Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Don't you get it?

"What's not to like about the flipped classroom?"

I get it. Believe me, I get it. I understand why teachers like me are so enamored with the latest instructional craze. I saw it last night reading the Tweets from an #edchat on flipped classrooms. The attraction for me is that I get to have my cake and eat it too.

The model is based on the idea that teachers can flip the traditional way things are done in the classroom. Whole-class instruction, in the form of lectures or demonstrations or whatever, is now done after class. The application of what was taught, often thought of as homework, is done in class. Technology can support this shift but I am told it is unnecessary.

I like the idea that class time becomes more collaborative in this model. Instead of spending time disseminating information, the teacher can connect with learners one-on-one or in small groups. This offers teachers an opportunity to assess learners' progress in ways that are impossible during whole-class instruction. When learners struggle with a problem, they are not on their own (which is what typically happens when the same problem is assigned as homework). The teacher or their peers are available to support them through their struggles. Essentially, this represents a much more relationship-orientated approach of educating learners.

Outside of class, learners are assigned podcasts, videos, reading, or some other resources that prepares them for the next day's problems the way whole-class instruction used to prepare them for homework. Although technology is not required, it often comes up as a way to replace a lecture. I like the idea that learners might be given some choice as to when, where, and how they watch a lecture/demonstration of the content or skill being covered. I also like the idea that I can create the perfect talk. There will be no more forgetting my place, misspeaking, or being interrupted for a bathroom pass.

This flipped classroom model is a dream come true for teachers like me. It increases the amount of time I can spend working directly with learners without having to give up covering or controlling the content (and doing it perfectly, I might add). But I have spent the last twenty years of my professional (and personal) life working at moving beyond being a teacher like me.

As I see it, the flipped classroom tugs at both my instincts as a learner and my experiences as a student. The learner likes the collaborative approach that views learning from a social constructivist perspective. It fits with what I have learned about natural learning. I embrace this aspect and hope other teachers will as well. It is what the student in me likes - consumption, control, and perfectionism - that causes me concern. My successful experiences in the traditional school setting makes this attractive to me, especially since it "addresses" shortcomings like the ever increasing amount of material to cover and the need to differentiate instruction. But I do not believe that I can have it both ways - satisfying my learner and my student. While others may be able to walk this fine line, I have found that I always end up erring on the side of consumption, control, and perfectionism.

So I get it. I just don't want it - at least not all of it. I will take what works for my learners and leave the rest. And I trust all of you to do the same.


  1. I'm not sure I completely understand your concerns here. What I am getting from your post is that you're concerned that the inverted classroom approach, for all its merits, doesn't address -- and in fact could aid -- the underlying issues with education, namely the vesting of control of the class in the instructor and a consumerist mindset on the part of students. Is that right?

    If so, I would just say that, like any other kind of pedagogy, you should definitely use only what works for your students. But I would also say that with the inverted classroom -- when used with care -- you can avoid excesses in "control, consumption, and perfectionism" quite easily. I have certainly learned not to be a perfectionist when making the screencasts for my courses (a cursory look through the more recent ones will make that painfully obvious), and you can structure the in-class activities in a way that allows for sudden deviations from whatever it was you had planned.

    Conversely, instructors who get on the flipped classroom bandwagon and use it somewhat blindly, even lazily, will end up with results basically indistinguishable from straight lecture. I hope that the inverted classroom does not end up as a "craze"; if it does, I think we instructors will have missed an opportunity to change education in a pretty profound way.

  2. Robert,
    You got it right. I think the inverted/flipped classroom has a lot of things to like but I worry that some of the things I like are not necessarily effective teaching practices. The thing that I want to make clear is that I am trying to focus on my reaction to the method and not the method itself.

    I appreciate that you have thought about these issues and are able to move beyond them. My concern is that other teachers using this approach have not taken the time to consider possible pitfalls. I'm not sure I would characterize them as lazy - more likely overwhelmed or unaware. It is my hope that by discussing why the method would not work for me (at least in the "pure" form), other teachers would take time to reflect on what would and would not work for them.

  3. I'd love to know what you're planning on taking. It's clear what you want to leave. I would add that you can certainly add in things that work even better for you. My example is the backchannel. When that's lively, my flipped philosophy is firing on all cylinders. When it's not, not so much.

  4. Agreed. The worst thing an instructor can do is swallow a "hot" pedagogical technique whole and not thinking things through. (Unfortunately I speak from personal experience.)

  5. Andy,
    The takeaway for me is the relationship part. I like the idea of using in class lessons that allow learners and teachers to interact while problem solving.

    I've used twitter as a backchannel in classes and liked it (and wrote about it here: Are you talking about using it out of class, as the learners watch the video? I would like to hear more about that.

    You are not alone my friend.

  6. I'm talking about a backchannel out of class. I want my students actively engaged with their resources out of class. That includes the text and any scasts of mine.

    I've tried two ways of the backchannel. The first was a home built summary and question collector. I used it for years, even before I was doing scasts for my students. Students would submit a summary and questions for the daily reading and in class I would randomly select one summary and show it and all the questions. That would help me figure out what to do in class along with being a good refresher on the material before we got started. I found it much easier to administer and much better for my teaching than the reading quizzes that had been suggested in some of the Peer Instruction materials I had read (though I tried those too, early on).

    This past semester I changed to using, which is a texting version of a listserv. My students and I could text a message to one number and it would go to all of us. I liked this better because all the students could join in the conversation even before class. The best night was when I asked whether a ball's momentum or kinetic energy was the source of pain.

    Another method I'd like to try is Google Moderator. I have a colleague at Macalester College just down the road from my institution (Hamline University). He uses Google Moderator to let his students crowd-source the priority of the questions that are being asked. That way he knows which questions to tackle first in class. Students see the questions that others ask and can vote them up or down.

    The backchannel is a very important part of flipping for me. If the students don't engage with the material (both text and scasts) outside of class, they aren't ready for the interactive stuff we'll do in class.

  7. One thing that @troystein (Troy Stein of TechSmith, makers of Snagit screencasting software) suggested yesterday at #TMC12 was the idea of using it to mix things up, including creating an FCR video for use with something specific and/or as part of a sub plan during a class when I know in advance about a planned absence. This is extremely compatible with part of Henri Picciotto's philosophy (which I endorse wholeheartedly) -- namely that no one technique, activity, or idea will work all the time with all populations of students always.

    So having the idea/tool/resources to create an occasional (or not occasional) screencast is now a valuable tool I'm interested in exploring.

    One point that Troy made about schools that have (a) used the FCR model + screencasting and (b) studied its effectiveness (or lack thereof) was that student engagement drops off dramatically when the screencaster is NOT somebody the learner knows (i.e., teacher, friend, classmate).

    This suggested to me that screencasting is a way of extending the relational part of a student's learning environment -- not replacing it.

    Mentioned here FWIW.

    - Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  8. It sounds like your main beef is against bad teachers/teaching and not against the flip mentality. Flipping is just another tool that has proven to be useful to many teachers and beneficial to many students. Slamming it would be like slamming a hammer (no pun intended) because some people use it incorrectly or to create something bad. You could just as easily blame a textbook, a project-based-learning activity, or a video--that could have been great in a good teacher's hands--because it's used ineptly by a bad teacher. Blame the user, not the tool, if the tool has proven its benefit when used well.

    And like Robert, I too have used tools ineptly. A lot of the times, though, it's on my way to using them well. Don't be too harsh on teachers that have a slow learning curve, provided they don't get stuck at the bottom end of it.

    Mark (aka @magisterwarren on Twitter)