The Flipped Classroom: The Good and Bad of the New Old Trend

by Julie Dalley

A new buzz word has been wending its way through the online education forums and blogs: the flipped classroom. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what this means exactly, and here are some borrowed definitions as well as a look at how this method is anything but new.

What is a Flipped Classroom?

A flipped classroom is one in that the students do research, study, and analysis of core concepts and exercises outside of the course, and the instructor has them practice applying these concepts during class time. Most models call for the instructor to pre-record lectures (sometimes as podcasts, mostly as videos uploaded to Youtube.com)  In the flipped model, the core concepts are viewed by the student prior to class and class time is taken up with applying these concepts and wrestling with problems or exercises using this core knowledge. All of the examples I have seen have been math classes, probably due to their heavy reliance on lecture to impart fundamentals and then consistent practice that reinforces learning. In addition, most of the models I’ve found online are K-12, but I suspect that many higher education instructors are using some variation of this model and are just not calling it a “flipped” classroom. For an example, see my first link below under Resources. Kieran Mathieson, associate professor of information systems at Oakland University, also integrates interactive exercises and e-textbooks, in addition to lecture:”My variant on this is that the independent, outside-of-class work also includes many exercises, with formative feedback. See http://coredogs.com/article/tale-two-students for a short story. I’ve been running courses this way for a few years.”

I don’t know if “flipped” or “backward” are appropriate terms for this model of learning and instruction. You actually are NOT reversing instruction (are the students teaching you?), you are delivering it in a different way, so “flipping” may just be a catchy idiom. As one video pointed out, many humanities courses already do this: you read the novel, or essay, or history of a subject first (rather than watching a video, but you could be watching video) and then discuss it in class. The term and practice of “flipping” a course has become quite popular though, and I believe it is because of several factors:

  1. The corporate model. This is how Khan Academy presents all of their material, via the video. Khan is backed by many big name corporate sponsors. Bill Gates is all about this model. As one blogger cautions, though, “A nagging concern that what might come out of this movement is not the freeing up of the classroom, but the intrusion of the bureaucracy, the big business backed educational resource sites such as the Khan Academy.”
  2. The hybrid course model. Many schools are vying to compete in the hybrid/online course market. This method of instruction integrates an online component and also keeps the physical presence and expertise of the instructor available to the student.
  3. Practice. Theoretically, more class time is spent in inter-active, engaged exercises that allow for deeper learning. By allowing students to view or listen to lectures via video/audio casts at their own pace, rewinding and listening to lectures (as well as returning to them for review) as often as they like, instructors can spend class time working one-on-one with students to implement problem-based learning that leverages the knowledge they gleaned from the lectures. More time can be spent on discussion, and on give and take between students and teacher (Socratic questioning), rather than passive information reception on the part of students.

Some Criticisms of the Flipped Classroom Model.

  • Time: Recording and posting videos of lectures prior to each class session (and far in advance of class) takes some technological knowledge, reliance on technology (will all students be able to access it? what if my uploade fails or is corrupted?), ability to record and upload each video, and then notify students of its availability. This takes time.
  • Lack of Flexibility: Some classes really “win” when they happen organically, when the topic can diverge and discussions can be nurtured from without (the days news or events informing instruction, for example) and pre-recording lectures takes some spontaneity out of instruction. However, one can hopefully create spontaneously creative and dialectical moments through in-class exercises and practices.
  • Dated material: one criticism that really resonates is the inability to use lectures from class to class. One assumes that a dynamic class is constantly changing, with new or fresh ideas, material, or curricular activities helping to deliver a lesson from semester to semester, or year to year. Spending so much time pre-recording lectures probably means doing this every time, for every class.
  • Student Preparedness: Some of us already struggle with students coming to class prepared by doing the reading, much less have expectations that they will listen to the lectures and be prepared to engage in active exercises of conceptual knowledge. What if they didn’t “get it”? Do we then waste the time we planned on doing application work with re-explaining what the video was meant to already have explained? As Professor Karl Fisch acknowledges, “First, students must watch/complete the “lecture” or “content-delivery” video portion of the class outside of class. Clearly some college students – as well as some of you – are not doing this. If this part isn’t done, the entire model falls apart.” He does not offer a solution to this problem if it becomes endemic of the whole class. What then?

If you are currently experimenting with or have used the “flipped classroom” model, I would love to hear from you. Please post your comments or experiences to this story and share with other educators around the country.

Resources:

Exploding the Lecture: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/11/15/professor-tries-improving-lectures-removing-them-class

Create a flipped textbook for your course: http://flippedtextbook.com/

A Blog compilation of Flipped Classroom Resources and Articles: http://www.diigo.com/list/warrickw/flipped-classroom

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