When should video replace discussion boards?

Should we transform discussion boards from text to video?  What would we lose or gain when students converse through video recordings instead of written comments?

Jeffrey Young raises this prospect in a provocative EdSurge article.

Joyce Valenza, an assistant teaching professor at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information… and a growing number of instructors [are] asking students to send in short video responses to questions or share their arguments by submitting short video presentations.

This is a practical, short-term question, but also one with resonance in the deeper future.

The technologies are already available.  There are plenty of ways to record and share video from multiple devices.  Different platforms, including learning management systems (LMSes), allow uploading and organizing video clips.  We can use Kaltura and Blackboard, for example. Young mentions Flipgrid and one I know well, VoiceThread.

video discussion Joe Brusky

How would it play out in terms of pedagogy, institutional structure, and other issues, if classes shifted from text-based to video discussions?

I can offer some thoughts by advantages and disadvantages.


  • Connects with our ever-expanding immersion in video
  • Deepens awareness of participants by allowing for more information per post (as the above-mentioned prof puts it, ““I can peek into their environment a bit,” she says. “I can see if there are children running around, or I can see what kind of chaos they might have in their learning space.””)
  • Teaches technological skills (video recording, audio recording, editing, publishing)


  • Challenges for students without access to needed technologies, including video recorders (how many don’t have smartphones?) and broadband
  • Requires support for accessibility, such as captioning
  • Missing opportunity for writing practice
  • Difficulty in searching video content
  • Missing hyperlinking
  • Preservation might be more costly

Beyond this +/- comparison, I wonder about combining text and video.  That doubles complexity, but allows for the positive affordances of both.  Would a set of practices that use text and video discussion become a key element in the next toolkit for online teaching?

Back to the article, I gather than Valenza teaches wholly online classes, and can well appreciate how video’s extra emotional bandwidth can help build a learning community when there isn’t any in-person contact.  Would video discussion be as effective for face-to-face learning?

Looking ahead, should we expect rising interest in video discussion?  Could it supplant old-school text-based discussion boards?

We can go further still.  Video production and consumption is on a massive growth spurt, from the planetary civilization agora that is YouTube to the network-devouring popularity of Netflix (and, to a lesser extent, Amazon, iTunes, etc) to the use of phones and other mobile devices to capture, edit, and share video.  As a friend of mine provocatively observed, “video is the new paper.”

If this goes on, would incorporating more video into classes along these discussion board lines be a good thing for educators to do?  Would it, say, help prepare learners to interact in a video-saturated world? Should we take more seriously calls for integrating video into our previously text-anchored model of literacy?

Further, what does a video-first class look like?  We already have heaps of academic content in video form, from lectures to panel discussions to animations, films, and more.  We have the tools for learners to consume, make, and share video. We have many videoconference platforms to use, from Zoom to Polycom to Hangout, Connect, and Blackboard’s tool.  We have growing technologies for accessibility, like YouTube’s captioning service, improving AI, and practices for crowdsourcing transcripts. We should expect new tools and forms to emerge.  Perhaps the classroom of the future, either face to face or online, is about video first, and other other media and platforms – including text – second.

What kind of teaching and learning is that?

(photo by Joe Brusky; thanks to several friends for thinking about this with me offline)

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7 Responses to When should video replace discussion boards?

  1. I would love to experiment with a Reacting game online, and I know several individuals who have done so using Slack as a way for students to communicate. If you think about, f2f classes use video in the sense that when we see each other, there is visual communication. In some online classes, where there is no video at all, it’s nothing BUT writing. I think that some video like this post describes could even out the experience in an online class. I would not want to get rid of writing, but I think more video could balance the experience that students have in an online class.

  2. Hi Bryan: some other advantages might include things like:

    – allowing more time for those that are more introverted and need more time to formulate their thoughts.
    – allowing more time for those whose first language is not the language of the instruction.
    – allowing time for each person in the class to contribute to the discussion, rather than the vocal dominant few in the metaphorical first row of the class.
    – allowing time for to promote student “deeper thinking” facilitated by the instructor. This would include time for the instructor to diagnose misperceptions, and ask follow up and guiding questions to prompt students to make their thinking and learning more visible.
    (All these can be flipped to disadvantages too)

    Do you remember seesmic.tv ?? (asynchronous video discussion) I LOVED it and was extremely bummed to see it die… but, i think it some of the analysis of why it failed was interesting – people aren’t comfortable with asynchronous video discussion – it is too intimate – the “anonymity” that a text environment provides – is liberating in an asynchronous discussion context – especially to those that are introverted, or image/self conscious. I think the same is probably true of synchronous video. you have to worry about your hair and how stupid you might sound extemporating – and it is recorded. Too much pressure 🙂

  3. Joe Murphy says:

    This immediately reminded me of the fact that Goucher College now accepts a video application as an alternative to a written application essay. If video can become a skill which gets you into college, why wouldn’t it become more recognized as a form of collegiate knowledge production?

    That forces an interesting question of genre, though. What are the types of “discussion board’ posts? Goucher’s app, for example, wants a 2 minute essay – short for a speech, but honestly a lot longer than it would take to read aloud the majority of the discussion board posts I’ve read. This gets at the pedagogical goals and tradeoffs part – if you’re really trying to teach the technical and rhetorical skills of video editing, you’ll have to sacrifice some of the promised ease and speed of one-take videos made on your phone (or vice versa). A discussion board full of just-in-time Q&A reaction videos would necessarily work differently than a series of more complex video essays, both in terms of user experience and role in the syllabus.

    I find myself deeply skeptical about a “discussion” board based on video clips – and yet, I wonder if our students will be more ready for it. YouTubers create videos which interplay and respond to each other all the time; perhaps a generation raised on those conventions will surprise me! (And too many discussion boards are just sequential comments to the faculty member anyway.)

    That reminds me to look at the faculty side. I’ve got a couple of colleagues who routinely screencast short videos to deal with questions which didn’t get their full due in class (or which surface outside class time). The Turnitin grading tool has an option for the faculty member to leave an audio comment as a form of feedback, and there seemed to be a flurry of articles about grading papers with screencasts a year or two ago. So you have a good point that the creation of short, semi-formal media pieces is an increasingly important skill in many professions.

    And yet there’s the problem that watching video just takes longer than reading for most people. There’s a logistical assessment problem there, which will need a creative solution. (There’s also a methodological assessment problem – do we really know what “good” looks like?)

    (Experimental data: this took me 1:38 to read aloud, though much more than that to write. Also, I talk too fast. Also also, I should write shorter sentences so there are more places to breathe.)

  4. To add on to Joe’s points, and beyond the limits of an ability to search, a limit of video, beyond listening at 1.5x, is that you can not easily scan/skim like one can do with text. You cannot glance at a video and get high level sense of what’s in it. I also wonder about a difficulty of communicating with nuance; video is literal.

    To me, it’s the human voice, and to some degree, seeing the person that adds some human, compelling aspects. You cannot hide behind weasel words because they are coming out of your mouth.

    The question that begs to me is, why is it either/or? Why talk of replacing? Why not both?

    Also, FYI, a friend of mine who teaches an online Geology class at Maricopa Community Colleges has her students submit short video assignments. I almost got to teach the class for her, but let me know if you want a contact.

  5. emdalton says:

    I worry about the negatives of this idea. Many students and faculty I know don’t want to upload a picture of themselves as a forum avatar. A video would be even more problematic, I think. The accessibility and slower scan rate are also serious concerns. And many students learning English are more fluent in reading and writing. In summary, video might be an advantage for some students, but would likely be a disadvantage to others. This is something to keep in mind with any new educational technology or methodology– what benefits some students may harm others.

  6. Ellsbeth says:

    I’m just finishing up the first term where I experimented with student videos in one of my online classes. I offered students bonus points on the traditional discussion board introduction post if they used Canvas’s video option instead of just text. 53% of students chose the video option. I also offered the same choice in a low residency class where the first 1/3 of the residency had to be transferred online due to inclement weather, and 64% of those students chose video. As an instructor, I loved getting to see my students’ faces and environments. This was especially true for the low residency class, where I ended up with only 8 hours of face-to-face instructional time with them. I knew a lot of names and faces before I saw them for the first time during week 4 (I typically see them week 1). One of the things I struggle with in online classes is making the same strong connections with students that occur in my face-to-face classes. While video doesn’t remedy the entire situation, I found I felt more connected with the students, and the students felt more connected with one another.

    In the fully online class, students also did a video presentation for their final project. I got a lot of good feedback from them about sharing their work that way with one another.

    On the instructor end, it does take longer for me to evaluate videos than written work. This is especially true if students used the Canvas video tool instead of YouTube, since Canvas doesn’t provide the option to alter the video speed.

    One thing that should be part of the discussion is accessibility. In my course, I included a brief explanation regarding the accessibility of video, since it was an education class and they’ll need to consider this in their professional practice. I also had a deaf student in the class, so I required students to include a transcript or use YouTube’s closed captioning option on the final project (they needed to edit on YouTube, since it’s imperfect). I think this is a good standard practice for educators. Some students automatically included a transcript in their introduction videos because it was a cohort, and they knew their colleague was deaf. I admit I didn’t consider this at first because I wasn’t immediately aware that I had a deaf student in the course. The accommodations notice for video transcription came after the introduction post assignment. I’m debating options on how to best incorporate transcripts or closed captioning with student video on a regular basis in the future. Since it is beneficial to students who are deaf, as well as English Language Learners and others, I think it is important. However, it also adds an extra layer of work for students. I regularly do this for my own videos (I use my script as the transcript) and it is easy for me to justify this extra work to my education students. Would a transcript/closed captioning element deter or prevent instructors from utilizing video responses? Or could it have benefits like speeding up the grading process? Also, how would instructors determine which video assignments required transcription/closed captioning and which do not? What about blind students? I plan to continue experimenting with student created videos, especially in discussion boards, and I’m curious to hear the thoughts of others on this.

  7. Wendy says:

    Good point. You should know that flipdgrid does allow for transcriptions for every video uploaded. This feature has to be enabled by the instructor but they they don’t need captions because they have transcriptions. Voicethread is a good tool too, but it only received a 67% for accessibility.

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