Pondering about flipped classrooms

Flip the classroom and make it more engaging. Image: Taylor Hand @ Flickr, CC BY-SA

A flipped classroom is often mentioned when discussing the future classroom. Ideas and aspects related to the flipped classroom have also been juggled with in iTEC, for example in the scenario Homework and schoolwork “flip”.

The Khan Academy has presented this model most famously to schools in the United States. Khan Academy has produced thousands of educational videos that are available free of charge for anyone in the world. It is a wonderful resource and has presented opportunities for students to listen to the explanation of complicated mathematical concepts by a person other than their teacher.

As we, the design team, analysed all scenarios, we had to dig deeper into what the concept of flip means. Khan defines the flip as “a reversal of the traditional teaching methods, with lecturing done outside class time and tutoring or homework during it”. The above scenario focuses on teachers making videos and students watching them at home, as a replacement for in-class lectures. While this can be one way through which a flip can be introduced, it is not the only way and certainly not the meaning of flipped classroom. It’s more than that: it’s about making class time more engaging for all people involved – the main goal of the iTEC project.

Our team’s task includes the creation of Learning Activities and Stories for teachers to pilot in school. We decided not to include the flip as a separate story, but rather to bake its essence into all of the activities we propose for the next pilots. All activities will thus have the spirit of flip. So the flipped classroom scenario is not explicitly presented as a Learning Story in the cycle 3 pre-pilots.

Commonly (and mistakenly), when seeking to introduce the flipped classroom, it is understood to ask teachers to record video lectures that students view at home to be prepared for the next classroom lesson. During the lesson, instead of lecturing, the teacher is answering questions and supporting individual students with practical exercises. However, there are three problematic assumptions when flip is simplified like this:

  1. This form of flip does not match teacher realities: Teachers in European schools are not primarily focusing on presenting lectures during lessons. In the classroom they engage their students with a multitude of activities. The notion that lessons are just lectures may come from many adults’ experiences in universities, where lecturing is more common. Not so in the majority of primary education.

  2. Making the less engaging parts of class time even more tedious by turning live lectures into recordings to watch at home and alone, without a way to discuss or ask questions in context may not be the best direction to take when thinking about educational reform.

  3. The focus should not be on video lectures, but a mix of activities to engage students: doing exercises, reading material, group working, writing, drawing, discussing, debating etc. Essentially, making class time more engaging and collaborative, and move activities that are best done alone to homework.

Regarding Khan Academy, the amount of people who have self-studied their way through mathematics using these videos is small. Even Khan says that “good teaching must de-emphasise lecture and emphasise active problem-solving”. Realistically, only a small fraction of potential students who are highly motivated to learn a topic, good quality videos can replace a textbook or a course in an educational institution. However, for the 99% of pupils who are not especially motivated to learn a certain topic, providing them with videos is likely not to accelerate performance. Lecture recordings are less engaging overall, as the viewers often multitask, engaging with Facebook or email at the same time.

So what should a flipped classroom essentially include? All class time activities in a flipped classroom should engage all students at all times.

  • Classwork: Everything that the teacher needs to be involved with. This may be a lightning talk by a teacher, a student or a visitor, as well as practical tasks and exercises. The teacher should be able to move around in the class, have time to speak with individual students, oversee and comment on practical activities.

  • Homework: Everything that the teacher does not need to be present for. This may include individual or group tasks (students can easily collaborate from home with the help of proper tools, such as Skype, Google Docs, blogs, wikis, etc.).

Take a look at our most recent Learning Activity packages, Observe & Design, and Benchmark & Design. As you browse through to the individual Learning Activities, you’ll notice that they have been written with maximal classroom engagement in mind.

Do you disagree with how we’ve understood flip? Please, leave your comments, criticism, and evidence as blog comments.

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7 Responses to Pondering about flipped classrooms

  1. Anna Keune says:

    A good background information about Khan Academy written in Finnish.

    Helpoin tapa kantaa maailmaa harteillaan on seisoa paallaan

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  2. Peeii says:

    Think you speak more about collaborative learning activities than flipped classroom? And probably that’s the point at hand.

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  3. Eero Nukari says:

    Students also multitask in classrooms. While watching a video they can at least press pause and rewind.

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    • I’ve understood one major problem with students multitasking is that some of those other tasks are not education-related, eg. Facebooking with friends. Our idea about the flip is about making the main activities during class time so engaging and interesting that there is no need to fill bored moments with Facebook, IM, and games.

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  4. Adil Tugyan says:

    Fliped classrom has advantages for students who are not good note takers.Intead of assingnig students with revisions ,teachers can say Watch this video at home as your assignment.Some experts say ,it is better than traditional teaching ,in some ways I agree with them .

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  5. I like your point of view (and would really like teaching in European activity-based schools!). I’m not convinced that lecturing on video is any more effective than lecturing in class. Lecture is lecture – and I prefer that students construct ideas through activities.

    There is value in having short videos – to the extent they initiate or guide student activities to a specific end. I think videos can be used for differentiation but, if the videos include lecture, they should be viewed by pairs of students with conversation/reflection built in every 5 minutes.

    I wrote an article about how we should talk about flipped lessons instead of flipped classrooms: http://wp.me/p1Dq2f-i9. By flipping particular lessons instead of whole classrooms, the flipped model becomes one of many models in the teacher toolchest.

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  6. Here’s some more food for thought: How starting the flip actually revealed that the flip is not necessary, when something more constructive is in its place:
    http://shelleywright.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/the-flip-end-of-a-love-affair/

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