prescribed platforms that support my faculty role. I plan to revisit my digital presence throughout my graduate studies and anticipate that these classifications will oscillate in relation to my learning experiences.

White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9). doi:10.5210/fm.v16i9.3171

Teaching and Learning with Purpose – A Virtual Attendees Reflection

  Virtual Symposium Critical Academic Reflective Blog Post – Unit 1 | Activity 3

          Attending a variety of recorded sessions through the virtual symposium was an excellent preface to the MALAT program and provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my knowledge concerning digital learning environments.  I was amazed at the diversity of speakers in the series and the multifaceted topics.  Each stream of the symposium provided fresh perspectives from diverse lenses and backgrounds which provided intensive exposure to current practices and theories in digital learning.  As a virtual attendee, this provided many opportunities for pause and reflection.  The presentations created by students who were nearing the end of the program were significant, as I was able to extrapolate from their experiences and apply them to my learning journey.  The most insightful recording I viewed challenged the purpose of online learning and reinforced some of my own musings.

            As I reviewed the recordings, I was astounded by the vast terminologies being coined in the field of digital education.  One particular thread that materialized was the need to distinguish the term open which must be interpreted contextually.  Cormier (2017) compares open to a rhizome, difficult to contain with implications only limited to its habitat.  “Open can get really messy, you do get the learning all over you” (Cormier, 2017, 26:55).  Viewing this presentation allowed me to reflect on just how open I had been in my practice, which was not something I had previously considered.  The concept of open within the context of teaching and learning was explored by multiple presenters.  “Most good educators are open educators even if they don’t know that they are open educators because at the heart of education is this willingness to share your knowledge, your skills, your information with learners” (Lalonde, 2018, 10:20).  This allowed me to reflect on the notions of open and how I could best implement some of these ideas within my practice. 

            Especially intriguing were the concepts presented surrounding purposeful content design and delivery. “Students need help to become independent learners, so they’re still gonna need instructors and teachers; and my worry is that this is a move to just put content up on the web and call it online learning” – in reference to the Ontario K-12 online strategy (Bates, 2019, 13:20).  This statement resonated with my recent experience undergoing curriculum development.  What was the motivation?  Was it to be more cost-effective?  Alternatively, was it to provide a better education for our future students?  Was it purposeful?  With limited time release and no additional funds in the coffers, it certainly did not appear purposeful; the hurried instructional design was resulting in a repository of information; with negligible interaction and support from instructors or peers.  Bates (2019) also questions the claims that online learning can be delivered more cost-effectively than learning that occurs on campus, and believes there is a place for both models and that neither should be forced; content should be delivered in the format best suited to learning.  From an ethical standpoint, I agree that designing an online curriculum for cost recovery (or profit) is a poor pedagogy and misguided.  “Curriculum design should be viewed as a process, rather than a product” (Masten, 2015).

                  I was captivated when watching the student research presentation Supporting Volitional Competency in Online Students. (Darbyson, 2018).  According to Darbyson’s research, students are constantly disrupted by life’s circumstances and can find it challenging to maintain motivation.  Persistence and effort are required to achieve success, and there has been little research to show how volitional strategies can be incorporated into the instructional design to support student motivation.  (Darbyson, 2018, 06:45).  I am eager to engage in further readings on volitional strategies that may be of use in my future studies, and that can also be incorporated into my teaching practice.

            The threads presented within the virtual symposium raised substantial and provocative questions that shall be further explored throughout my educational journey within the MALAT program.           



Bates, T. (2019). Rethinking the Purpose of Online Learning [Video file]. Retrieved July 14, 2019, from

Darbyson, R. (2018). Supporting Volitional Competency in Online Students [Video file]. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from

Lalonde, C. (2018). Into the Great Wide Open [Video file]. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from

Masten, M. (2015, October 24). 8 Barriers to Curriculum Design [Blog post]. Retrieved from


 Welcome to my blog! An exploration of teaching and learning in the digital age. I am an educator, Teaching and Learning with Technologies Strategist; and a graduate student who is passionate about pedagogical innovation.  

What Makes a Good Research Question?

  • Focused

“A good question focuses on only one issue and doesn’t try to fit in too much It requires analysis and thinking, and doesn’t have an obvious yes or no answer”  (Laurier Library, 2017)

  • Interesting

“A good research question should pass the “so what?” test. Getting the answer should contribute usefully to our state of knowledge. The acronym FINER denotes five essential characteristics of a good research question: it should be feasible, interesting, novel, ethical and relevant” (Hulley et. al, 2013)


Hulley, S. B., Cummings, S. R., & Browner, W. S. (2013). Designing clinical research. Retrieved from

Laurier Library [Producer]. (2017, Dec 20). Developing a Research Question [Video file]. Retrieved from