To flip or not to flip

I have become interested in the idea of ‘flipping’ the classroom since I first read about it on Karl Fisch’s Fischalgebra blog (see resources at the end of this post).  He describes how he makes eight to ten minute ‘mini-lessons/lectures’ for his students which they have to watch at home as ‘homework’. When they come to class, he then sets them work as he would normally set homework, but now the application of the lecture (which they viewed at home before coming to class), happens in class with the teacher roaming around and offering support to those students who struggle with the work. He thus ‘flips’ the classroom: The lecture happens in the absence of the teacher at the students’ homes via technology (e.g. vodcast of the lesson in the teacher’s own recorded voice), while facilitating the application of the skills taught happens in the presence of the teacher at school.  Technology is used before and after school, while the teacher facilitates learning in school.

If you watched the TED talk with Salman Khan (and Bill Gates), you would have seen that the Khan Academy videos (  lend themselves perfectly to this kind of instruction.  If you have not seen the Khan talk, here it is:

Note that both Karl Fisch and Salman Khan refers to the flipping of the classroom in relation to Mathematics instruction.

Of course there are many advantages to this instruction type:

  • Creating online lessons allows for teachers to reflect on their instruction before they make it available for the students:  The teacher can listen how it sounds before students see the lesson.  Thus the teacher has the opportunity to make one “best of all lessons” recording, which can then be posted on the web.  If the teacher is not happy with the lesson, it is easy to either do it again, or edit bits and pieces of it.
  • The lesson only has to be delivered once, even though the same teacher may have five classes in this subject.  All students in those five classes will have access to this ‘best of all lessons’, the teacher does not have to deliver it five times.  This saves time for the teacher.
  • This also frees the teacher during class time.
  • Once the video is online, it can be used year after year as long as the content is relevant.
  • Once the lesson is available for all students in his/her class, the teacher can also reach students who are part of the global audience.
  • Imagine what this could mean for students in countries where they may not have access to regular schools…or for those adults who would like to train themselves, of for anyone who would like to brush up on some skills.
  • The availability of online lessons has great potential for kids who miss school due to travelling abroad or being kept out of school because they are sick.
  • This argument also extends to situations where schools may be closed or teachers are absent, e.g. during snow days, after floods, earthquakes, wars and other disasters.  As long as we can provide access to the online resources for the kids, the learning can continue.
  • The emphasis no longer falls on only the classroom time for the teacher to provide instruction.  Thus, if the regular teacher is sick or absent, the learning can still continue as long as the school provides a replacement teacher to facilitate learning for those students who need intervention.
  • This also applies to students wanting to review content before exams, or perhaps even when students forgot how to do something and would like to revisit the lesson again.
  • Students can download the lessons and carry it around with them, ready to be used when they have time, e.g. via iPod (on the bus, on the train), or by plugging their USB’s into a computer without internet access.
  • Students can pause, rewind, fast forward…they can take only the bits they need, and fast forward the rest, or they can watch the video again and again until they ‘get it’, without feeling that they are interrupting the teacher by asking him/her to explain something again.
  • The classroom becomes more of  a place for learning than a place for teaching.  The human face of teaching returns.
  • The students who need help from the teacher can access the help, while those students who are shyer and prefer to view the video again and again, can do so as well. Differentiated learning.
  • Another way this brings differentiation into the learning, is that students who would like to work ahead, can do so.  Every student can now work at his/her own pace, while the teacher truly facilitates learning for all.
  • Once the lessons are on the web, the teacher can refer to them again and again.  It becomes a resource which is available as and when the students need it for ‘just in time’ instruction.
  • Everyone may gain access to some of the delivery of the best teachers and experts in certain fields…as Salman Khan said:  If Einstein made lessons on Calculus, we would not have to do it now.  One would hope that for subjects like Mathematics, where the same content is delivered every year, having online lessons would save teachers time and effort into the future, for as long as those lessons are relevant.
  • Having online lessons could save teachers having to make the lessons themselves…teachers could choose to use other teachers’ lessons, providing those lessons serve the purpose of the lesson goal.

However, we need to think and plan before we make ‘flipping the classroom’ a school-wide practice.  Here are some of my reservations:

  • If bad classroom instruction is transferred into a digital format, it is not all of a sudden effective is still bad instruction…however, in a digital format it can do much more damage as it is globally accessible and very easy to share.
  • Not all content lends itself to being delivered via video lesson, as some content can only be explored and developed through active interaction, debate and collaboration.
  • Curricula change every few years.  The videos may become obsolete once the curriculum content changes.
  • There would be two sides to obsolete videos:  We could either remove obsolete videos so they don’t become even more digital clutter, or, if they are watched regularly by a global audience, leave them as a resource for others to use.
  • Time constraints and attention span constraints:  If all teachers want to deliver content via recorded mini-lessons, we need to be aware that students cannot possibly be expected to sit through six (or how many ever subjects they have in school) recorded lessons every afternoon.
  • This type of instruction may not suit the learning styles of all students.
  • Not all students will have the drive to sit through mini-lessons in the afternoons.  Realistically, we need to expect that some students will not do the ‘homework’ and turn up to class unprepared.  These students should be prepared to watch the lesson in class, using headsets.
  • Students will need access to internet devices in school, whether they are allowed to bring their own (a big culture shift for some schools), or whether the school invests in the buying of internet devices for the students.
  • Schools will have to invest in having someone on staff who can support the other teachers who are not so technologically savvy.
  • Schools will have to invest in internet storage and reliable quick internet connections.
  • Teachers need to change their thinking around students working at their own pace…if a student is working on his computer, teachers will have to trust that the student is in fact working on the subject or learning by himself.  If this is not happening, schools will have to invest in software which can keep track of what students are accessing and viewing in class.
  • The age at which this ‘flipped classroom’ starts, may possibly be after the end of Early Years, when kids move into Middle years and start associating more with their peers and learn more about themselves.  I believe that kids in Early Years still need the face to face interaction with the teacher during lessons, who they see as one of the most significant people in their lives.  This supports the development of social and communication skills.
  • There is a possibility that some students may find that they are not technologically savvy either, or struggle with digital literacy, or find the delivery of content via computer screen draining.  How to engage these kids…?
  • Each kid will have to buy his/her own headset in case they have to view videos on class.  (Sharing headsets is unhygienic.)
  • Not all students will have the time to spend on school-work after school hours.  Many students do sport, or have jobs.  Some students have lengthy travel times to get home, and most students have chores to do.
  • This means we need to have a school-wide policy about the length of these recorded lessons.  My thoughts would be that we should cap the length of any of these lessons to about eight or ten minutes per mini-lesson.  This means that between watching the lesson and taking notes, the student should spend no more than 20 minutes on each recorded session, per subject.  If they had six of these to sit through in the afternoon, it would still mean about two hours of work after school.
  • Students should then be expected to sit through a maximum of about two of these mini-lessons per subject per week.
  • Alternatively, schools can make a school-wide decision (have a policy) that only some subjects will ‘flip the classroom’ while other subjects will still remain traditional teaching.
  • Making recorded ‘mini-lessons’ may also not suit the teaching style of some teachers.  Schools will have to provide professional development or coaching, and leadership will have to support teachers who are not confident enough to record their lessons.
  • A digital divide may develop between students who have access to reliable and cost effective internet, against those who don’t have internet access or don’t have the funds to pay for constant viewing/or downloading videos.
  • Storage of the ever expanding library of videos need to be discussed.  Schools will have to provide huge space online for teachers, and students will have to consider the ways they are going to store the downloaded videos.
  • Naming conventions for the videos need to be considered as well, e.g. within a school-wide naming convention policy.  The videos should be named and tagged in such a way that students can easily locate the correct video, or search for ones used previously.
  • I am wondering about the expectations which will be placed on teachers…will they be expected to keep making video lessons even when they are home sick, or when they are off on long service leave?
  • How will it work when teachers need to take time off for having a baby or for being sick – will the replacement teachers be expected to teach in the same way the absent teacher taught?  Will we eventually have two classes of teachers: Those who teach using flip classrooms and those who don’t teach like that?
  • And last but not least: It is a sad comment on our society that almost everything can be used against teachers.  To convince teachers to put their lessons into a digital format, we need to ensure that these online lessons will never be used as a form of ‘teacher measurement’.

Please feel free to leave comments if you have any more ideas on this topic.


13 Responses to “To flip or not to flip”

  1. Flipping the classroom is an interesting way of looking at teaching and learning in the 21th Century. This post provides an extensive and well-thought out list of advantages and potential drawbacks.
    I think for those teachers that are ready for it, and for those courses where there is enough starting video material available for them, it could be a great tool to engage students.
    I don´t see this happening any time soon on a large scale though, given the necessary requirements.

  2. Hello Frans. Thank you for the comment. I agree that it may take some time to change the culture of teaching as it is happening at the moment. However, in our state we have a state-wide Learning Management System called the Ultranet, where teachers are encouraged (and I think soon they will be required) to start creating digital content and upload it to the Ultranet…flipping the classroom is perhaps a good conversation starter to get our own heads around using the Ultranet. Here is a another view of the KA:

  3. Hi Mary,

    This is a great analysis. You’ve captured both the plus and minus points for using video in this way.

    For me, the key thing is “appropriate use” of the resources at our disposal. It’s about enabling flexibility of choice for the teacher and for the learner.

    We need to balance financial cost with the effective use of time, and with the underlying motivational level of our students/trainees.

    We need to consider whether 1:1 coaching would work best for a particular student/context, or whether a small group discussion, or even a 1:many lecture.

    The problem with much of our educational/training infrastructure is that it’s built on a highly inflexible classroom-based model of teaching. The investment has already been made in those buildings and the administration processes that surround them. To become more flexible, some of these ways of working will need to be torn down before they can be rebuilt.

    I’m going to ponder more on this on my blog.

  4. Hello Mark, and thank you for your comment. I could not agree more re the constraints of the financial investment already made in our buildings and administrative processes…these monetary investments and cultural beliefs have to be justified and ‘used’ -sometimes to the detriment of our students and their learning outcomes. It reminds me of the Wet Monkey Theory ( —-> Q: Why are you doing it this way? Isn’t there a better way to do it? A: Yes, there may be a better way, but we will continue to do it this way because THAT’S THE WAY WE HAVE ALWAYS DONE IT.

    I will read your further musings about this topic on your blog.

  5. Teachers have been flipping the class now for at least four years. I and my colleague pioneered this concept with our high school chemistry students and have been training teachers across the world in making the flip. If you want more resources about the flip below are some articles and videos you might want to watch. We also just completed a book on the topic of the flipped class. It should be available in the fall of 2011

    Our Webpage

    Our NING

    The Flipped Classroom Video

    The Flipped-Mastery Video

    Daniel Pink Blog about what we do

    Article in the Daily Riff

    Video site of podcasts we have made of several great teachers teaching many different topics (Chemistry/Calculus/Physics/Biology/Engineering)

    News Video about what we do

    Article in THE Journal: Probably the best description of what we do

    Video of what a mastery/flipped classroom looks like

    Video of what our students think of mastery/flipped learning

    Video we made for students to help them understand the flipped/mastery model

    Video Sampler: Watch Jonathan and Aaron as they teach chemistry using videos and screencasting

  6. Great post about another way to use video in education, can be found here

  7. You made a very extensive list of pros and cons. This makes it very obvious that this is a teaching/learning experience that needs to be used only after a lot of thought. Used correctly I believe it can really be a benefit for students, used incorrectly it would be a real mess.
    This fall, flip your classroom. Create collaborative problem solving studio for students to learn in.

  8. I’m still on the fence about flipped classrooms in the form of “watch lecture at home first, practice in class second.” It reinforces the notion that school is about digesting someone else’s knowledge, rather than constructing your own.

    I teach physics from the Modeling Instruction paradigm. Instead of relying on lectures and textbooks, the Modeling Instruction paradigm emphasizes active student construction of conceptual and mathematical models in an interactive learning community. Students are engaged with simple scenarios to learn to model the physical world. You can watch one Modeling class in action here:

    In comparison to traditional instruction, under expert modeling instruction high school students average more than two standard deviations higher on a standard instrument for assessing conceptual understanding of physics:

    More discussion about the ineffectiveness of lectures here:

    And even more discussion about the ineffectiveness of Khan-like videos for learning science here:

    Through reflection and discussion with students/teachers each year, I am always finding new ways to teach/coach my students. I think that making videos and falling back on the same ones each year would stifle that reflection. Unless, of course, I wanted to make new ones, but I think the inertia of the time/effort involved would win. (But I don’t think lectures should be there in the first place, so it’s a moot point for me.)

    Flipping the classroom is a way of “doing things better” but instead we should be “doing better things.” My take on that here:

    Interested in your thoughts about my points…. Thanks!

  9. Wow, you have made some very interesting comments.

    I read your blog post and the comments below are in response to your interesting post which can be found at

    I am a Mathematics teacher who loves technology. Thus the Kahn Academy is an interesting phenomenon to keep track of. I can see a place for the video type instruction when teachers are focusing on the basic information and processes involved in some parts of Mathematics. However, teaching for deep understanding does not stop there. The open ended real life applications allow students to apply the skills they learnt. On some occasions it is a chicken/egg type scenario, as we need to think about how students will be able to construct their own understandings if we allow them to delve into problems – in many cases teachers just need to allow the kids to work together on the problems, while the teacher provides the guidance (like in the video you posted). I have a few thoughts on the ‘importance’ of elearning in Mathematics classes:
    1. The issue of using online video lectures becomes more complex when we look at schools where there is a lack of Maths trained teachers (a situation more prevalent in Senior grades and High schools). In these circumstances, the Mathematics classes often fall in the hands of people who do not love Mathematics, or worse still, people who do not understand the relevance and applications of Mathematics in the world around them. The detrimental effect these people can have on the Mathematics learning of the students in their classes, cannot be underestimated. I can see how access to online ‘lectures’ can support the students to grasp the basics. However, the students will still miss out on making deep connections with the learning content, as it would have been delivered only via a video, and not developed while working on a problem or real life application. It seems a very superficial way to learn Mathematics.
    2. Many millions of people around the world may be learning some aspects of Mathematics using these videos, but we need to remember that these people probably have some understanding of other Mathematics concepts, which then means that the videos are addressing some aspects in their overall learning where they may have missed some vital ‘steps’. These videos are not used in a vacuum by these people, but rather as a small part of their overall Mathematics learning.
    3. Unfortunately, the structured curricula we have in many educational departments, does not allow teachers the time to let kids construct their own learning all the time. What is required of many teachers, is to gloss over the curriculum content and to hope that something sticks and clicks in the minds of their students. This does not promote deep understanding. If we take a leaf from the schools in Finland (these schools consistently rank in the top three in the world for Mathematics), it is clear that effective Mathematics learning occur where teachers have the time to allow kids to explore and experiment with the content. Perhaps a video may be great for an introduction or for revision, but the real life-long learning occurs when the kids are playing with and learning from their own applications of the content.
    I have to admit that my own Mathematics classes usually resembled the vibrant, noisy class of the second video. I was usually in there with the kids, gently guiding them to discover the concepts themselves. I think there is a place for the videos, but I would rather make my own videos so kids can hear the lesson in my voice…I would also use lots of real life applications in my examples. After the video, the kids will be given the open-ended explorations which will allow them to create and construct their understanding.
    I have not even touched on the importance of relationships between teachers and students.
    Thank you again for your comments.
    Kind regards,

  10. In Mineapolis they are using videos to supplement classroom instruction. Any educator can upload videos, which can then be rated for accuracy by other educators. The videos rated as accurate by educators with Masters Degrees, will get an additional rating. In this manner, all the videos will be rated by the educational community, so teachers can rest assured about the accuracy of the content before they use it in their classrooms. Read more about it here

  11. The classroom becomes more of a place for learning than a place for teaching. The human face of teaching returns.
    The students who need help from the teacher can access the help, while those students who are shyer and prefer to view the video again and again, can do so as well.

  12. There was a conversation on Twitter’s #edchat re flipping the classroom, archive of this conversation can be found here “Flipped classrooms” – Archive here: #iste11

    News update 18th August 2011 Interesting news coming out of Khan Academy. New exercise framework, hiring FT exercise developers, no need to log in:

  13. Some interesting examples and many more links to online resources can be found here

    More from this writer: The classroom Flip: Why I Love It, How I Use It