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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Should You Flip Your Classroom?

At its core, "flipped instruction" refers to moving aspects of teaching out of the classroom and into the homework space. With the advent of new technologies, specifically the ability to record digitally annotated and narrated screencasts, instructional videos have become a common medium in the flipped classroom. Although not limited to videos, a flipped classroom most often harnesses different forms of instructional video published online for students.

Despite recent buzz, catalyzed primarily by Salman Khan's TED talk, flipped instruction is by no means a new methodology. In the early 19th century, General Sylvanus Thayer created a system at West Point where engineering students, given a set of materials, were responsible for obtaining core content prior to coming to class. The classroom space was then used for critical thinking and group problem solving.

The Pros

Advocates of the flipped classroom point to its potential as a time-shifting tool. Jac de Haan, author of the blog Technology with Intention articulates this well:

". . . the focus of flipped teaching is different from other examples in that the technology itself is simply a tool for flexible communication that allows educators to differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs and spend more time in the classroom focused on collaboration and higher-order thinking."

And Cons

Critics of the flipped classroom argue that online instruction puts students that lack Internet access at a disadvantage. Moreover, whether delivered in class or via instructional videos, lecture is still a poor mode of information transfer. This argument is outlined very well in Harvard Physics professor Eric Mazur's talk Confessions of a Converted Lecturer.

Flipped Classroom in Perspective

Personally, I feel the current flipped classroom hype is blown way out of proportion. The flipped classroom is a simple concept that needs no title. Good teaching, regardless of discipline, should always limit passive transfer of knowledge in class, and promote learning environments built on the tenants of inquiry, collaboration and critical thinking. We, as educators, must strive to guide students through perplexing situations, and more importantly, work with one another to develop the pedagogical skills to do so. Keeping this in mind, good teaching comes in many forms, and the flipped classroom mentality can be one of many solutions for educators.

As an instructor of Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry, I find myself torn in two directions. The science teacher in me is deeply committed to the process of inquiry, and arming my students with the skills needed to construct and test their own ideas. The AP teacher in me fears sending my students off to their examination in May having covered only a portion of all the content required. Given this tension, I have found merging aspects of inquiry learning and video-based instruction helps me address both needs. My blog at FlipTeaching.com has a more detailed explanation of how I use this method in my AP Chemistry class. Here's a blog post by Jackie Gerstein that clearly places flipped instruction in the context of an inquiry learning cycle.

Reflection

If, like me, you are interested in using aspects of the flipped classroom to address an issue in your practice, I encourage you to reflect on the following steps first:

Step 1: Identify your current or desired teaching style.

Step 2: Ask yourself this question: Given my style, do I currently use class time to teach any low level, procedural, algorithmic concepts?

Step 3: If yes, begin by creating opportunities for students to obtain this information outside of the classroom. (More info on creating annotated and narrated instructional videos).

Step 4: Include a system that encourages reflection and synthesis of homework-based instruction (Click here and here for ways to make instructional videos more interactive and reflective).

Hopefully the above steps are a helpful. As we are all aware, teaching can be a very powerful, and often very personal act, where the right way is as diverse as the students we are blessed to work with. Parker Palmer reflects on this notion:

"Good teaching cannot be reduced to one technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher."

On this note, I would like to share a personal story that I feel provides a metaphor for why the flipped classroom is a technique that works well for me. On May 25th of this year I underwent a fairly complicated open-heart surgery to correct an aneurysm of my thoracic aorta that was found randomly at a routine check up. The surgery went well, and five months later, minus a long scar down the center of my chest, I rarely think of the physical struggle that was the summer of 2011.

Throughout the process, I was very impressed with the confidence and knowledge my thoracic surgeon embodied. Then one day, it hit me: My surgeon had a teacher! He learned to how to perform my surgery in school! An instructor taught him how to do something, something very, very important, in a very effective way! As a teacher myself, I have a hunch my surgeon didn't learn how to repair my aorta by passively taking in information through a textbook or lecture. Rather, I'm certain his confidence and skill was cultivated through hours of inquiry, trial and error, with strong mentors by his side the whole way. In short, I'm sure he learned by doing, not observing.

We must strive to be facilitators, mentors and guides for our students, as if what we are preparing them for, much like my surgeon, will one day change lives. Any teaching methodology that amplifies this role is a step in the right direction.

Are you using various elements of flipped instruction in your practice? If so, how are you using it to foster student inquiry?

Comments (7)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Elise's picture
Elise
Teacher Leader for Technology, Oak Park, IL

In theory the flipped classroom is a great idea, but I'm a bit skeptical. As a language arts teacher who used to work extensively with English Language Learners, I would find it hard to believe that those particular students would have benefited from the flipped model. I think the videos could have worked for some skills, but much of my teaching depended on constant assessment and varied engagement strategies. Also, many of those students didn't have internet access at home. I think the flipped classroom can be added to a teacher's bag of tricks, but it can't become the only method of teaching. And as we read about how the flipped can be a successful addition to the classroom, we must remember that its just an addition and not a complete overhaul.

Ramsey Musallam's picture
Ramsey Musallam
Chemistry teacher from San Francisco
Blogger 2014

Thank you very much for this comment. I think the key point is "some" skills, and I would add "some subjects" and "some students" as well. My goal was to articulate why, as you said, it is an addition for some teachers, and for many, a very powerful one. If you are interested, Troy Cockrum has an excellent analysis of how he is using it in his Language Arts classes: http://cogitationsofmrcockrum.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html
Access is also an issue. This year, I did the following to address it:
1) Asked upfront: "how many of you can access facebook on your phone or at home?
2) Given this, I gauged how many had interent access (I asked it this way because I assumed I would get a more meaningful answer rather than saying something nerdy like "How many of you could access an instructional video on You Tube?"
3) The students that didn't, I acquired some pretty bare bones laptops on ebay for my class (I needed 5 in total). Since I actually like it when students come in to watch the videos in close proximity to the time when we apply the knowledge, this works well. Just my process...

ClassroomAid's picture

Every teaching idea needs the good pedagogy and practices to make it meaningful.
So it's how you integrate/implement it.
Before videos are easily available, teachers could ask students to study textbooks, digest the content and take notes before classes, it's an old (low tech) way to do the similar idea, but it's still a good one. The key point is to train students independently study and have better preparation for the class. Videos can make the learning experience more thorough. But teachers will need extra time to prepare the videos or search resources. So what's the most important flipping should be ?
Yes, flipping your minds first... taking away the lecturers role of teachers, taking away the top-down style in learning ..... Ultimately, we saw flipping the class as a great opportunity to engage our students in taking more responsibility for their learning. Why not let your students curate the video lessons from existing content on the web? read more...
"Flip Your Minds before Flipping Your Classrooms"
http://www.classroom-aid.com/blog/bid/65071/

Jill Richardson's picture

I agree with Musallam that good teaching comes in many forms, and the flipped classroom can be one of many solutions for educators. I loved Musallam's personal story and reflection on how teachers learn by doing. Wow that has been so evident with my W531 Technology course. I too agree that we must prepare students to understand they will change lives. How fun for them to take on the role of the teachers and be accountability for other learners. Students love to help others and what a great way to show others how to do something through a technology tool they both love; video production. I say yes, the more involved the less down time for trouble. JillR.

DLevine's picture

Thank you for the extra resources and ideas for how to use the flipped classroom. I especially liked the links on how to make videos more interactive. An important consideration so your video holds the attention of the viewer and is as effective as it can be.

Trish's picture

Thank you so much for this post! I am new to the flipped classroom idea and I am trying several aspects in my chemistry class this year. I am excited and nervous at the same time. Have you found that your students are excited to watch the videos or are they reluctant? Would you also have a certain video length that you would recommend?

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