Lately, there has been a lot of interest in the topic of “flipping the classroom” in the field of higher education, particularly due to the popularity and success of the Khan Academy (e.g., read CBS 60 Minutes – Khan Academy: The Future of Education). In addition, advances in technology, especially making video production more user-friendly and less expensive, allow instructors to quickly record narrated and annotated videos (i.e. screencast) which
can then be shared with students through various video-streaming websites. According to proponents, “flipped classrooms” engage students with content more deeply, provide opportunities to personalize learning, and can result in overall higher learning outcomes.
What is “flipping the class”?
Compared to traditional classrooms, where an instructor exposes students to new content during class time while students then apply the newly-learned material in their homework, so-called “flipped classrooms” rotate this sequence. Here, the instructor prepares short lectures of the to-be-learned material, often in the form of online videos, and makes them available to students before class. Then during class, students complete activities or projects that require them to apply the material from the lectures. The idea behind this method is that more of the actual class time is spent on higher order thinking (Bloom’s Taxonomy: Application, Analysis, etc.) while more basic tasks (Bloom’s Taxonomy: Recognition, Understanding) are completed independently before class.
What is the advantage?
Posting a brief online lecture in video format offers several advantages. First, the video is available 24/7 allowing students to review material at a convenient time and location (e.g., local coffee shop). Furthermore, students can stop the video anytime, replay important parts, or watch the complete video multiple times. This is especially useful when using the “mastery learning” approach where students can only move to the next activities if he or she has mastered the previous step(s).
With students exploring new content outside of class, the actual class time can now be used to further engage students with the material applying higher-order thinking skills. Depending on topics and subjects, students can now conduct experiments, solve complex math problems, or work on projects with the instructor being present and providing guidance. In addition, class time can also be used for students to work on activities that match individual interests or academic needs; thus, offering the possibility to provide more personalized learning.
Wait, aren’t we doing this already?
Taking a close look at the concepts behind and the principles of a “flipped class”, one might wonder whether the idea is really that new or whether it has been around and is just becoming popular. At least since the turn of the century, faculty and instructors in higher education have been exploring blended learning that combines traditional face-to-face classes with additional Internet-based activities or resources. Similarly, in online education, it is often necessary, if not unavoidable, for individual students to learn content on their own “outside the class” and then apply this content in another form (e.g., discussion forum, individual paper).
While the practice of incorporating Internet-based resources into education might not be new, the benefit of using those rests within the opportunity to gain valuable class time for other educational purposes. For example, by shifting some activities outside the regular class period, the actual class might be used for students to complete projects where they need to apply newly learned material and higher- order learning skills. Nevertheless to ensure student learning, any “flipping of classes” or use of Internet-based resources should be done in pedagogically sound ways. Too easily, one could fall back to the “sage on the stage” model where instead of having a person providing content by standing in front of the class, it is now done through online videos. Thus, it takes a delicate effort by the teacher/facilitator, even in a student-centered classroom, to guide students and make learning meaningful.
For more information developing successful “flipped classes”, see recommendations by Jon Bergmann, Jerry Overmyer and Brett Wilie.