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The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con

Mary Beth Hertz

HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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I recently attended the ISTE conference in San Diego, CA. While I was only there for about 36 hours, it was easy for me to pick up on one of the hottest topics for the three-day event. The "flipped classroom" was being discussed in social lounges, in conference sessions, on the exhibit floor, on the hashtag and even at dinner. People wanted to know what it was, what it wasn't, how it's done and why it works. Others wanted to sing its praises and often included a vignette about how it works in their classroom and how it transformed learning for their students. Still others railed that the model is nothing transformative at all and that it still emphasizes sage-on-the-stage direct instruction rather than student-centered learning. I engaged in a few of these discussions offline and online, and while I'm still on the fence about my feelings toward the model, I can offer some insight and interpretation.

What It Is

According to the description on ASCD's page for the newly released book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, by flipped-classroom pioneers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, "In this model of instruction, students watch recorded lectures for homework and complete their assignments, labs, and tests in class." In part one of a three-part series of articles, Bergmann, along with two co-authors, tries to dispel some of the myths surrounding the flipped classroom. For instance, they state that the flipped classroom is NOT "a synonym for online videos. When most people hear about the flipped class all they think about are the videos. It is the interaction and the meaningful learning activities that occur during the face-to-face time that is most important."

The authors go on to explain that the model is a mixture of direct instruction and constructivism, that it makes it easier for students who may have missed class to keep up because they can watch the videos at any time. The argument also goes that since students watch most teacher lectures at home and are receiving instruction as homework, they can spend class time working through any gaps or misunderstandings around the content with the teacher acting as "guide on the side." Another flipped classroom educator, Brian Bennett, wrote a post explaining that the model is not about the videos, but about the learning. I had a chance to talk to Brian at ISTE, and it was great to hear him express his thoughts about the model in more than 140 characters. He also runs the #flipclass chat on Twitter every Monday night, which is a great chance to learn more about the model.

What It Isn't

As with any new fad or trend, there are plenty of people trying to either use the model to make money or jump on the bandwagon without really understanding what they are joining. For instance, the company TechSmith has an entire part of their site dedicated to the flipped-classroom model. Now, I happen to think that TechSmith makes great products and are pretty good at keeping a finger on the pulse of education. However, it's no secret why TechSmith, who creates screencasting software, would be interested in the flipped-classroom approach. For what it's worth, their site does focus mostly on methodology and pedagogy, and they have consulted educators for most of their content. What is disconcerting to me is to hear vendors on the exhibit floor at ISTE talking about how their product will help you "flip your class." If I were your average principal or tech director walking around the exhibit hall without much knowledge of the model, or a misconception of the model, I could really end up getting the wrong information.

I have often seen and heard the Khan Academy come up in discussions around the flipped classroom. (I can hear a vendor saying, "With our amazing display quality, your students can watch videos in crisp detail!") While some teachers profess to using KA videos to present content to their students, the idea is not that KA will replace the teacher or replace the content as a whole. From my experience with KA, the content is taught in only one way. Good instruction, especially for math concepts, requires that ideas be presented in a number of ways. In addition, not all math is solving equations. One of the hardest parts about teaching math is making sure that students are not blindly solving equations without really understanding what they are doing with the numbers. For students to be successful on their own, videos used in the flipped-classroom model must include a variety of approaches in the same way a face-to-face lesson would, and they must also have good sound and image quality so that students can follow along easily. These videos must also match the curriculum, standards and the labs or activities the students will complete in class.

Why It Works

Most of the blog reflections I have read and the conversations I have followed point to the way that the flipped classroom has truly individualized learning for students. Teachers describe how students can now move at their own pace, how they can review what they need when they need to, and how the teacher is then freed up to work one-on-one with students on the content they most need support with. They also point to the ability for students to catch up on missed lessons easily through the use of video and online course tools like Edmodo or Moodle.

Why It Doesn't Work

When I first started learning about the flipped-classroom model, my immediate reaction was, "This won't work with my students." This continues to be an argument made by a lot of rural and urban teachers. Our students just don't have the access required for the model to really work. I've had people tell me, "They can use the public library." To which I explain that there are usually three computers available and there is usually a 30-minute limit per user. I've had people tell me, "You can burn DVDs that they can watch in their DVD players." To which I ask how much of the day can a teacher devote to burning at least 10-15 DVDs at a time? I've also been told that students can use the school computer lab after school to watch the videos. To which I explain that we have only 27 computers available for the whole school, and that it would require an after school program to be put into place. (This last option, by the way, is the most realistic.) Another tough sell for me is the fact that if everyone starts flipping their classrooms, students will end up sitting in front of a screen for hours every night as they watch the required videos. And as many teachers can tell you, not everyone learns best through a screen.

Why It's Nothing New

Listening to Aaron Sams talk about his experience with the flipped-classroom model, one can't help but imagine that what he is describing doesn't require video at all. What he describes is, in essence, what John Dewey described at the turn of the 20th century: learning that is centered around the student, not the teacher; learning that allows students to show their mastery of content they way they prefer. These are not new concepts. I am often brought back to the question: "Are we doing things differently or doing different things?" As educators around the globe try to flip their class, it's an important thing to reflect on.

Why It Matters

So in the end, why should we care so much about the flipped-classroom model? The primary reason is because it is forcing teachers to reflect on their practice and rethink how they reach their kids. It is inspiring teachers to change the way they've always done things, and it is motivating them to bring technology into their classrooms through the use of video and virtual classrooms like Edmodo and similar tools. As long as learning remains the focus, and as long as educators are constantly reflecting and asking themselves if what they are doing is truly something different or just a different way of doing the same things they've always done, there is hope that some of Dewey's philosophies will again permeate our schools. We just need to remember that flipping is only the beginning.

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Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Jenn - Have you checked out all of our blogs on the Flipped Classroom: http://www.edutopia.org/blogs/tag/flipped-classroom.

Also, on twitter there's an active community that talks about the Flipped Classroom. You can search #flipclass or #fliplearning on Twitter and connect to experts around the world.

Hope this helps!

Denny Abraham Cheriyan's picture

I believe that parts of the regular class hours which are one sided, like delivering a lecture can be shifted to an online platform in the form of online videos, lecture notes, discussion forums, etc. Instead the class hours can be used to discuss problems, and clear queries students may have. In addition to video lectures, online learning platforms can provide assessments as well. Using the performance on the assessments, it will be possible to identify weak students and give more attention to them during the class hours. We will also be able to capture whether the student actually watched the video, the number of times he/she watched it (probably students will watch difficult videos more often). The student can also watch the video at his own pase and revisit a video if he wishes to revise the topic.

In order to cater to different students, educational institutions should give students the option to choose between the flipped classroom and the traditional approach based on what works for them. After all, learning is centered around the student.

Sachit Dhal's picture

The Flipped Classroom is an interesting concept but like Denny said it's value varies for every student. The concept of watching lectures at home and discussing homework in class sounds really good but it has its cons. If a student is unable to see an online lecture, then the class assigned for the homework discussion is also irrelevant to him/her. When I was a part of a flipped class a couple of semesters back this was a major problem faced by many students, including me. A face to face lecture in a class is better at this stage when flipped classrooms are still in the developing stage. However, I do feel that sooner or later, an improved version of flipped classrooms maybe the way forward. Perhaps, an online live session with the instructor. If someone misses, they can watch the recording and follow discussion forum of the video. Even in the recording they can see students asking doubts during a lecture with the instructor clearing them right away rather than waiting for the discussion class.

Shwetha Radhakrishna's picture

Thanks for the article, Mary! I have always wondered the exact meaning of flipped classroom and this sure helped understand the same.

The same concept is being used in my University and it's been successful so far. Although I agree that this might not be a great option for the students who do not have access to the computer and the internet, this idea has great potential to evolve into something new and exciting. I really like this idea, and given an option to choose between the normal face-to-face class and the flipped classroom, I would definitely, definitely go with the latter!

Rajath Agasthya's picture

I think the stand out feature of flipped classrooms, according to me, is that it gives extra hours for students to bridge any knowledge gap during class time and the instructor can utilize this time to provide additional knowledge. This has worked really well me for me in graduate school. One word of caution is that the instructor has to take extra care to ensure that all students are able to understand the lecture when they watch videos as good as they understand in-class lectures. We can blend in a various technologies such in-video quizzes (like Coursera) to the flipped classroom concept to make it much more effective. There is certainly scope for improvements for the flipped classroom concept, but I think it is going to be very effective over time.

Karthik Jayaraman's picture

@Denny Abraham Cheriyan, I concur with your analysis of the flipped classroom session. The most important benefit you mentioned, that i would like to emphasize is the pace at which the user can watch the video. In my perspective it is one important benefit we get in MOOCs but where MOOCs fell short was the student-teacher interaction. Since flipped classroom session have that, it could be the best of both worlds. Also, i would like to add that the entire course content does not get outdated in few years. I do accept that the course should comprise of new advancements but, most of the times professor just repeats the course content year after year. In my perspective, the instructors time is worth much more that this and it could be used effectively by flipped classroom method.

One disadvantage in flipped class room will be the amount of hours you spend for that course. As you need to watch the videos and go to the class for the discussion, it takes more time when compared to other classes. But it is a constraint that could be overshadowed by the amount of learning you do out of the class.

Jennifer's picture

Thank you for the overview of blended learning with flipped classroom. I am implementing a version of the flipped classroom within my little community of students, and wanted to learn more. Reading the pros and cons were helpful and I intend on expanding our flipped classrooms with your blog in my thoughts as I move forward.

Amy Bekins's picture

I appreciate your thoughts and your overview. I do like your mention of the challenges. It is so true that it is a great model but hard to implement at different schools. Most of the students I teach do not have access to technology at home and I also get the comment to just send them to the public library. However most of those students also hold a job or are involved in other things and to find time to go to the library or find the transportation to go to the library becomes difficult. I appreciate your points and ideas that you present in your post.

Altina Suber's picture

My first real "experience" with a flipped classroom happened at the start of the 2014-2015 school year with my sixth grader and her Advanced Math class. My initial reaction in hearing about the teacher's plans of flipping a sixth grade math class was fear... fear as a mother but excitement as an educator. I was excited to know that my daughter's teacher was brave enough to try this. Yet, at the same time I was very worried about how sixth graders would respond to such a change in responsibility. I was concerned that this teaching style would be too much when paired with the newness of middle school... six different teachers, block scheduling, A Day & B Day, and all of the new features that the 6th graders would be adjusting to as they entered middle school. At first my daughter and I loved the idea of her flipped math class. But the love quickly faded.

After several weeks of Edmodo difficulty, students reporting difficulty of accessing the lectures, and students who simply did not have home access to computers or the internet... the teacher finally decided to return to a standard teaching approach. He was disappointed that so many of the students were not viewing the lectures as required. So he returned to the standard classroom. I must say, and I'm not at all embarrassed by my thoughts and feelings, I was a little relieved that the classroom was flipping back to normal. The nightly process of helping my sixth grader view the lecture, take notes, review what she did not understand and answer the follow up questions was exhausting. She simply wasn't used to viewing lectures and taking notes in sixth grade. This particular teaching style just did not suit her learning needs (and apparently it didn't suit the learning styles of quite a few of her peers). Perhaps if they were all a little older this format would have been more successful . I'd still like to know the recommended age for implementing a flipped classroom.

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