Using Flipgrid Videos and Breakout Rooms to help students discuss crime fiction

I came to the #DigPINS experience through the back door, so to speak. I had ideas for modifying my Spanish 389 special topics course titled “Murder, Mystery and Mayhem: Contemporary Latin American Crime Fiction and Film” to enhance student learning and increase student interest in the course. After talking with Susan Ashley about my ideas, she invited me to write a proposal to participate in this experience. This course previously had relied primarily on written homework to keep students accountable for reading and staying up to date with the material. I wanted to explore new ways of using technology and full spectrum learning to provide more variety in the ways we engaged with and discussed the crime genre in Latin American literature and film that were also meaningful and engaging for students. 

My plan had several components, which included incorporating escape rooms or breakout rooms early in the course to help students with the development of reasoning and analytical skills (mimicking the process of deductive reasoning we were observing in classical detective fiction), skills for close reading of texts, and teambuilding. I also implemented video recordings using Flipgrid to replace some of the written homework assignments to help students reflect on and verbally express their thoughts about the texts they read or watched, visits to the virtual reality room to experience locations we read about in class (also part of my proposal), as well as respond to each other’s ideas. I was also interested in incorporating Podcasts in which students can create movie reviews “on the radio” or anticipate or recreate the endings of the stories and texts. However, I decided this was too many initiatives for the project and I felt a little overwhelmed at the time, so I decided to postpone this last component. 

I had hoped to incorporate breakout rooms two times during the semester, but moving to remote learning in March obstructed my plan and we were only able to do it once. Susan joined my class that day and helped me with set-up and observed the experience. I was very pleased with the results and will definitely use this learning opportunity again. I saw students step up at different points through the breakout experience and contribute their strengths and reasoning skills to solve the clues and help everyone break out of the “escape room” (a little locked box). I saw them try different ideas when other ideas didn’t work until they were able to open each lock. I also saw them, as Susan pointed out, move from working independently and distanced from each other, to working collaboratively and physically moving closer to each other as collaboration increased. I have to say, though, that my favorite part was watching them after they were able to break open the box. I had filled it with different types of candy, which they divided up between them and then sat and ate the candy while they talked and laughed about the experience and other things. The resources students needed to complete the breakout rooms were non-tangibles, basically. I provided all the materials and prompts and they provided the analytical and problem solving skills, the determination and patience for completing the task. My assessment of the success of this part of the project occurred when discussing initial observations of the experience with Susan while students were in the middle of the process and then when I met with Susan subsequently to reflect with her on the experience. Student engagement was gauged and assessed as part of the weekly participation grade for that week.

Implementing Flipgrid video recordings into the course accomplished what I had hoped it would as far as elevating student learning, and became an essential tool when we moved to remote learning due to Covid-19. I had only anticipated requiring 4 Flipgrid video assignments, but when we lost the face to face aspect of the course, which is critical for discussion of the readings and films in upper-level Spanish courses, I added 5 more videos for a total of 9. It became a primary mechanism for students sharing their ideas with me and with the class and for simulating, as much as possible, the back and forth spontaneous exchange of ideas that the classroom had previously provided (for each of their own Flipgrids, they had to make short video comments of two peers’ videos through a commenting mechanism in Flipgrid). A concern I had was that in making their own videos and in their responses to others’ videos, students would only make abstract, superficial remarks i.e. what they liked or agreed with. However, I was so pleased to see how carefully they thought about their own responses and how closely they listened to each others’ videos and were able to critically evaluate their peer’s contributions in the course. They responded thoughtfully to specific points about narrative and filmic texts, their visits to the VR room and to critical essays on crime fiction. 

As I anticipated, one of the biggest ways this project built digital literacies, skills and citizenship was through the framework of Digital Communication, as described in the Bryn Mawr Digital Competencies. As the semester progressed, students became more and more familiar and comfortable with using Flipgrid to share their thoughts and reflections as well as make video responses through the Flipgrid platform to ideas expressed by their classmates’ videos. I assigned prompts of different levels of complexity and gave them anywhere from 3 to 5 to 10 minutes to create their videos. 

Also, this project facilitated building rudimentary Audiovisual Analysis and Production skills. Flipgrid is not super complex and is pretty intuitive, but it did allow for some creativity and personalization, as well as facilitate building basic digital storytelling techniques. For example, one student filmed all her videos at an angle in front of the same blue wall and another filmed his videos standing over the camera looking down. Many of them incorporated pets or family members in the snapshot they had to take in order to post each video. So they were thinking about how they were projecting their image and created a digital personality while filming their videos. I also anticipated that by using audiovisual media such as Flipgrid would give students the opportunity to more effectively communicate ideas because this platform allowed them to work on their verbal skills in Spanish, alone, through frequent recordings and with multiple opportunities to correct their verbal expression by starting their recordings over if they were not satisfied. 

The resources students needed to be successful for this segment of my proposal was, primarily, initial technical help with setting up Flipgrid. Susan Ashley came to my classroom the first week of classes and helped students download the app and set it up on their phones. Students could also later set it up on their computers if they wanted to use Flipgrid that way. We did a practice video in class just to say hello. Then, following Susan’s advice, I planned to assign four additional videos during the semester to discuss course readings and films as well as reflect on the breakout room session. However, as I mentioned above, moving to remote learning necessitated an increase in the number of videos the students made and, because they were not able to discuss the course material face to face in class, allowed them a platform throughout the semester for expressing their responses to the various texts and did not lead, as far as I know, to feelings of burnout with the technology. 

In order to assess the videos I created a basic 10-point rubric, which set the expectations for the videos: 1-4 points for the length of the recording (longer length suggests further development of ideas), 2 points for responding to all the prompts of the assignment, 2 points for thoughtful reflection and 2 points for commenting on 2 classmates’ videos.  

In sum, I am extremely pleased that I had the opportunity to implement these teaching strategies and tools this semester, of all semesters. Not only did I see student engagement and learning enhanced, acquiring the skills I did in this experience set me up better for what I was to face during the second half of the course during remote learning, which obligated me to learn to use several other new digital tools in order to successfully teach my classes and to use some I was already familiar with in ways I had not used them previously. I seamlessly and successfully incorporated Flipgrid video activities into my Spanish 102 courses, partially supplementing the in-class participation component, which changed drastically when we had to move to remote teaching. My next steps will be to continue to use both Flipgrid, VR and breakout rooms in courses as much as the course design will allow and to explore opportunities to learn more about making Podcasts and to set up my own domain for future courses. 

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