Flipping the Classroom: An Introduction

The flipped classroom is definitely a hot topic in education at the moment, from the blogosphere to TED to the New York Times, it's been everywhere you look. In today's post Melissa Venable introduces the concept and speaks to its strengths and weaknesses.

In the traditional classroom, students meet at a physical location to listen to an instructor's lecture, then outside of class work through assignments and perhaps engage in discussions with their classmates. The flipped classroom approach offers another option - essentially flipping the time and location of these activities, so that students view recorded lectures and read course materials outside of class, then meet to engage in problem solving, discussion, and practical application exercises with their instructor.

The flipped classroom is a growing trend in the redesign of courses at K-12 and higher education levels. You may have also already encountered similar concepts such as reverse instruction, pre-teaching, and video podcasting (or vodcasting). There are a range of techniques and strategies that could fall under the term "flipping a classroom," but most involve elements of blended learning with online and offline components. Online video elements are now more readily available than ever. In addition to user-friendly lecture capture applications (e.g., Camtasia, Panopto) that allow you to record your own presentations, resources such as the Kahn Academy are garnering a lot of attention specifically related to the flipped classroom approach.

Online learning environments have already seen implementation of a number of the techniques gaining ground in flipped classrooms, as the need to serve students at a distance required pre-recorded presentations and a wide variety of web-based materials. The goals of the flipped approach include improvements in teaching and learning through the effective use of technology. Many instructors are touting their success with flipped strategies, but there are still issues to be resolved. The flipped classroom approach, while gaining popularity, it not a silver bullet for success and should be tailored for the learning environment, context, and specific learners involved.

Potential Benefits

There is a potential for increased student interaction both with their instructors and with each other through this different use of traditional class time. High school instructors Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two of the earliest classroom flippers, report that they are better able to attend to individual student needs, and directly observe where their students need more assistance by working with them in the classroom on learning activities and lab exercises, instead of using that time for lecture-type presentations. Using class time to respond to common questions and review difficult concepts that were covered in the recorded presentations is also a potential benefit of this format as a more direct and immediate response to student questions.

Challenges Ahead

Before moving to a flipped model, it's critical to consider what resources your students have both at home and outside of class (i.e. libraries, student centers) to access web-based materials. There is a question of Internet access as well as of devices to receive the content. While much of the online content described above could be easily posted through a service like YouTube, if students don't have a reliable way to view (i.e. smartphone, tablet, computer) and access the video, this approach may be counterproductive.

The flipped classroom as described by many educators continues to rely on a lecture format that many argue are not an effective way to teach. Moving lectures from on-campus to online is not necessarily an improvement. This approach does, however, provide an incentive for instructors to review existing lectures and consider revisions or alternative formats for content delivery.

Examples from the Field

Bergmann and Sams collaborated on their work as chemistry teachers and recorded their class presentations with the use of lecture capture software in order to make the content available to students who frequently missed courses in their rural school district. In a series of articles on TheDailyRiff.com they explained how their role evolved from "presenter to learning coach answering questions, working with small groups, and guiding the learning of each student individually."

Last year Daniel Pink highlighted the work of Karl Fisch, a Colorado high school teacher, in an article for The Telegraph. Fisch recorded his algebra lectures and posted them to YouTube. He asked his students to watch the videos as homework and then worked with them at school to complete related math problems that would traditionally be assigned as "homework." The benefits realized here include the ability of students to review class lectures as they need to, pausing, replaying, etc. and of the instructor to observe and interact with students as they complete learning activities.

Classroom Salon is a software application that allows for the switch in traditional classroom activities and is currently in use in higher education. This tool builds on digital texts and not only encourages students to read, but also annotate and discuss their reading assignments online, before coming to class. In the classroom, they engage in deeper discussions about what they've read and discussed with their instructor as a guide. Instructors at Carnegie Mellon University, the originating institution for this project, find that their students are better prepared for class discussions and the time they spend in a physical classroom is used more effectively.

Tips for Flipping

In another post from TheDailyRiff.com, a group of educators provide their vision of what a good flipped class should look like. This list of characteristics offers solid guidance for moving forward with your own course. The recommendations include fostering student-led discussions, employing real-world scenarios, providing opportunities for spontaneous tutoring and collaborative learning, and encouraging student ownership of the material.

The Connected Principles site offers 3 Keys to a Flipped Classroom reminding us that it's not just the approach, but also how it's executed that matters. Homework is one consideration and difficult to get students to complete in any form. Flipped methods may or may not be more engaging for your students. Lesson quality is also a critical element of this technique - sequencing what will be presented, as well as when and how it will be presented, can make a difference in maintaining student interest and attention. Production quality can make or break the online component of your flipped classroom, affecting how this content is received. As these authors state, "We expect students to produce great work for us, we should do the same for them."

Want to find out more?

Join The Flipped Class Network, a Ning community of learning professionals interested in sharing flipping techniques. This group currently has over 2300 members who are actively exchanging information and resources. Review the resources provided online by the University of Northern Colorado on the Vodcasting and the Flipped Classroom site. Here you'll find guidelines on creating and posting online videos, a series of blogs written by educators who are using flipping techniques in their classes, and frequently asked questions about the process. Explore a collection of Flipping the Classroom resources on the "Teaching with TED" wiki. This site includes relevant TED Talks, such as one from Salman Khan of Khan Academy, as well as YouTube videos and SlideShare presentations.

The flipped approach continues to evolve as educators explore and experiment with new instructional strategies and technologies. There's no one right way to proceed, and it may not be appropriate in all educational situations, disciplines, and environments. The concept can be interpreted and implemented in different ways for different learning contexts. Have you experienced a flipped classroom as an instructor or student? Tell us more about your experience here!

Next: Your Child's Homework: How Much is Too Much?

Previously: High School Connection: The 10 Most Connected High Schools

This article was originally published on Inside online Learning.