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.
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