I’ll be teaching a fully asynchronous online 8-week course this summer, on American Economic History. It’s an experimental course at a junior-senior elective level, which is also open to grad students. I have one high school teacher enrolled, who is working on his 18-credit requirement to teach CIHS classes in US History.
The basic format of the class will be that each weekly unit will include a lecture, a monograph chapter or article reading, and student responses to that content. Since this will be a fully asynchronous course, most of the interaction would normally be in writing. However, I’d like to try to improve the level of interest and increase student interaction, beyond what I’ve been able to achieve in the past with threaded discussions in the LMS or social annotation using Hypothesis. So I’m considering trying out two new apps, Flipgrid and Kialo, with this class.
Flipgrid is a free tool for creating video discussion threads. The company was established around 2015 by a UMN professor, Charles Miller, and his grad students. In 2018, the company, which had been through at least one round of venture financing, was bought by Microsoft. The upshot of that seems to have been that instead of being a fremium app, Flipgrid has become totally free for educators.
The point of Flipgrid is that I’ll be able to post video questions to my students, and they will be able to post video answers, and then comment on each other’s videos, either in text or video format. The clips will all be stored in a private “grid” and available only to invited users. So there shouldn’t be any problem with either privacy or trolls. The advantage, I think, is that in addition to the novelty, students will get to see the faces and hear the voices of people beside me. This probably isn’t quite as good as an in-person or even a Zoom discussion, but at least I’ll be able to get everybody to participate (since they’ll be graded on that), and they’ll each have to contribute to the discussion, rather than having a couple of people dominate. I’m looking forward to trying this — if it works I may even use it for some of my HyFlex or even in-person classes in the future.
The second app, Kialo, is something I had not even heard about until very recently. I think I discovered it in an episode of Sam Kary’s New Edtech Classroom. It was developed by a German-Swiss inventor named Errikos Pistos in 2017, and offers a free platform for moderated debate. The app will allow me to ask a question and have students take different sides. Pro and con arguments can be made, citing evidence from course content. And then the arguments can be voted on by the students. I think I’ll use this for a few multi-week discussion projects, on larger questions in the course. The Market Transition debate, for example, or Capitalism. I wonder whether, in addition to facilitating that sort-of point-counterpoint approach, Kialo might be used by a group to refine a shared understanding of a topic? The Kialo website includes examples not only of debates, but of preparing an essay and of what they call “Knowledge Sharing”. This could possibly be a way to engage with some of the bigger themes of the course (framing questions), over an extended period of time. I might even be able to do something with the students’ research papers in Kialo: maybe have them post their ideas for a topic and then have other students ask them questions and upvote the responses that seem interesting and promising. Kind of a crowd-sourced feedback process for their papers. Maybe I could even do exams on Kialo, which would turn them into debates or discussions and create more opportunities for students to demonstrate critical thinking, rather than just parroting info I’ve provided to them previously. That would certainly make reading exams more interesting for me!
I’ll still use Hypothesis, of course, to have students respond to individual readings throughout the term. I’m imagining these three apps, Hypothesis, Flipgrid, and Kialo, as a nested hierarchy. I may also require the students to write short reviews of the readings, which they’ll submit directly to me in the course shell. And to write a term paper. So there will still be an opportunity for them to practice the skills they traditionally learn in an upper-level history class.