Blended Learning

100 Videos and Counting: Lessons From a Flipped Classroom

After making 100 videos, a veteran flipped learning educator reflects on what he’s learned: keep it simple, employ differentiated instruction tools, and respect students’ schedules.

October 19, 2015
Photo credit: Brad Flickinger via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Seventeen months ago, I made my first flipped learning video. And then, unexpectedly, it happened: I crossed the century mark. That is to say, I made my hundredth video. What have I learned along the road between one and one hundred?

It's not about the video.

I've said this before, but can’t repeat it enough: Teachers who embrace flipped learning need to think like architects, not video producers. It's tempting to become enamored by content creation -- after all, you want the lesson to hold visual appeal. But it's a mistake to become overly invested in your video’s "wow factor" at the expense of instructional integrity. The critical component of flipped learning occurs in the classroom itself -- how teachers pivot from the video's baseline content to deeper, more expansive targets and make room for students to investigate, evaluate, and apply new knowledge in creative ways.

And then there's the issue of coverage. Looking back, my first attempts at video creation misfired. Lessons stretched up to ten minutes. My visuals either overcrowded the content or stood sheepishly beside it. Over time, I honed my message, my delivery, and my coverage areas. Most of my "next generation" videos run between two and five minutes, the digital sweet spot. Ironically, the more I focused on learning outcomes, the better my videos became.

Don't forget the data.

In the early days, I released video content to students through my YouTube channel and trusted that they would watch assigned lessons in time for class. Talk about a shot in the dark! The number of YouTube views couldn't tell me whether one of my students actually tuned in, and it certainly didn't reveal what students actually learned (or didn't). So about three weeks into my flipped learning foray, I turned to Educanon, an award-winning hosting and delivery platform that helped me unlock a treasure trove of data. Using its intuitive interface, I began to embed quiz questions within the lesson (with forced stops that prompted answers), and that helped me track student progress. The data trail gave me insight into student learning and oversight of the learning process -- how to structure a child's learning plan based on his or her responses to questions during the video. Possessing this information is vital to designing a right-sized learning experience when students return to class.

Flip outside the box.

Flipped learning is a powerful tool for classroom learning, but why stop there? The possibilities can be endless. This year, I flipped Back-to-School Night by releasing a video preview of classroom procedures to parents several days before we met (in some ways similar to my class procedures video that I sent to my students a few days before the first day of school). The flipped format allowed parents to chew over the information and generate questions and concerns ahead of time. When they arrived, I created a parking lot for them to leave individual questions for follow-up (Post-It notes on a white board works well), which preempted that doomsday scenario where one domineering parent hijacks the entire evening with a personal rant. By clearing technical details off the deck, we spent more time engaged in nobler discussions about educational philosophy, social-emotional learning, and long-term goals. There are lots of other ways for teachers and administrators to flip outside the box, including:

  • Faculty meetings: Communicate all that administrivia ahead of time and use the space for deeper conversations about teaching and learning.

  • Parent-teacher conferences: Prepare learner profiles that offer evidence of student learning and skill-development (Ourboox provides a free, simple platform for making beautiful e-books), then dive into a detailed performance analysis in the conference space.

  • Informational sessions: Whether it's news about the athletics program or the school uniform, try moving the technical details online (using a screencast platform like Screenr or Screencast-O-Matic to show visuals), and then host a forum at the school where students can run drills with the new coach or see a fashion show of the new uniform. The live events, which can be bundled around existing back-to-school engagements, are great showcasing opportunities that make the drab details pop.

Plan backward and give notice.

No matter how amazing we think our lessons might be, they will never compete with after-school basketball practice, piano lessons, tennis clinic, or the host of other extra-curriculars that students enjoy. I learned early on to give significant lead time for students to watch lessons, releasing new content about 3-4 days prior to the in-class application. This forced me to plan backward from a target date and stick to a fairly regimented creation schedule. That made for lots of long nights, but ultimately held me accountable to a delivery system that honored the busy lives of kids outside of school. I also made sure to keep parents in the loop about upcoming new content and due dates through Remind, a communication service that alerts parents to classroom currents. Students can't be expected to apply knowledge that they never learned!

Good teaching is still number one.

Now more than ever, it's clear to me that good technology will never replace good teaching. In fact, professional teaching is one of the pillars of flipped learning, a testament to the role that teachers play in helping students define, discern, and discuss new knowledge as it flows across the information highway. In two years of flipping my classroom, I've become more attuned to the habits and hallmarks of effective instruction. That's not to say that educators need to embrace flipped learning as pedagogical salvation, but that the process of planning for and executing a flipped learning experience requires vast amounts of rigor, foresight, deep instructional knowledge, creativity, and risk-taking. For teachers, flipped learning is exhilarating and exasperating all at once -- not because it replaces the act of teaching, but because it releases its most essential parts.

Crossing into triple digits, I feel like I'm just starting to appreciate the possibilities of this model. One thing's for sure -- unless it's designed for better outcomes, flipped learning is just plain upside down. But done right, I believe that it can turn the educational system on its head.

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