Why Learning People Wince At Talk Of "Classroom Flipping"

How to be terminally pedagogically uncool.

October 3, 2016

Why do my learning friends (faculty and non-faculty educators alike) wince when I say the words “flipped classroom”?

I’ve been saying flipped classroom for years now, and it seems only recently that saying these words exposes me as terminally pedagogically uncool.

Talking about the flipped classroom may not be as bad as saying the Netflix, Uber, Airbnb or Pokemon GO of education (thank you Michael Feldstein for that warning!) - but I’m seeing weak signals that we might be on the same linguistic trajectory.

Then again, the coolest educators on the planet - that same-self Michael Feldstein and his partner in crime Phil Hill - have made a must watch/share 3 minute and 27 video that talks about flipping the class. (As well as learning analytics and adaptive learning). Check it out at Personalized Learning: Three Ideas for Your Class

So maybe my colleagues only wince when I talk about flipping.

Why might talk of the flipped classroom rub learning people the wrong way?

My guess is that the idea of flipping has been hopelessly coopted.

Coopted by those who think that there is an educational magic bullet to improved postsecondary productivity.  (There isn’t).

Coopted by those inclined to believe that improving learning requires only simple shifts in technique or practice. (It doesn't).

Changing things up so that the course content is delivered through a lecture by video, a video that students watch before coming to class, does nothing in and of itself to improve learning. The real challenge is how to use class time to enable active and experiential learning.

The worst courses on the planet are those that have been poorly flipped.

First, a lecture is not now - nor has ever been - solely a mechanism to transmit content. Good lecturers are great conversationalists. They continually adapt and change their lectures on the fly so that the lecture feels like a conversation. They are able to sense the mood and the feel of the room, and shift their delivery, cadence, and presentation style motivate interest and attention.

Even the best videos have a hard time doing what even an educator new to the business of lecturing is able to figure out.  Videos are not conversations.

That is why flipped videos must be very very short. And it really does not work to outsource the video content.  Students want to hear from their professors.

Let’s say that you can create wonderful videos. (A long shot, but okay.  Maybe you are working with a team of instructional designers and media educators to create these videos - or maybe you are just really talented).  Where does this leave you?

You will still need to lecture some. You will need to lecture on muddy points. You will need to lecture for repetition and emphasis. You will need to lecture to synthesize, and to make the material relevant to what is going on in the world and with your students.

Still, by shifting some of your lecture content to asynchronous (video) delivery - you should buy some time in your class for something more personal, active, and interesting. The question is - what will that be?

Creating active and experiential learning activities is really difficult. Designing classroom activities that have a prayer of reaching your teaching goals is devilishly difficult.  Not to mention time consuming.

The more creative your classroom activities, the better chance that they will fail the first (and maybe second) time around.

The more students you have in your course, the harder it is to enact effective active learning methods.

It is possible - and a great goal - to create a high quality flipped class. Doing so will require, however, considerable effort and time. This is a high-resource, high-input strategy.  We should celebrate those educators that pull this off, as a really good flipped class is a thing of beauty.

The point is that classroom flipping is a means, not an ends. We flip because we are trying to do something better with our teaching.

The real challenge is helping our students learn, and meeting that challenge will require many different methods and much experimentation.

The best classes may never flip anything.  No videos will be shot or watched. The lecture may be integrated into all manner of other teaching strategies.

In short, you learn less than nothing about the quality of a class in knowing whether it has been flipped or not.

What educational (or edtech) terms get under your skin?



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