About Flipped Classrooms - Commentary and Resources

Resources are at the bottom of this page.

Johnathann Begman Aaron Sams started the Flipped Classroom movement with their innovations in 2007. Learning without the teacher in the room started in Lascaux France at the very latest. In the cave painting in Dead Man's Shaft, a cautionary image was drawn about the dangers of hunting. Not only could students learn after the cave painter had gone to bed, we still learn from that painter many thousands of years after the painter's death. Now that is distance learning!

A lot of criticisms of the movement hinge upon the concept that distance learning is not a new phenomena. Putting ideas down so that learning can take place without a teacher clearly happened a long, long time ago, even if you don't buy my Lascaux example. Mesopotamian cylinder seals are another early example because they allow printing clay "newspapers." The evolutionary changes in the brain that enabled this are part of the standard human genetic package and are at least 35 to 75 thousand years old in terms of the basic hardware.

As I understand it, the movement is about managing and leveraging distance learning to enahance face-to-face learning at a previously unprecedented level to improve schooling through technology. This is very new and focusing our attention on it can only improve how we understand learning. It might be useful to consider this movement as promoting a kind of classroom "software" that leverages our innate abilities in new ways. Keeping these two concepts separate (distance or independent learning/flipping classrooms) is a useful thing. I write this because so many objections to the movement seem to be based on mistaking the new method as an imposter for the phenomena.I like this infographic as a starting point:

Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

The flipped classroom seems to be lightning rod. The URL in sources at the bottom links to a very lively discussion about the virtues and evils of flipping classrooms, if that is of interest.

My teaching experience with flipping and blending has been strongly positive. I always made great effort to regularly gather student feedback and respond with immediate adjustments. That may be part of why it worked in my classroom. The other reason it probably worked for me was that the majority of my students were highly motivated high school students. On the flip-side, some of the most compelling stories come from some extremely challenged learning envronments where flipped models have provided success at unprecedented levels.

I am not claiming that all students loved the new methods all the time. My grumblers did, at very least, enjoy spending more class time doing things and applying information in project form. Even in the hands of spectacular educators, it is frustrating for students to endlessly take in information without outlets or at least context for its use.

Now I am a full time technology integrator. Teachers I have worked with have achieved powerful improvements to student learning. Through my graduate study and assisting teachers with implementation, I see a stronger reason to support flipping and also have more specific insights and cautions to offer.

The easiest point of confusion to address are the incorrect assumptions that flipping is only about putting Powerpoints and video of lectures online instead of providing instruction. Those resources only address the first tier of Bloom's Taxonomy. The online presentations and those resources only achieve the initial intake of new information. The goal of flipping, as I understand it, is to allow more students to climb closer to the top of Bloom's Revised Digital Taxonomy, successfully crossing through synthesis and ending with truly creative application of the ideas in all manner of expressions.

So, what are some of the most basic possible factors in success or failure at flipping?

  • First, it depends on the educator. We all present different learners with different strengths and weaknesses. This depends on the limits of our understanding and ability that come from being human and also on how well our preferred ways of thinking match those of our students.

  • Second, online work requires a totally different kind of preparation for classes and course-planning. The kind of speech that communicates effectively in class is far less specific and thorough as that in a book, for example.

  • Third, no one has all the skills needed to pull off flipped coursework worthy of our students without input, assistance, support and diverse educating experiences.

  • Fourth, there need to be well-understood auditing frameworks available so teachers can figure out what is not going well and respond quickly.

The bottom line: flipping should be undertaken in ways that add to teacher's offerings without undercutting the best of what they do. From the student perspective, flipping has to be delivered in a way that fits the student's needs, abilities, and cirucmstances.

I can't imagine a situation where flipping should never be done but I know first-hand that unexpected consequences are a daily occurrence while making the transition. If no unexpected consequences from planning to results are discovered while adding online components, then the feedback process is broken.

Lastly, I found it useful to choose what activities belonged online and what belonged in-class on the basis of what activities required the most support. Certain vocabulary-learning activities actually required more teacher-led adjustment and certain application projects were easily done by all students independently without my guidance. Flipping your class is not a silver bullet that solves all problems. Flipping does offer incredibly powerful tools. I also wager that students who have not had a strongly positive flipped-course experience are at a profound disadvantage in terms of self-guided study beyond formal schooling.

Resources

  • Here is a more complete treatment of the overview of what is happening in pedagogical terms: http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/

  • An extensive set of research resources on the topic: http://cybraryman.com/flipclass.html

  • Here is a good DIY for literary learners: http://www.amazon.com/Flip-Your-Classroom-Reach-Student/dp/1564843157

  • Starter tools for flipping: http://gettingsmart.com/2013/08/10-teacher-tested-tools-for-flipping-your-classroom/

  • Resources for Pinterest lovers and visual learners on the topic: http://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=flipped%20classroom

Sources

http://www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/

Lecture by Jonathan Bergman at the Learning and the Brain Conference, Boston, November 2013

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