‘Flipping eL’ – ‘The Flipped Classroom’ – part 3 – Widening participation?

This is my third entry in my series on the notion of the ‘flipped classroom’. There are many other sources of information on the pedagogical benefits that this model may bring (and similarly there are many posts that counter these benefits), but in this post I want to look at one area that hasn’t been covered in as much detail, and that is using the idea of the flipped classroom to widen participation.

I mentioned in my first post that this model of teaching does not reduce costs by reducing the teachers hours – however there is a potential time saving for the learners. Let’s think of a ‘possible’ taught session running from 9.00am to 10.00am in the morning. You get into the classroom, the students drift in, a few are late due to buses being held up, queues on the ring road, etc. You turn on the computer and projector – it takes a few minutes to warm up and login. You locate your PowerPoint presentation…..10 minutes into the lesson you take the register, you then start the teaching proper at 9.15, but because so many missed last weeks session you have to recap more than planned….During the session you set tasks and activities, and you have to give the students time to do these. Some students are quicker than others so finish and then get bored, others are slower so don’t get to finish in time….. you spend time dealing with classroom management issues rather than the teaching and learning… and then start to wind up at 9.50 so you can be out of the room in time to get to your next lesson across the campus that starts at 10.00am!

In my opinion, when you deliver face to face teaching, if you can get a ratio of more than 60% quality teaching and learning time you are doing well. If we then take into account the fact that students often have ‘wasted’ time in between lessons, and if they are reliant on public transport or lifts from others, they may have dead time at the start and of the day as well. All in all – if we look critically at the model of classroom based education – it isn’t a very efficient model. In the past this didn’t matter – but with the cost of education increasing, and the need for people to work alongside their study this is becoming an influencing factor.

Bethnal Green Town Hall

So where does the ‘flipped classroom’ come into this. I believe that the same 1 hour lecture that I described earlier could be repackaged so the delivery element of it, could probably be delivered in about 15 – 20 minutes. If the students accessed say 3 or 4 of these before coming into the organisation for a quality seminar type session, where the tutor could unpick some of the more complex issues, the skills could be applied, and managed discussion takes place – you then have a model that is far more time efficient for the learner, as well as making it cost effective for learners from further afield, who want to study at your organisation, but previously couldn’t because of the daily travel or accommodation costs.

Another area where the flipped classroom could widen participation is for learners with disabilities – I will unpick this element in another blog post just on this topic.

Many organisations that are seriously looking into the use of the ‘flipped classroom’ are going down the road of changing their current teaching models to this idea. There are 2 possibilities here (and excuse my gross over simplification here)

  • The organisation is already providing high quality provision – in which case why change, and is there a risk that the quality may drop?
  • The organisation is currently providing low quality provision, and they see this as a way of resolving these issues – in which case I would expect the quality of the flipped outcome to be equally low.

So here is my idea. Rather than organisations completely changing the way that they deliver existing courses – instead take one of their courses that is currently being successfully run, and look to run an additional cohort via the ‘flipped classroom’ ideology alongside their existing provision, thus allowing learners to choose which model they want to follow. As well as potentially widening the customer base of ones provision, you also end up with potential lessons that can be used if there is an unforeseen closure of the building due to snow, flooding, swine flu, Icelandic volcanoes etc. You also would have a wider pool of resources that the face to face lecturer could call upon in their teaching, and if a learner misses a few weeks due to illness, then there is a potential catch up mechanism in place to get them back on track.

The arguments that I am presenting here, sound very similar to the discussions that I have been having for the last 12 or so years around the benefits of e-learning – the difference is, that with e-learning, organisations seemed to get stuck with an ‘all or nothing’ mindset – in other words, the belief that if a learner chose to learn via e-learning they were doing so because they wanted all of their learning in that way with no or minimal face to face contact with the tutors. What the flipped classroom model is doing is creating a better mixed mode of delivery – which has always been my preferred methodology.

To some the ‘flipped classroom’ is just a fancy new term for things that people have done before – and many think that it is a passing ‘fad’ that will soon to be replaced with the next big buzz word. Both options I think are possible – but whilst it does have currency and is being discussed by people, I hope that it creates an opportunity for organisations to look critically at what they do, to start to act more like businesses and think about their customer (and future customer) base and if we get it right, there is a huge potential that we can improve the quality of our provision, just by widening the participation.

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4 Responses

  1. I have to agree with your sentiment. Even though the term ‘flipped’ doesn’t quite fit, I strongly believe it will enhance learning. Making better use of classroom time and homework time can only be a desirable outcome!

    • Agreed, I don’t like the term ‘flipped’ just like I don’t like the term eLearning (I like the term learning!)

      For people like you and I we don’t need to name and rename ideas, but unfortunately for the masses to be able to comprehend different ideas there is a need to name them!

  2. I have found your three ‘Flipping eL’ posts really interesting, Dave. You’ve raised so many important points in these posts that it’s difficult to know which to respond to. I will limit myself to three comments.

    1. Those who are highly critical of the value of technology in education tend to view the classroom as a sort of ‘gold standard’ to which non-classroom based approaches must aspire. But as you graphically point out, classrooms are anything but perfect as vehicles for teaching and learning – I like your suggestion that even the best teacher can only really use about 60% of the time effectively.

    2. You made a really important point in your first ‘Flipping El’ post:

    “If we look at the flipped classroom as a cost saving exercise it will fail – we have to look at it as a more expensive option, but one that increases the quality of provision. If over time we get good at this, then it may (and I emphasise the word MAY) reduces cost benefits in the future.”

    I have often seen technological initiatives fail because the prime motivation of the organisation is to think of the technology as a means of achieving short-term cost savings. You are absolutely right to emphasise that such initiatives can only succeed if the driving force is a desire to improve the quality of real learning rather than to improve cash flow.

    3. It’s interesting that in your second post you identified two of the negative drivers that have done so much to harm real learning:

    (i) Dysfunctional centralised funding systems: “the funding model required a recording of the guided learning hours, so it was very difficult to quantify and record the proportion of time spent on the online elements”.

    But it’s good if funding inflexibility seems to be reducing.

    (ii) Fear: “There will also be a fear from the school managers of the impact on league table positions…”

    The negative effects of fear as a driving force are described in Frank Coffield’s excellent new book ‘From Exam Factories to Communities of Discovery’, and I have recently written about this in my own blog: http://terryloane.typepad.com/reallylearn/

    Trying anything new in teaching and learning involves trial, error and risk. Would it not be a tragedy if innovative teachers are inhibited from experimenting with flipped classrooms, or indeed any other development, because of the twin devils of funding and fear?

    • I am glad that you have found these posts interesting. My plan is to write 2 more posts to finish of the series. A large part of my incentive for this series of posts, was as a way of myself getting to drips with the ideas and principles, and thought that the best way to do that was to reflect on the ideas, explore the principles and then reflect on other peoples contributions – and I have found the blog the ideal tool for achieving this.

      I hope that you like the other posts when they come out.

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