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‘Flipping eL’ – ‘The Flipped Classroom’ – part 4 – increasing accessibility

This is the 4th blog post in a series on the topic of the ‘Flipped Classroom’. In the previous post I identified the possible benefits that this model could bring in terms of widening participation, with one area being possible benefits to disabled students, which I want to unpick further here.

Not all disabled learners are going to prefer this model, but there are going to be many that may. The commonest disability that we are likely to encounter within education is dyslexia, and if I broaden this out there are 3 categories:

  1. Those that are diagnosed.
  2. Those that aren’t diagnosed yet.
  3. Those who have dyslexic tendencies without being officially recognised.

Organisations will know how many of the first group they have, but we have no idea how many of the other 2 groups that there will be. The advantage of the flipped classroom is this may help these learners without them having something different (and the associated stigma) to the rest of the class.

So – how may this help? Education discriminates against dyslexic learners because education has an over reliance on the importance of language – the very thing that dyslexics find most challenging. Many dyslexics are above average intelligence, and they develop coping strategies to overcome this discrimination. For many the coping strategy is based on ‘getting through the lesson’ and they have to spend a lot of their effort just making sense of various forms of information and the way it is presented, rather than trying to develop a deep understanding of the topic being taught. If we have a flipped classroom scenario – the learner can use tools like text to speech, coloured overlays, onscreen reading bars etc to help them access the information. If any content is video or audio the learner can pause, rewind etc. giving them the extra time needed to make meaningful notes – rather than having to work at the pace the tutor has set.

If a learner accesses the information up front, they can then come to the seminar session prepared to enter into high level discussion with their peers.

In my first post in the series, I mentioned how a visually impaired learner may benefit, and the logical reasons are the same – they take control of their support needs and adaptations, they work at the pace that is best for them, and in an environment that they find most conducive to learning. Similarly if a learner has a hearing impairment, they can study in an environment (probably one without background noise) that is best suited to them. One issue that is interesting here, is many educators think that audio (including video) is not going to be good for someone that is deaf. If someone has no hearing then this would be true, however there are many people that are deaf that have some hearing, and make use of hearing aids to amplify sounds to give them some hearing. For these people – listening to a lecturer speaking in a lecture theatre with the sound of the air conditioning, projector, students coughing, squeaking of pens taking notes etc is very hard, even if an induction loop is used. However – if the same content is provided as audio or video, which they can listen to in their own environment and using technology to amplify the sound to the best level for them – again with the ability to pause and rewind bits they didn’t fully hear is very useful.

Of course there will be many disabled learners who won’t prefer the ‘flipped classroom’ ideology – but the key here is the notion of choice that I identified in my second post in the series. The learners who prefer the flipped route sign up for courses running it, for those that don’t they sign up for an alternative course. The challenge here will be for the people advising the students, to have the confidence and knowledge to advise the students correctly, without introducing a prejudice that ‘because they are disabled the flipped classroom won’t work for them’.

If some organisations do get the flipped principle working, and the right students choose those courses, we have the potential for some disabled learners to be able to study without having to declare their disability (and the associated stigma) and that to me is a very powerful and exciting position.

The image below shows a student using technology to invert the colours to high contrast and increase the text size.

Taken from http://farm5.static.flickr.com/3073/3050414114_f2ae8bb229_b.jpg on 2012-5-14
Original URL – http://www.flickr.com/66606673@N00/3050414114/ created on 2008-10-20 10:43:05
cobalt123CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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‘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