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Posted by on Mar 8, 2015 in Featured, Pedagogy |

Flip Your Classroom?

Flip Your Classroom?

Educational instruction strategies seem to trend as often as teenage fashion styles; keeping up with them can be difficult.  One of the latest trends is the “flipped classroom”.  Another, like the lite version of the flipped classroom, is aptly named, “blended instruction”. What do these mean?

The flipped classroom and blended instruction trends begin with the same principle, the valuing of lesson dissemination through indirect means (or independent learning) .  In a traditional classroom, though instruction varies (due to other trends), typically the majority of the class is devoted to the pouring out (or leading out) of the information that will lead to meeting the lesson objective. Then, on their own time, the students are left to put what they’ve learned (or should have learned) into practice (e.g. homework). In a flipped classroom, the information required to meet the objective is to be gained outside the classroom (independently), and the practice is to be done inside the classroom.  This is an inside-out or upside-down type of approach, hence the name, flipped classroom.  The blended instruction approach is a hybrid approach, where some instruction is done in class while other is done outside of class or through virtual instruction.

I often argue this “new” type of instruction is really not new, especially to the humanities. Quite often a history or language course has required students to read a passages outside (or even inside) of class that contains the vital information for the lesson as opposed to the teacher lecturing the material. It also isn’t new to the virtual classroom instructor; it is more of a way of life.  For the math class, however, this approach is radical (pun intended) and daunting.  Many science teachers blend their instruction (perhaps without realizing it) when their students are charged with gleaning information from a video in class, then responding to or wrestling with the information in an written or oral manner.

I have a tendency to roll my eyes at a lot of educational trends, as I find most are repackaged ideas with a new name.  I also find it disconcerting how many teachers allow these trends to push them around as if caught in their undertow.  So what then shall we say about this flipped classroom idea?  Well, I kinda like it.

As I mentioned, the concept isn’t new.  I happen to be one of those virtual classroom instructors I mentioned earlier, so flipping my traditional classroom was no great leap.  However, my traditional class subjects consist of mathematics and programming, so flipping them would have their challenges.  As an experienced virtual instructor and a Technology Coordinator, these challenges, in others’ eyes, are easily surmountable.  There is some truth to this, but I  still have to answer the same questions and face the same issues as any other teacher.  That is the primary reason I address flipped instruction here.

Any teacher that flirts with the idea of flipping their classroom inevitably has some initial questions and misconceptions.  Hopefully the introductory paragraphs have addressed some of yours already.  The remainder of this post is dedicated to the rest; at least those with which I have been presented.  The objective is to answer the questions you likely already have, or will have.  As to specific ideas or implementations, we can cover those at another time. Enjoy.


#1 What is a Flipped Classroom?

As I mentioned in the introductory paragraphs a flipped classroom is essentially an approach to instruction where the dissemination of lesson concepts/topics is done outside of class as opposed to in class.  Classroom time is therefore utilized for review, discussion, practice, writing, or other tasks normally completed outside of class.

#2 Do I Have to Record Myself Teaching?

This is the most popular question I get, and it always seems to find its way to the beginning of the discussion.  Simple answer, no.  To flip your classroom there is absolutely no reason why you should have to record yourself teaching.  At this point that answer is usually a huge relief to most, and for good reason.

Let’s be honest, in most classrooms, this is not even a possibility. In most schools, it is also a nightmarish question for the one or two individuals responsible (or knowledgeable enough) to handle educational technology.  Recording lessons takes time, a lot of time.  Its not just the recording of your lesson (which can take two, three, or more times as long as it would have in your traditional classroom), it is also the setup of the equipment (unless you’re lucky enough to have it all in place), the training of the teacher to use the equipment/software,  editing/producing of the video if necessary, and also the delivery of the finished product. Not an easy undertaking.

Notice in this question a preconceived notion about delivery of content…video.  There is an assumption out there that all virtual instruction must be in video form.  Although video instruction does tend to be best and most popular, let us not forget to expect our students to read or discover.

#3 Where Do I Go to Get Resources?

This is your homework.  Go search for some good resources.  Sure, there some standard resources out there on the Web (e.g. Kahn Academy for Math), but you should go out there and find some things relating to the topic you want to teach. When I am preparing a topic for virtual instruction, I often break my lesson down into pieces, and then go look for the best resource I can find to teach each simple concept.  If I find a video, great.  If I find a cool blog post, great.  If I find a website that demonstrates the concept, great.  Are there a few pages in my textbook that could be read?  You are an educator.  Chances are, you’ve already done research in the past to find materials that could be used in your traditional classroom.  Use those skills when developing flipped instruction material. Of course, if you can record yourself, that is an option too.

#4 How Do I Deliver My Content

This is, in my opinion, one of the most crucial questions to ask and answer.  After all, you can find all the resources you want, but how are you going to deliver them?  The answer to this question may be easier than you think, for your school may have already provided you with the tools.  If not, there are plenty of other options.  Let’s review a few.

First, take advantage of tools you’ve already been provided.  Most school by now have purchased or adopted some form of SIS (student information system) or LMS/CMS (learning/course management system) that provides teachers will a place to post lesson content to students.  For example, in our school (see our story) we have used both Edline and RenWeb (currently).  Maybe your school uses something similar. We have also used Moodle (well, only some of the daring teachers).  Perhaps your school uses Moodle, Blackboard, Sakai, Schoology, or some other LMS.  These are the perfect platforms for delivering your content.  You may already be using them to post handouts or other resources.

Has your school adopted Google Apps for Education?  If so, you may be interested in trying Google Classroom or creating a Google Site.  If your school has not adopted Google Apps, but you have your own Gmail account, you could also use Google Sites to create a simple web page (no skill required) to host your content.

What about a blog? Perhaps you can create your own blog (e.g., Blogger) to deliver your content?  There are many other options as well.  Talk to some colleagues to see what they are using.  By the time you’re reading this, my site should also have a post or two on how to use one of these options.

#5 Must I Flip Every Lesson?

Not at all.  Flip what is convenient to flip.  Blend your instruction as well.  Sometimes I can flip an entire lesson.  Other times I flip only portions or none of the lesson.  You are still the teacher and you determine how to deliver instruction.  Use it how you see fit.  However, just don’t be afraid to try something new because it might require some extra prep time.  And certainly, don’t reject the concept because, for yourself, it might be uncharted territory.

 #6 What is the difference between flipping my class and using blended learning

I believe trendy folks use the term “blended learning” to describe what is really just traditional teaching with a hints of the flipped or virtual classroom.  However, I believe the blended learning process is something that educators at the elementary or secondary levels have been trained and encouraged to utilize for decades; don’t let the new term deceive you.  When you force your students to actively engage in the learning process (i.e. do something other than listen to you), you are blending instruction.

If you want to blend instruction as the trend connotes, you will include aspects of virtualized instruction into your traditional classroom.  This could be done in place of your lecture, or at home (like a flipped classroom).  Perhaps as part of a lesson you’ll have your students come in and watch a 5 minute video (on their own) and then answer a few questions or write a response.  This would be a blended instruction activity.