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‘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.

Students using their own devices – e-learning stuff podcast

My last blog post was about changing attitudes about using learner owned devices, which then prompted an e-learning stuff podcast with James Clay, Lilian Soon, and Ron Mitchell, where we discussed this basic idea further, with James playing devils advocate, and Lilian, Ron and Myself making sense of the some of the issues (barriers) that are often presented when this issue is addressed.

Some of the key messages are about giving the learners choice, looking at the teaching activities not the technologies, and the idea is not to completely replace organisation owned computers, but allow learners to use their own instead, thus liberating other computers for students who may not be able to afford their own ipad or similar.

I made a point towards the end, about how letting learners use their own devices offers wonderful accessibility benefits for disabled learners, and I think these benefits outweigh the problems of the digital divide issues, which can be managed through sensible financial investment, good management and decision making.

A point was also made about the cultural change required to make this work, but one thing that is in our favour in this area, is we are not looking for a wholesale and sudden shift in attitude from our staff – but instead if we allow those that want to work this way to do so, once others see the benefits, and students identify which ideas they like and don’t like, it is then easier for other staff to follow suit over a period of time, and I think this shift can happen gradually over a period of time, allowing the infra-structure to upgrade sufficiently, and the cost associated can be offset against savings in not replacing as many organisation computers as they naturally reach the end of their lifetime.

Taken from http://farm5.static.flickr.com/7037/6868878321_1f659890d3_b.jpg on 2012-3-06
Original URL – http://www.flickr.com/27214509@N00/6868878321/ created on 2011-12-24 17:38:57
April RinneCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

ILT breakfast club

Tasty Pastries

Originally uploaded by lu_lu

One of my most successful ventures in the area of ILT (e-learning) was the idea of an ILT breakfast club. The college I was working at (like many others) had limited parking so many staff were choosing to arrive early each day to get a parking space, so I used this feature to my advantage.

The model was quite simple. 1 morning a week I ran an ILT training session between 8.00am and 8.55am. I provided coffee and croissants which people consumed whilst I did a quick demo, we then got onto the computers to practice the skills. The sessions were punchy and to the point, and all teaching and learning focussed. I would repeat each session 5 times (over 5 weeks) each time on a different day of the week so as to not disadvantage part timers, and it then fitted nicely to run a set of sessions each half term.

The sessions were very popular, people liked the punchyness of them, some said it was a good start to the day a bit like a pre-work gym session but for the brain not body and some just came for the coffee, croissants and company. I covered many topics over the 2 years I ran the sessions, I trained lots of people (and got to meet people I had never heard off) and it made a huge difference to the skill set of the college. the food and drink provided was a key part of the process (and relatively cheap) and the pace of the sessions also important. This is a model that I think other organisations could replicate (if you have a trainer who can do early starts), for relatively little cost.

Why are paint tins round? (and what has that got to do with e-learning?)

I have recently decorated a bedroom at my house, and as part of the process we visited the local DIY store to choose and buy paint. something that I noticed whilst doing this was most of the tins of paint were in traditional round tins but about 20% are available in rectangular containers. This made me think, and I realised that a rectangular container is far more sensible than a round one – they stack more efficiently on a shelf so easier for the shop to store and display; they will occupy less room on a lorry so better for the environment; for the user like me if I am using a roller I can dip this straight into the can if I want so all in all a far more sensible vessel than a round tin. so why is it 80% of the paint on offer still comes in round tins? well it is probably the old situation of human beings not liking change ‘it has always been in a round tin so should stay in a round tin’.


Originally uploaded by Abhisek Sarda

So what is the point of this tale. Well when we look at e-learning, there are a small percentage of people that are prepared to challenge the norms and this is essential for progress to be made especially whilst the technology is changing so rapidly, but there are still a lot of people who are not keen on change and whilst these are in the majority then their behaviour will remain the norm (like the 80% of round paint tins) and although not deliberate they are in effect stifling progress. so what is the solution? as we enter more difficult financial times most senior managers will tighten their financial belts and restrict anything that isn’t proven but a few (possibly through financial necessity) may create a culture in their organisations where risk is not just allowed but rewarded, and in these places the norm may be to ‘challenge the norm’ and then real progress can be made.

So although recession is a bad thing for everyone I do genuinely believe that some educational good may come out of it.

Podcast – snow and e-learning

After a break of quite a few weeks, I was involved in another panel podcast, hastily arranged and recorded to discuss the topical issue of the disruption to education caused by snow, and how e-learning could paly a part (now and in the future).

The podcast can be found at http://elearningstuff.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/e-learning-stuff-podcast-012-its-snow-joke/

Snow man

Snow man

Frank Coffield – on embedding e-learning

The short video below, is of Professor Frank Coffield, a well respected and out spoken professor of education, whose beliefs very much mirror mine, and in particular he mentions the fact that for embedding to take place, tutors need access to the tools but more importantly time for this to happen. This video follows on from an LSN funded report that he has written, called ‘Just suppose teaching and learning became the first priority‘ which is a brilliant report in that he isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and point out how ludicrous some governmental decisions appear to be, and how simple some solutions could be made if only an educational minister had the balls to do so.

Both the report and his video are being used as part of the new eCPD programme that is rapidly filling up with applications.

Podcast on the ‘The VLE Debate’

I was involved in a podcast the other week, debating the role (and future) of the formal VLE within education. What was interesting about this podcast was that on the panel involved there was a range of views on the topic, which should have made it interesting listening materials.

I agree with Steve Wheeler’s views that the VLEs available are not meeting the needs of advanced users (like he and I) however I think strategically, using a VLE is a phase that people and institutions have to go through, and the fact that many institutions have spent thousands (some millions) of pounds implementing them now is not the right time to stop using them.

Saying that though I have recently connected on facebook with an old friend from uni who is a maths teacher, and he made this comment…

we’re using FROG across the local authority for our VLE, the biggest advantage I can see for me right now is being able access school files from home…saves me using laptops/memory sticks etc.

Within  the school sectors, many are now embracing VLEs but there doesn’t seem to be an integrated approach to training staff in how to use them. The end result, a huge investment in a system that allows a tutor to access files at home!

Anyway – to access the podcast – go to http://elearningstuff.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/e-learning-stuff-podcast-009-the-vle-debate/