My Response to “Flipping the Classroom – VITTA2012 Reflection”

This evening I read a blog post by Tony Richards.  I wrote a response in the comments beneath his post, but for some reason my comment didn’t stick when I refreshed the page.  I tried a second time, but still my comment vanished.  Since I’d spent quite some time considering Tony’s post and writing my comment, and because this is something that I feel is important, I decided to post it here.

Background:

Tony had attended a keynote at the VITTA12 conference, at which the ‘flipped classroom’ model was presented.  His essential concern was that when teachers flip their classroom, all they are doing is changing how content is delivered to students, they are not facilitating the understanding and development of knowledge or challenging students to think for themselves [my paraphrase].  I invite you to read Tony’s actual blog post here.

My response.

I was not at the VITTA conference this year, so I don’t know first hand quite how the flipped classroom model was presented.  But it sounds (from your reaction) that it was not presented well, because I think the view of flipped learning that you seem to have taken away from it, is flawed.

I think the dichotomy between a flipped classroom on one hand and creatively challenging students to think for themselves on the other, is a false dichotomy.  If done right, the one can and should promote the other.
There is a type of “flipped learning” (or really a “use” of flipped learning) that I think is dangerous (I think that must be what was presented at VITTA).  In that model, nothing changes, except the time when “teaching” and “homework” take place.  The only two advantages of this approach as far as I can see is that when the student has trouble with the homework (that she is now completing in class) the teacher is there to help, and that the student has the advantage of being able to re-watch the videos if she chooses to do so.  The danger, though, is that because grades on standardised test probably will improve, this may serve to reinforce the old paradigm of schooling (in the mind of students and teachers) in which the ultimate goal of education is seen as performance on a standardised test. I think there is also the risk, that if all students are doing in the classroom is ‘homework’, class time may be even more boring than it was before!
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
People argue about whether teachers should explain concepts to students or whether they should stand back and let students search for knowledge and struggle to make sense of it themselves.  As with most things in life, the best position is at neither extreme.
I think great teachers have always been able to discern when they can best help their students by explaining a complex concept to them, and when they can best help their students by refraining from helping them.  Here is an example of me explaining a concept that I think requires a teacher to explain (link)
Experienced teachers have spent years, on two pursuits: understanding the topic they teach, and understanding the young people they work with.  This makes them well positioned to act as a bridge between a complex idea and a student’s world-experience.  That is not to say students can’t teach each other (they can) or that they cannot find other people to teach them online (they can) or that they cannot find written information and learn from it (they can), but it would be an insult to the teaching profession to suggest that there is no place for teachers to explain at least some concepts to their students.
In my version of the flipped model, those concepts are explained out of class time via podcasts or video, so that class time does not have to be used for that purpose.  But this is not saying ANYTHING about what the class time IS used for.
In my experience, teaching this way enables more of the very thing that you are suggesting students should be doing more of – research, group work, collaborative projects, making their own videos and podcasts, expressing their learning creatively, performing experiments, etc.  It also means that there is time for guiding students to think critically about the sources of their research, encouraging them to sustain their focus, discussions, debates, role-plays… the list goes on.
Because VCE teachers (whether they like it or not) under the current system feel immense pressure to ready their students for standardised tests – many teachers spend a large portion of class time explaining things to students because it’s an efficient way to prepare them for exams – but if class time is freed up by explaining concepts out of class time, then we can use class time for whatever we want – and if the teacher is a good teacher, that won’t be wasted time; it will be used to innovatively craft remarkable learning opportunities in the classroom.

Comments?

If you are reading this post, and have thoughts of your own, I’d love you to leave a comment below.  Hopefully it will still be there when you refresh the page 😉

 

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8 thoughts on “My Response to “Flipping the Classroom – VITTA2012 Reflection”

  1. Thanks for clarifying your version of the ‘flipped classroom’, Andrew. I agree that people have very different understandings and experiences of flipped learning. Congratulations on your success with students learning concepts outside school, with class time used for experiments, collaboration, clarification and creation. As with most teaching strategies, I think it will be successful with some students.
    I prefer the term ‘blended learning’ to describe the mix of digital, face-to-face and collaborative work that describes many contemporary student experiences. But I guess it really is a matter of semantics – maximizing student engagement and effective learning opportunities to enable students to achieve to the best of their ability is every teachers aim.

    • Thanks for your comment Britt. Yes – perhaps “blended learning” is a term I should start using rather than flipped learning to describe what I advocate – perhaps the term flipped learning has been too sullied by various diffuse meanings. Gives me something to think about… thanks 🙂

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the post on the site it did register both times but with my system I get a heap of spam so any posts need approval which I have done.

    My response was partly from the discussion at VITTA but also from what I have been observing in the twittersphere and online about this sudden amazing new for of teaching called the ‘Flipped Classroom’. This was my reaction to the presentation at the conference and in general.

    What you have pointed out and what Brit described further is the real issue – the majority of good teachers undertake some form of blended learning, flipped learning as described. These teachers do it instinctively and don’t need to change their thinking, approach or style, some just need support understanding and exploring the application of technology to support learning in different ways, locations and contexts.

    What worries me is that teachers and administrators suddenly see this new thing called a ‘Flipped Classroom’ and think that it will change student interest and engagement. I believe we are very luck here in Australia as our environment lends itself to great diversity in learning opportunities both at school and at home. Some other countries have not had this opportunity and are suddenly starting to appreciate and advocate (Loudly) this change. We just need to be louder in celebrating the amazing teachers and students and programs that we already have like the work you are doing with your students.

    Recently I was asked by an organisation that I have previously done work for – do I provide anything around the ‘Flipped Classroom’ model. My answer was no but I do help teachers extend and challenge their thinking to engage their students inside and outside class to continue to learn and explore with the aid of technology.

    Thanks for taking the time to write a response – not sure I have returned favour.

    Regards

    Tony

    • Thanks Tony. Your comments are very helpful to me. I think we are on the same page – there is a lot of semantics involved. I guess for me the issue arises because I was using – and liked – the term “flipped learning” before Sal Khan (of the khan academy) used it to mean a slightly different thing and then TED hijacked it and used it for something different again.

      I’m starting to think I might stop calling what I do “flipped”. I’ve very rarely had students doing “homework” in class – we’re too busy doing more collaborative and exciting things … So maybe the term “flipped” (as people have come to use it) doesn’t really fit. Hmm.

  3. I am still digesting Tony’s post.
    Your response sits well with me.
    I am very excited about flipped learning; however, I choose my words very carefully when describing what I am trialing in my class. As with many ‘buzz words’ there are lots of versions and sometimes misconceptions.
    Perhaps my discussion might go….I’m using video as a tool to deliver some instruction (at home and when needed) and this has helped me create some time in class for………….
    I like the descriptions that describe the flip of Blooms, resulting in more time in class for Higher Order Thinking (with community support).
    There seems to be an increasing number of people wanting discussions about their ‘flipped class’ to be more on what is happening ‘in the class’ than what is happening ‘with the video’.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Steve. You are right – what happens in the classroom is really the crux of the issue. If that time is used effectively then it’s all good. But if not – then it’s possible that classes could become a boring waste of time.

      At it’s simplest … my view of flipped learning (for want of a better word) is this: In the past (e.g.. 1985) there was a limit to how and when we could communicate with students. Now there is no limit. Class members can communicate effectively at any time of day or night, whether they are together in time and space or not. That realisation should make us take stock of (a) what learning activities we think need to be done, and (b) IF we decide they need to be done, when are they best done.

      I would argue that for those things a teacher feels s/he needs to explain to the class, the classroom is NOT generally the best time or place to do it. You NEED to be together in the classroom to do an experiment with specialised equipment, or to do a role-play (if we decide to do those things), but you don’t NEED to be together to listen to a teacher demonstrate five examples of how to solve a type of linear equation – if we decide that should be done at all, it will be more effective in a series of videos that students can watch at their own pace as they need to, can re-visit, can pause, rewind, etc.

      By judiciously removing activities from the classroom, which are more effective elsewhere, we create time to do the things that are more effectively done in the classroom. It’s kind of common sense.

  4. Sadly I have somewhat come to view Khan’s version of Teaching with Tech with some skepticism, as surely he does nothing different to a traditional teaching in a classroom, just that instead of a blackboard in class he uses a computer screen to do the same thing. That said, I do believe there is so much to be gained from blended learning (as opposed to flipping classes).
    I do wonder though, how these higher aims might be achieved given the constant pressure of standardised testing?
    There has been a continuous debate on our blog, along similar lines, and a part of me understands the need for standardised testing, no matter how much i think it’s bad, and yet the greater part of me would really like to see children learn to search, find, sift through and draw conclusions from knowledge that is already readily available at their fingertips.
    Do you have any thoughts on how the two might be reconciled?

  5. Thanks for your comments Li-ling. What I call flipped learning is quite likely what you are calling ‘blended learning’. The term has come to mean many different things to different people. I agree with you about Khan Academy – if that is the total of the approach but I think the video is only half the equation – and probably the least important half. What really matters is what is done with the time that is created in the classroom by removing traditional “teaching” from that time.

    I am not a fan of standardised testing but like you i recognise the need to prepare students to be successful under the current regime – no matter how hard we are fighting to overturn that regime. The reality is that for the students in my care at the moment if I fail to prepare them thoroughly for the exam that they will indeed face in the near future, then I will be compromising their future opportunities. But in my experience, flipping the classroom (or blended delivery if you prefer) creates time in class to do that preparation better, while also the teaching in the videos is more effective, and in ADDITION (and most importantly) there is still plenty of time in class to do more creative but time consuming things that I believe are good teaching but under the current regime of standardised testing are often impossible because of the need to cover the core.

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