For the past few weeks, Mr. Burnaugh’s students have been experimenting with simulated parallel and A/C circuits, chatting with him and each other, answering poll questions, and uploading graphic organizers on their LMS (Learning Management System)—all online and before they even enter the classroom. When they meet with him IRL (In Real Life), they have an opportunity to really dive into Ohm’s law and the algebraic recipe for calculating current. In their labs, they use a resistor, a battery pack, an ammeter, and a voltmeter to explore how this equation applies to real life. They have the opportunity to ask Mr. Burnaugh questions, receive 1:1 and small group help, and connect with peers. When they go home, they can review what they learned in class by accessing teacher notes, re-watching a recorded lecture, downloading a helpful video on TeacherTube or Khan Academy, and completing practice equations. Following classroom learning sessions, they return to the LMS and review, practice, and process what they did in class. A drone delivers college acceptance letters and scholarship offers.
Okay, maybe there’s no drone, but flipped instruction is not science fiction—schools all across the country and world are making this model work for students.
What can flipped instruction do for me?
One of the most heavily touted benefits of the flipped classroom is the efficient use of in-class time. Students view pre-recorded lectures that are either given by the teachers or another expert in the field through Ted talks or Khan Academy for example, or any number of educational podcasts. This cuts out 15-20 minutes of class time otherwise designated to direct instruction/lecture. After listening to online talks, students complete a simple assessment exercise. Using assessment results, teachers can craft the next day’s lesson or project to target all levels of competency. (This last piece is key. Khan Academy cannot to do all the teaching. Effective instruction is presented in multiple formats and from a variety of angles. “See, Hear, Do” still applies.)
Another benefit of the flipped model is the ability to differentiate. Students who require more time to process and practice can move through pre-lessons at a pace that suits them; they can review and access additional resources for extra help. They can receive assistance from peers both online and in person. Depending on how the teacher sets up live chat sessions, they may even get more one-on-one time with instructors. Students who want to move at a faster clip can complete several pre-learning modules in one session, access and complete extra credit assignments on the LMS, and delve deeper into topics of interest in “Parking Lot”-style chat rooms. Students could even create their own pre-recorded lectures or screencasts to post to the LMS for other students to learn from. (Here is a good example of a screencast from a 4th grade student.)
One last benefit that’s worth mentioning is allowing students to transcend their own biases. Not all teachers are good at delivering dynamic, interesting lectures. Even if you are, not everyone will enjoy or connect with your dry wit, interesting trivia, and wealth of knowledge on a given topic. These are the risks teachers take on a daily basis when they stand up in front of a class. But if we know that Ken Robinson or Neil deGrasse Tyson say it best, then by all means, please let them deliver.
What are the drawbacks?
One of the most obvious drawbacks to flipped instruction is lack of access. In low-income schools and communities, it’s still a harsh reality that many students don’t have regular and reliable internet access. Smart phones can help level the playing field, but some LMS systems aren’t compatible with all smart phones. Students may be able to view lecture modules, but often encounter obstacles when it comes to interacting with assessment tools.
Another pitfall is the issue of time. Since one-room schoolhouses, teachers have never had enough time to plan lessons, grade papers, attend meetings, and stay ahead of the curb on research; flipped lessons require an extensive and intensive block of time to develop and curate in an attractive and organized manner. In addition, flipped instructors have to manage after-school hours. The ideal is for students to have instant feedback, but as always, educators have to figure out how much of their personal time they are willing to give up.
One final item to consider when weighing in on flipped instruction is the issue of homework, or pre-learning in this case. Interactive videos and podcasts are meant to be more engaging and interesting—certainly more interesting than a worksheet; however, just because homework is delivered to student computers or iPads, doesn’t mean that they will do it. As is the case with any meaningful homework assignment, if students don’t take responsibility for completion, they will come into class the next day with little to contribute and far less understanding than their peers. Nothing new here.
As technology becomes more accessible and widely utilized, we’ll most likely make the full fledged shift to a blended model of technology-based pre- and post-learning outside of the classroom, coupled with hands-on PBL inside of it. Now is the time to experiment, play, and try this out. And don’t forget to let your students help you!