I remember sitting in the Fair Oaks branch of the Sacramento Public Library four years ago – my backpack bursting at its seams from books, a laptop, and all the trappings of a nerd – occasionally lifting my nose from a book to people-watch the unique cast of characters that populate a public library.
I remember one book I printed and combed through at the time – Flip Your Classroom: Reaching Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams – an introductory primer by two chemistry teachers who pioneered the use of flipped learning in public high schools.
What is Flipped Learning?
In a traditional classroom (a.k.a. school as I remember it), learning revolves around a bucket metaphor. Students are empty vessels who show up to class, open their notebooks, and dutifully take notes as teachers impart their wisdom – not unlike a hose pouring water into an empty bucket. After filling students’ buckets full of new concepts in class, students work to apply their new knowledge in homework assignments and project work outside of class.
I grew so accustomed to this method of instruction growing up that I never even considered that alternative methods existed.
But thanks to the advent of new technologies like the internet, camcorders, webcams, online video-sharing platforms, some educators are turning the traditional instruction method on its head.
In a flipped classroom, teachers record video lectures or find online resources that students can watch and absorb at their own pace. Viewing online resources, taking notes, and forming questions becomes “homework.” Students can pause, rewind, or speed up their teacher’s speech at will.
Once students come to school, the teacher can open the floor for questions. Students and teachers can spend 10 minutes clearing up any confusions from the online video material. For the rest of class time, students can work to apply the lesson knowledge on individual or group assignments. Or they can use class time to work on ongoing semester projects.
In theory, flipped learning aims to maximize the in-person time between students and instructors. If students can review new concepts and material outside of class, they become primed and ready for independent, student-centered lessons in class.
By freeing up many students for independent work or peer learning, teachers are freed up to provide individualized, one-on-one instruction to students who have specific particular questions. On the other hand, as students work independently or in small groups, students may feel more empowered to ask questions that they’d otherwise feel intimidated to bring up in a whole-class setting.
Compare this structure with a traditional lecture-based in-class lesson. The teacher is handicapped by feeling compelled to lecture “to the middle.” In other words, by “imparting knowledge” to a mostly quiet room of students, teachers can only guess at which concepts are actually getting through.
And from a student perspective, how many questions go unasked because students fear “looking stupid?” These are questions that often expose a significant gap in understanding between the instructor and the students – gaps that are often shared by a majority of students in the room. And yet a silent majority stews in confusion because each student assumes each other’s silence as a tacit acknowledgement of understanding.
“Better to be a silent fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
Outside class, students benefit from flipped lessons as well. When I took a homework assignment home and ran into a wall of misunderstanding, I knew I was in for a painful evening. I couldn’t call my teacher. My only choices seemed to be to struggle fruitlessly – my only reward a spike in blood pressure and stress, or to give up – surrender valuable points on my homework grade for the benefit of falling behind and and marinading in frustration.
On the flip side, with a flipped lecture video, I can always respond in the face of misunderstanding in the form of question. I can pause and rewind to review concepts – allowing my brain juices to simmer. If I fail to comprehend a video in its entirety, the worst-case scenario is to return to class with a few questions. In other words, I return to class with a direction and road map towards comprehension – and with that map my teacher could take me where I need to go.
Teachers can set up a flipped lesson to maximize student accountability by requiring some kind of short lecture notes or for students to form three questions related to the course content. As I’ll share later, my coordinator inspired me in this direction by encouraging me to prepare short fill-in-the-blank and short answer handouts to accompany each lecture video.
Those who know me as a teacher know I am the first one to sing flipped learning’s praises. Yet even I acknowledge that there are some disadvantages to flipping one’s classroom.
For one, it’s time-consuming for the teacher. Making lecture videos is not a simple endeavor. At the very least, I have to prepare a PPT of basic text, record a screencast of me speaking, edit that screencast to reduce unnecessary pauses and speaking gaffes, prepare an accompanying paper handout or note-taking assignment on Google Forms, split the video into three parts if necessary, and upload them to YouTube.
Despite my best efforts, I often require two hours to produce a ten-minute lecture video. While video production becomes much easier over time, the starting costs in terms of time are Herculean. Fortunately for me, I’ve been keenly interested in video editing since I was a teenager – so for me producing videos doesn’t feel like work.
My current goal is to focus on what’s known as evergreen material – videos that I can reuse program-after-program. If my curriculum doesn’t substantially change over time, the effort required to produce online videos becomes less and less year after year.
Unfortunately, this is tough to Korean English Teachers, who often have to adapt to changing textbooks and test questions ever year or two. Therefore, more generalized and adaptable concepts (common grammar points, test taking strategies, etc.) may lend themselves better to flipped lessons than more textbook-specific videos.
In addition to time commitment, flipped classrooms require acclimation and buy-in from student. I can say that many trainees were not keen on the amount of out-of-class work I gave them. But more on that later ;).