9 Affordances of Technology to Humanize Instruction

Wendy Taleo

“Humanizing online instruction means creating a sense of connectedness that has been noted in research studies as methods for engaging and retaining students” (HumanMOOC Week 0, 2015).

This chapter will look at three applications as examples of Internet-enabled technology that is more engaging for the student than written text. Moving onward from text-only forms of communication, these applications can create a sense of connectedness and enhance presence in online learning. These applications, Youtube Live Events, Google+ (Google Plus) Communities, and FlipGrid can be used in conjunction with a Learning Management System (LMS) or outside of that framework. In the HumanMOOC these applications were used in conjunction with the Canvas Learning Management System. Participants were required to sign up to the Canvas network to access learning material. Participants were then directed (via hyperlinking) to other applications that were used for various activities. This will be both a practical guide to operate these applications and understand using these types of technologies in a learning environment to assist in humanizing instruction.

These applications are a “media/technology fusion” (Carlson et al, 2012) that fits into the category of “new, new media” (Levinson, 2009). These applications allow for open access across the Internet with freedom for anyone to create and share content. The ability for students or participants in a course to create content gives a more dynamic learning experience than just relying on preset content. By using these applications, the facilitator or teacher can strive for the connectedness mentioned above, as a way to engage students.

The applications will be addressed in four sections: Introduction, Before you sign up, Be Aware, and Exemplars. The first two sections will look at what the application does and what is needed to start using it. Some pointers are provided in the Be Aware section that may assist in choosing the correct tool for your learning design. Exemplars are provided from the HumanMOOC and other studies by the author where you can quickly see the end result of using these applications. For each application, there are areas that need to be considered carefully and some restrictions which may guide your usage of these applications. There is not a single perfect solution to engaging and retaining students but by considering the function and possibility of these applications it might guide you in a new direction worth trying. In the classic novel by Robert Pirsig (1999), he said, “But how can you put on the blackboard the mysterious internal goal of each creative person.” We can seek to tap into the intrinsic motivation of each student by using a range of modes for delivery and more than that, to humanize the instruction for students that are remote from other students and instructors or facilitators. Through this humanizing, we seek to connect and learn in a way that is effective and engaging.

Flipgrid – Introduction

Flipgrid (www.flipgrid.com) is a video-based tool that allows participants to connect in a way that is easy and simple to use. A video exchange application, it is set up in grids which groups people together (by a common entry point) to discuss a particular topic. Flipgrid allows users to have asynchronous discussions that are audio and visually enhanced. Flipgrid allows questions to be posed in text or video format and then shared with a chosen audience that has the link to access. Video responses can then be posted in return. The tools available for each video are a count of views, likes, and sharing. It is available via a web browser and also via apps on mobile devices. As with most apps, there are some limitations of using this on a mobile device (see the Be Aware section below).

This tool is very visual in its design and function and encourages the visual and audio aspects of learning. It has the benefits of both a video question (optional text added) and video only responses. After signup, there is a basic three-step process for using this tool. Firstly create a set of questions. This is called the grid. As participants use Flipgrid, video responses to the questions will be posted. For each video, you have the option to “like” and/or share. The share option is controlled by the person setting up the grid so this may or may not be available. Share options include linking, embed code, Facebook, or Twitter sharing.

One of the claims by Flipgrid is that it ‘builds community.’ You certainly feel like you are more ‘in’ a conversation using this app than text-based discussion forums. This has been my experience in using this tool during the HumanMOOC and other online studies. Listening to videos of other participants makes it easier to relate and to recognize who has participated in that particular activity. In particular, the face image stays with you and the reverse of the idiom of “putting a name to a face” is more likely to occur in future written interactions.

Before you sign up

There is a 21-day demo period available. This is linked to an email address so it is possible to get more than one demo period. If you are using this for teaching select the K12 Classroom annual licenses. The license kicks in for 365 days from the date of purchase. In June 2015 this was $65 per year for 10 Grids and Students pay $0. The University bundle is $60 per year for 5 Grids (Students still pay $0). If the license expires, no more videos can be posted however the data is kept by Flipgrid for 3 months. You can renew your license anytime within those 3 months and all data will be maintained.

Each grid gets a unique grid hash and this can be entered at the front screen to go directly to the set of questions.

Each grid can have different privacy settings. This includes moderation, direct link disabling, password protection and hiding social buttons. See Flipgrid Support for more details.

Be Aware

  • There is no ability to text comment or respond to another person post unless you do it via another video.
  • Everybody needs to be made aware of the requirements of video to use this tool.
  • The admin tool allows for removal of video posts and moderation. The browser version required Flash 10.3 plugin or later (HTML5 version is in progress as at June 2015).
  • If you don’t know the grid hash then there is no ability to search (as a user or student).
  • There is some support available via email for instructors that have signed up.
  • There is no provision for downloading the videos. However, you can enable the sharing of individual videos via Facebook and Twitter and embed code is available to place the video in other areas
  • This tool has a recommended browser of Google Chrome. Other browsers may give incorrect performance

One of the challenges here is the immediacy of video. You need to be a bit prepared. While you can do a retake, it requires more focus as you are aware you are being recorded. However the ability to quickly reply even if unpolished and informal is a bonus. By giving the viewers a bit more information about ourselves with non-verbal signals, it helps to humanize the connection. By watching someone speak we can pick up on facial expressions and gestures that are missing information from written text.

Exemplars
One of the questions in the 2015 Social Presence grid starts with “What are you hoping to learn….” This is one way of sharing learning and learning from others from their own insights and reflections. There were 19 respondents to this question. The ability to quickly scroll across the list and connect or remember people by sight is a part of the simple design. Some people put funny faces or items as their profile shot and that is interesting as it stays with me. I might not remember that person’s name but I can remember their video response!

There is nothing new about using video as an instructional tool but usually, this is the domain for the instructor. This application ensures that everyone can be seen and heard. Video is no longer just for the teacher. Videos do not have to be polished and have a lot of post production work time spent on them to be effective. It can bring a better appreciation of instructional content when you reflect on your own contributions in this format.

Some other ideas for usage are:

  1. As a collaborative tool. Students could create a poem collaboratively and recite their piece of the poem. A single Flipgrid would then provide a completed poem recital.
  2. As an introduction forum. Ask students to post an introduction video about themselves. Encourage videos that are not just “talking heads” but use props and different locations.

Youtube Live Streaming Events (formally known as Google Hangouts On Air) – Introduction

This tool is part of the Youtube suite of products. It is used for synchronous, video discussions. Youtube Live Events facilitate group conversations with text messaging, video, and voice. This link: Create a Live Stream Event will tell you more.

As Live Events are streamed there is a very ‘human’ aspect to using this application. If you ‘umm’ or ‘err’ or forget what you were about to say – it’s all recorded. While the participants usually speak the same language, connecting people from different continent and corners of the world means that local terms and accents are heard. Closed captioning is also available to provide translation if that is required. There is something about an accent different to your own that alerts your ear to pay attention to the message.

Before you sign up

You will need to have a Youtube account to sign in and use Live Events. It is a good idea to setup a Google+ profile as well. This can assist other people to correctly locate your account in Google+ circles and promote Events.

Be Aware

  • Before you decide to use a Live Event ensure that everyone involved knows and agrees that it will be broadcast publicly.
  • If you want to edit the video then ensure that can manage that process within Youtube. See more details here: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/183851?hl=en
  • If the Hangout is more than 2 hours long and you want to edit it. You need to download it from Youtube first, amend and then upload again. The support page given above will give you more details.
  • Check for any restrictions that are effective for your country and your channel through the Features section. See more details here:
    https://www.youtube.com/features

Exemplars

In the HumanMOOC Live Events were used for specific topics and to engage with guest speakers. Below are two examples. These Live Events were available to watch as they were being recorded and immediately afterwards (no editing).

HumanMOOC Youtube Channel

I am going to discuss two examples that contrast in style and presentation to give you an idea of how this tool can be used.

#HumanMOOC Debate: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous – Streamed 22 March 2015 (25mins)

In this Hangout, there are two main speakers and a facilitator. While the topic is set, the conversation is quite casual and it is easy to listen to. There is an immediate association with the speaker as you can observe facial expressions, gestures, and listen to their voice. What I remember is the background, I make an immediate association of striped curtains to Maha Bali. While this was labelled a debate, the informal nature of this Hangout is more a conversation and easy to follow and understand.

#HumanMOOC Conversation: Triggering Events to Promote Cognitive Presence – Streamed 28 March 2015 (37 mins)

The second example includes one main guest speaker and two co-facilitators.

Jim Groom is well practiced at this type of communication and you can get a real sense of his message. He uses other tools like screen sharing, video clips, storytelling, and introducing his cat! As well as being an animated speaker, these extra touches add a sensory and audio touch that enables you to feel that you are part of the conversation whenever you watch it.

This is a great tool to make your presence felt online. It is a convenient way of sharing video conversations with a wide range of people. Live Events allow you to chat with people you know and to build rapport and reputation. Open access allows others to watch and join in the conversation asynchronously through Twitter (which was used in this case at the same time as the hangout) or by connecting with the speakers on different platforms.

Google Plus Communities
https://plus.google.com/communities

Introduction

Communities are part of the Google+ suite of products. Communities allow connections between people with similar interests. This introductory video covers the basics of Communities.

Google+ Communities: A place for whatever you’re into

Communities are great for: connecting, discussing, sharing and learning.
Gathering together people of like interests this is an open connected space. Posts (what you type) are seen by members of the Community and other people can comment or share them further. This encourages conversation and discussions to emerge within the community of people. Google+ Communities use Google+ People with the Circles (or group) feature. You can find out more about Circles here. The first choice when creating a new community is the Privacy Options, Public or Private (requires members to join before they can post in the Community).
Public Communities are open to everyone on the internet (with a Google plus login).  Private Communities require you to invite members to join the group.

Before you sign up
You will require a Google+ account to setup a Community or join other communities. Are you a Google Apps user (School or work environment)?  Check out the details here: https://support.google.com/plus/answer/3379754 for details of features available.

Be Aware

  • Each Community can have one or more moderators, if there is a user who is posting content unrelated to the chosen topic, a moderator could step in and manage that person.

Exemplars
The Learning Community Making Learning Connected (#CLMOOC) is a public Community with 3,200 members at the time of writing. This community of learners spans four years of studying and connecting in this open space. It holds all the Google+ posts made by members. When posting in Google+ you can add a variety of information, text, photos, hyperlinks, events etc. This allows you to create media-rich posts and share blogs, web links and other media.

The search function allows you to quickly locate information within the Community and this is particularly useful in a large community such as this. Notifications are also another feature of the Community that you can turn on or off. This is a quick visual number on the G+ banner that is put on the Community icon before you open it so you can quickly see how many new posts are available since you last visited the Community. This is particularly useful if you are a member of multiple Communities.

Community moderators can create topics to divide the discussions and monitor those that post. In the Making Learning Connected Community, there is a discussion area for each week of the course that has a different theme. When you post you can choose which discussion section you wish to post into. For each post, you have the comment ability and/or +1 (like) option. You can link people into the conversation by referencing their name (using the + symbol) and this will ensure that they get notified about your comment. It is also easy to connect with people that you are studying with on a longer term basis by building your own Personal Learning Network (PLN). By hovering your mouse over the person’s name you have the ability to add them to Google+ Circles.

The previous section talked about Youtube Live Events. For promotion of the activity, a corresponding Google Event can be created. This can be added into the Community as a post, as a reminder about the event. By clicking on this type of post within the Community each person can indicate whether they will attend the event or not.

In summary, we have looked at three applications, Flipgrid, Youtube Live Events, and Google+ Communities. These applications have audio, visual, and community building features. The affordance of these technologies to humanize online learning can be increased by the way they are setup and facilitated. Live Event and Flipgrid have the benefits of audio and visual aspects. Google+ Communities can tie these together, bringing content into one area and encouraging connection through shared conversations in this space. The speed of application development ensures that there will always be new applications to try and some will not last the distance. Keep in mind the humanizing aspects when looking for new applications and ways to enhance the learning experience.

References

Levinson, P. (2013). New New Media: Pearson.

Carlson, C., Aust, P., Gainey, B., McNeill, S., Powell, T., Witt, L. (2012). “Which Technology Should I use to Teach Online?”: Online Technology and Communication Course Instruction. MERLOT, Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8(4).

Pirsig, R. M. (1999). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (25th Anniversary Edition ed.): Vintage.

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Affordances of Technology to Humanize Instruction by Whitney Kilgore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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