Discussing Adolescence: Where Do Video Discussion Assignments Fit?

A common classroom scenario: the instructor poses a question for discussion, followed by uncomfortable silence. No one wants to be the first to engage. Use of message boards for discussion, which increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, appears—from my experience anyway—to face a similar problem, with students generally seeming to submit only the minimum number of replies required per the course syllabus. Some instructors have taken advantage of the technological advances available to today’s online learning environment and incorporated video options into their discussion assignments. Such options may show promise in increasing student engagement. While it might be too early to conclude that video-based discussions are more successful than their text-based counterparts in maintaining student engagement, my experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for a course on Adolescent Development at the University of Texas at El Paso has led me to believe that video boards could be a helpful alternative (or supplement) to traditional text-based message board discussions.

In the course for which I worked as a TA, we used a platform called Flipgrid, which allowed students to upload short video clips of their responses to weekly discussion questions or prompts. Flipgrid also gave students the option to blur their videos, add some flair to their backgrounds, and upload a voice recording instead of a full video. The blurring and voice record features seemed to be welcomed by some students who were less comfortable sharing their responses on video. From the perspective of a TA, students’ use of creative video editing options also helped make the time spent grading go by faster.

Having worked as a TA for the Adolescent Development course before and throughout the pandemic, I noticed that students appeared more enthusiastic and chose to respond on more of their classmates’ posts when doing so through a video platform as opposed to a more traditional message board format. Specifically, when engaging in discussion responses through video, some students responded to more classmates’ posts than required by syllabus guidelines, and many students appeared more comfortable and excited to be discussing the presented topics when given the chance to speak their thoughts rather than write them. Importantly, students also seemed to prepare more for the video responses than they did for a typical written response. Video responses often voluntarily included at least one or two references to the given week’s lecture material, and a reflection on how the week’s lecture either coincided with or differed from what the student believed about adolescence prior to taking the Adolescent Development course. In my prior experience as a TA for this course, such connections appeared to be less common when discussions were held through a text-based format. In turn, the connections to lecture material also appeared to assist in students’ responses on essay questions during weekly quizzes when the questions incorporated some component of the discussion topic that was covered that week. Notably, it seemed that students were using the discussion assignments for their intended purpose, perhaps without even realizing it.

Of course, there is still an important place for written discussion within an academic course. Indeed, written discussion may help strengthen writing and communication skills in a way which spoken language cannot, and there may be benefits to allowing different modes of response to accommodate different learning preferences, skills, and strengths. Nonetheless, video chat platforms seem to be successful in simulating an in-person classroom experience and in fostering connections among students, as well as between students and the instructor or TA. As such, video options for web-based discussions—in conjunction with written assignments spaced throughout the course—may be useful in boosting engagement and connections among students. Courses that continue to be offered online, or in-person courses that use web-based discussions, may benefit from incorporating this more personalized method of student discourse.

Anna D. Drozdova is a third-year doctoral student in the Legal Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her research interests center around social networks of justice-involved juveniles, and how such networks impact juvenile offenders’ engagement in problem behaviors (e.g., continued offending, substance use). Specifically, Anna is interested in exploring how the stability and structure of juvenile offenders’ peer networks affect their institutional misconduct during incarceration and their recidivism post-release



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