In an increasingly connected, global society, it’s not surprising that now, more than ever, teachers and students are looking for opportunities to interact with each other and content experts around the world. But the challenges posed by time differences can be a barrier. A Skype call between California and France requires one party to participate either too early or too late for logistical ease, let alone comfort.
Fortunately, there are tools that can allow for meaningful interaction, but asynchronously, meaning both parties don’t have to be online at the same time. One of my favorites is Flipgrid.
Flipgrid allows teachers to set up a site (“grid”) and pose a question via video for students or others to answer, also via video. Once users have replied to an initial question, their responses become part of threaded video conversations. Participants can respond directly to the initial question or to any other response that has been recorded on the grid.
As a language teacher, this tool is invaluable. I want my students to have conversations beyond the classroom. I want them to interact with other French speakers, rather than solely with each other and myself. But living in California, contacting our epals in France is rendered unlikely due to the nine-hour time difference. When we are in class, they are at home with their families, not in a central location where we can all Skype. The same is true when they are in class. Contacting our Peace Corps volunteer friend in Cameroon, West Africa, isn’t much better. Sure the time difference is only eight hours, but she lives in a village without Internet. When she is in town and can get online, it is the weekend and my students are scattered all over the Sacramento region. Flipgrid to the rescue!
We have multiple grids running: one to our epals in France and one to a university student who told us about her ERASMUS program participation. (ERASMUS is a program that provides European university students with a year or semester abroad in another European country to perfect their language skills and build their cultural knowledge.) We also have a grid running with our Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa.
Here is our grid with Maylis, the French college student who spent this school year in the ERASMUS program.
To view, click on the image appearing above and then on one of the round photo thumbnails below the introductory video in order to hear the students’ interactions with Maylis. The grid has been made active so that you can explore the ways the students participated. However, if you attempt to submit a question or a response, it will not be posted
But Flipgrid doesn’t have to be limited to language classes. Social science and science teachers can use Flipgrid to connect their students to experts, eyewitnesses and others with expertise about the content they are studying. Similarly, English teachers can use Flipgrid to allow students to interact with authors or literary experts, and visual and performing arts teachers can converse with artists and performers.
Enabling others to participate in your grid is as easy as sending them a link. They can reply (or post their own questions) using a computer with a Webcam. Or, if you send the grid code (generated by Flipgrid), users can paste it in their Flipgrid app and participate from their phones.
When individuals participate, they will
- Listen to the question (or to replies from other participants).
- Choose to reply to the original topic question or to another participant.
- Hit the + symbol to add their response.
- Record the video of their response.
- Preview the video and re-record if necessary. (Note that it is not possible to edit only a portion of the video response.)
- Submit the response.
- Add a thumbnail shot that will appear on the grid — usually people take selfies, but they could take a picture of an object, if desired.
Teachers can create multiple grids, and grids can also have multiple topics within them. So far, I have not needed to create grids with multiple topics, but the ability to do so can be very useful. For example, elementary teachers may want to create different grids for two or three of their subject areas — such as ELA, science and history — and then use each grid to discuss different aspects of that content throughout the year. Students can have discussions with each other on the grids, with other classes studying the same content, or with content experts around the world.
Teachers can try Flipgrid for free with a 30-day trial and one-year subscription costs $65, which is quite reasonable for a tool that brings the world’s voices to your classroom and sends your students’ voices around the world. My school’s PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) provides small grants to teachers each year, which has covered my costs. If this is an option at your school, it is worth investigating.
I encourage you to try Flipgrid and see how easy it is to engage students in rich, meaningful interactions, regardless of age, content or even time zone.