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 (http://www.khanacademy.org/) 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 teaching...it 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.
- Fisch Algebra “We see this as the future of higher education”: http://fischalgebra1011.blogspot.com/2010/11/we-see-this-as-future-of-higher.html
- New York Times, 4th November 2010: ”Learning in Dorm, because class is on the web”: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/05/us/05college.html?_r=1
- The Fisch Bowl – Transparent Algebra : http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/search/label/transparent_algebra