‘Flipping eL’ – Making sense of ‘The Flipped Classroom’ – part 1

One of the current Buzz words at the moment in education seems to be the notion of the ‘Flipped classroom’ – which in simplistic terms is:

Rather than

‘Students coming to class to be delivered content, then going away to apply what they have learnt as homework’

Instead we flip this around so that

‘Students access the content upfront (usually in the form of video, or other self guided content) and then come to the class where they apply what they have learnt though discussions, seminar activity, questions etc. with the support of the teacher’

What is interesting is that I have been talking about this ideology for about 12 years now, and at neither of the organisations that I worked for (1 college and 1 university) did they give me the time of day (in fact whenever I mentioned it, I was smiled at, and we quickly moved onto another topic as my suggestions were seen as ridiculous and heretical – oh how I wish I had given it a name like the ‘flipped classroom’).

Steve Wheeler has recently blogged about this (http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/2012/03/what-flip.html) concept in less than encouraging terms, some of his points I agree with, others I don’t.

Steve correctly identifies that if students are paying up to £9k per year to study at HE (and that’s just the tuition fee) and suddenly they find that their learning experience is a set of badly produced videos instead of a high quality lecture or seminar – then they will be dissatisfied and Universities and Colleges could expect legal action taken against them. The key here with the concept – is this is not a cost saving idea but a quality improvement one, and only works if the contact time between student and tutor is the same, not less.

When I was at University, I was on a course with 211 other students, so for core units I sat (usually at the back) in a large lecture theatre with 200ish others. The lecturer would walk in, load their carousel of slides, talk for 50 minutes, whilst we frantically made notes, then they would walk out again, without any interaction between them and us taking place. In this scenario, the lecturer could easily be videod – I could have watched the video beforehand (with the advantage of being able to pause or rewind if necessary) and then attended a discussion based session where we explored the more difficult issues, or applied what is learnt.

This model doesn’t reduce the quality of experience, but increases it, however it isn’t cheaper for the organisation, as there is the initial production time and cost involved, and there is still a need for the seminars to take place (which if split into smaller groups would actually be more expensive). This to me is the key point – 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.

Another point made by Steve Wheeler is questioning the accessibility of this model. This is where I strongly disagree with Steve. If a learner has (as per his example) a visual impairment, they probably have difficulty accessing the live lecture anyway. Having a video of similar content is probably more not less accessible to them, as they can play it on a large screen in their own room, they can pause/rewind easily to make it easier for them to take notes, and they can study at a time of day and in a room of their choosing – which is really useful as they can get the surrounding lighting how they want it, and take regular breaks to reduce fatigue. The key for them is then the quality of the contact session with the tutor. For many disabled learners they spend all of their time just trying to keep up with a lecture, they are unable to then think of and ask any questions. With the flipped classroom idea – they can then prepare and come armed with such questions, thus turning the seminar type activity into a very useful experience for them.

My intention is to post a series of blog posts around the notion of the flipped classroom, with my take on how and where it may work or not work, and the relationship between this and e-learning.

Taken from http://farm5.static.flickr.com/5128/5331946704_50752da8c2_b.jpg on 2012-4-12
Original URL – http://www.flickr.com/28430474@N05/5331946704/ created on 2011-01-06 19:45:30
Krissy VenosdaleCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

13 thoughts on “‘Flipping eL’ – Making sense of ‘The Flipped Classroom’ – part 1

  1. Great post and I agree with the key points you have raised. I particularly liked the little gripe about trying tell organisations about this for years 🙂

    As you say the flipped classroom is not about teaching on the cheap or about automation. It is about delivery quality learning and supporting the students.

    I am trying this style of delivery on two groups of trainees teachers at the moment. Just to see what happens! I will keep you informed.

    Looking forward to the future posts on this.

  2. Interestingly the organisation that we both had in common – is now using this idea on some courses (and has been for a few years) – so I was just a few years ahead of the game. It will be interesting to see how your trial goes with this.

  3. Like the early contributor, I thought your post was great too. Your comments were balanced and practically focussed and reflect your extensive experience in the sector. Idealistically I hope that the enthusiasm for the flipped approach expresses our growing familiarity with digital technology to create e learning materials and, equally, a move away from transmission approaches towards constructivist models of teaching and learning, the need for collaborative learning, problem-based activities, etc, etc that are supposed to characterise the flipped classroom. I think also that so many of us now learn so much from YouTube videos, internet forums, screencasts, blogs (like your own!) that it would be very odd not to reflect that kind of learning experience in formal education programmes. However, I think a major factor in its popularity amongst curriculum managers is the prospect of what seem to be easy reduction in staff costs. Like you, I think that’s possibly a very dubious appeal of the flipped approach and our concern should be, as you say, around quality and the need to reflect the digitally mediated nature of learning that all of us have now come to enjoy. I look forward to your future posts,Dave!

    1. I like you hope that once the dust settles and the hype and novelty has worn off, people see the benefits and potential of the variety of technologies and media – even if people don’t completely ‘flip’ their classroom.

  4. Many thanks for this; I like the “flipped” concept. We have to some extent been doing this with labs, getting students to view videos and complete online pre-practical work before coming to class. Anecdotally they are much better prepared for the lab work they need to undertake and the session is much more productive.

    1. In subjects like chemistry (and the other sciences) I think flipped learning can work very well. When I was at school doing the sciences, we did an experiment (without knowing why) – then discussed what we observed. For some experiments if we had some background information upfront – that may have influenced our understanding of the experiment.

      If people actually look critically at what they do, then many of us have been doing flipped learning in parts without realising it.

  5. In my view, the universal claim that flipped classrooms are the way foward is as flawed as the idea that video players would see off teachers back in the day (1980ish).
    The biggest issue I think that divides education in the UK is this bandwagon phenomenon of one size fitting all, the universal solution for stimulating the disengaged.
    Flipping classrooms should mean more than watching a video lecture; in a recent history lesson for an hour or so three year 6 classes rehearsed and then fought as Athenians, Corinthians and Spartans; they had made their armour and weapons at home and in Art previously. Pictures and video clips were shared via Google sites with the pupils and the pupils litterally ran home to go online to pick up the pictures and write about their learning experience. 🙂 that’s 10 year olds for you!

  6. Excellent. I’ve been trying this this year with a class of 2 where content delivery is awkward and self conscious – here they get DOUBLE the input for the same deal – a delivery session AND an embedding session all for ‘1’ session. Working well but hard to evaluate at present.

  7. While I agree with Steve Wheeler’s observations about the quality of materials and accessibility, I think the issues some students might have with this concept go way beyond concerns of a technical nature. People come to university with particular notions of what it means to be a student and what it means to be taught by lecturers. If students are immersed in the stereotypical lecture-based learning experience which favours transmission models of teaching from the second they enter institutions, so-called flip-classrooms are going to be a hard sell for many of them. Where tutor buy-in to such approaches is minimal, the likelihood of them being sustainable are in my opinion difficult. Given the quick-fix-results-now culture that permeates every aspect of HE, finding tutors to engage in the prolonged practice to ensure such approaches become the norm is going to be difficult. Admittedly, there will be champions who are intrinsically motivated to so and they are to be encouraged. Unfortunately, there numbers are few and do not generate the much sought after statistics which paint a picture of institutional uniformity. What over-excited advocates of such methods often fail to grasp is that not everyone wants to be educated like this, nor do they welcome such radical changes without being given the time to consider whether or not they afford them the benefits they are claimed to offer.

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