The “Retro-Classroom Model” or Why “Flipped Classroom” is a Silly Term

In the olden days you’d leave work at lunchtime, rush down to the bank and stand in a queue to withdraw some cash, then you’d rush back to work in time for period 5. Now you use your lunchtime productively or relax and enjoy staffroom conversation and instead, stop at the ATM on the way home. You don’t call it ‘flipped banking’! In fact it’s the new normal! Going inside the bank (in banking hours) to withdraw cash is inefficient; a waste of time. If you told your colleagues you were going to the bank at lunchtime to withdraw cash – they would think you were crazy!

There are similar parallels in watching a TV series on Netflix, booking flights on Webjet – and in many other areas of life, where once, you had to be in a particular place at a specific time but now it is normal to take advantage of technology that lets us operate more contextually.

None of these situations gets a special name – we don’t talk of “flipped banking”, “flipped entertainment”, “flipped booking” – they are just the natural, expected behaviours that result from freeing technologies. It would be rather silly not to take advantage of them.

I think that using the term “flipped learning” conveys a misleading impression, which is that using technology intelligently, to make the most of our time, somehow represents a special, fringe teaching strategy. I don’t think it is – or at least I don’t think it should be. In fact, let me go further. If anything is ‘flipped’ (up-side-down or back-to-front) in 2016, it’s continuing to enter the classroom, intending to waste precious class time, doing something that can be done much more efficiently.

Perhaps it would be better to call teaching from the front of the room “the Retro Classroom Model” and to stop implying that teachers working in a way consistent with the rest of modern life, have got it back-to-front.

“He makes you look like an ass, is what he does, Ed.”

Today is the 30th anniversary of one of my all-time favourite movies. As a somewhat artful student myself in the 80s, the appeal of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was its portrayal of a teenagers’ ability to outwit, with panache, a principal hell-bent on collaring wrongdoers.

Ed Rooney: What is so dangerous about a character like Ferris Bueller is he gives good kids bad ideas. Last thing I need at this point in my career is 1,500 Ferris Bueller disciples running around these halls. He jeopardizes my ability to effectively govern this student body.
School Secretary: He makes you look like an ass, is what he does, Ed.
Ed Rooney: Thank you, Grace, but I think you’re wrong.

It turns out that the school secretary wasn’t wrong – Ferris Bueller does make Ed look like an ass. By the end of the movie, a defeated Principal Rooney, covered in dirt, missing a shoe, and with torn clothes, boards a school bus, under the humiliating gaze of its passengers.

In many ways that is how schools look when they go down the path of trying to prevent students doing the wrong thing (by censoring the internet) instead of working with students, educating them and helping them to understand why it’s to their benefit to do the right thing. Blocking is a fool’s errand. We need to win students’ loyalty and cooperation, not corral them into compliance.

3 things school leaders can do to advance ICT in their school

As I visit schools, it is obvious to me that some schools are way ahead of others in their use of technology for learning and teaching. I’m sure there are many things that contribute to that diversity, but one of the biggest, it seems to me, is the approach taken by the leadership. When I look at the schools that seem to be doing things very well, there are a number of common threads – things the leaders in those schools do, which make all the difference. I offer the follwoing three as perhaps the most important.

1. Remove frustrations

It’s amazing to me how many fantastic, game-changing tools are blocked on some school networks. I’m not saying we should remove all filters – they do help to prevent us from accidentally stumbling onto things we don’t want to see and can’t unsee. But in 2016, our filters do almost nothing to prevent students from intentionally accessing inappropriate material. Blocking content is ineffectual for four reasons: (1) Most students have smartphones with a direct connection to the internet. (2) Most students have unfiltered internet at home. (3) Any student who walks home past McDonalds has unfiltered access to the internet. (4) Students know about VPN services which bypasses our filters.

Over-strict filters just thwart our best teachers’ efforts to make learning more meaningful. Our failed attempts to keep a few miscreant students from doing the wrong thing just hampers the majority of students who want to use the internet for the right thing.

If we think for a moment that filters will protect students from anything more than inadvertent stumbling onto inappropriate content then we need to open our eyes! If we want to protect students – really protect students – from the potential, and very real evils on the web, then we need to educate them. Blocking just invites students to an us-vs-them, cat-and-mouse game in which the cat comes off as annoying but embarassingly incompetent.

2. Ensure policies are clearly defined and well known

I meet a lot of teachers who are hesitant to use various, wonderful tools – because they are unsure about whether using such a tool is appropriate and permissible. They are not sure whether it ticks all the boxes in terms of safety, privacy and age appropriateness. Moreover they are fearful that if they use it, they might end up in hot water. No teacher ends up in hot water for being boring and staying to the path, but when a teachers starts exploring new ways to make learning exciting, more powerful and relevant to modern life, she has left the path and is cutting new paths. That comes with the fear that one is doing something that might be seen to be inappropriate. School leaders can support that teacher by making sure that school policies about the use of ICT are explicit, clear and well known by everyone in the school community. Then, teachers can confidently explore the new, within those clear boundaries. More on this here.

3. Empower the innovators

Often, as teachers gain the authority to influence and effect change in a school, their openness to change diminishes. Teachers enter the teaching profession wide-eyed and keen to try lots of different things and experiment with new pedagogies. They don’t have much power though because they are seen as “green” by older, wiser, more seasoned teachers who hold the decision-making power. I’ve seen young teachers silenced, gossiped about and even bullied because more experienced teachers took offence at these young, upstarts thinking they know a better way to do things. Eventually these new teachers learn to tone it down and conform to ‘the way things are done around here’. The most effective school leaders I have seen, identify innovators (irrespective of their seniority or experience) and invest them with the ability to influence.

Why your school needs clearly defined social media policies

pinnacleIt’s not to stop teachers from doing the wrong thing with social media; It’s to give them confidence to use social media well, knowing there is no appearance of impropriety.

If there were no balustrade on the ‘Pinnacle’ lookout in the Grampians, very few people would venture to the edge to take in the arresting view.  The barrier gives hikers confidence to go further than they would otherwise dare, because their safety is assured.  The railing doesn’t restrict people; it liberates them to go further!

The railing doesn’t restrict people; it liberates them to go further!

Is it appropriate for a teacher to reply to a student’s electronic message at 9:00 pm? 11:00 pm? I don’t think there is a universal answer to that question, but I do think there should be a school policy about it.  If a student sends a text at 9:45 pm, and the school policy says 10 pm, a teacher can confidently reply, leaning against the balustrade of that policy.

I meet a lot of teachers who are reluctant to use “this website” or “that web 2.0 service” with their students for fear that doing so might make them the star of a story on 7’s Today Tonight (and not in a good way).  That fear can be soothed by creating well publicised, unambiguous and clearly defined policies.

Make screencasts interactive with eduCanon

I’m daily investigating teaching tools in the hope of finding one that gives me the dopamine hit I get from discovering a really great one. Every once in a while, something comes onto my radar that immediately stimulates my brain’s reward and pleasure centres. That’s what eduCanon did.

Like most great ideas, eduCanon is based around a really simple concept; it really only does one thing – but it does that one thing very well. It allows you to embed questions into any screencast (or any video for that matter) hosted on YouTube, Vimeo or TeacherTube, and it tracks your student’s responses to them.

As students watch the video (from within eduCanon), and the playhead reaches the time marker at which you’ve inserted a question, the video automatically pauses, and the question slides in from the left. Once the student has read and answered the question, she clicks “Submit”. Then your explanation appears, either explaining why the response they chose was incorrect, or confirming that it was correct. On clicking the “Continue” button, the video automatically resumes playing until the next question is reached. It’s really quite a fantastic thing to add to your video lessons, helping students to stay focussed and leaning forward while watching.

Because eduCanon uses HTML5, rather than Flash, playback works great on an iPad, too.

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The first time students watch a video, they are unable to skip through the video; they have to watch the whole thing from start to finish and attempt every question. Once they have watched it once, however, they are then able to come back at a later date and skip around the video reviewing specific parts. This is useful if (say) they understand the introductory concepts in a video, but want to review more sophisticated concepts toward the end.

The process of building questions into your video is utterly friction-free (that’s one of the things that impressed me most about it). You paste in the URL of the video, then watch it play. When it gets to a point at which you want to ask a question, you simply click the “Build Question” button. Then you type in the question, two or more (multiple choice) answers, click the radio button beside the correct answer, type in an explanation for each of the multiple responses, and click the “Save Question” button. Simple!

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You have the option of publishing your videos as “public” which means you can share them with anyone to use for personal learning/revision. If you would like to see it in action, have a look at this sample which I have published as a public video. The answers people choose in a public video are not collected by eduCanon.

The real magic happens though, when students link to you (using your teacher code). You can assign a video to the class, and then eduCanon collects data for you on your class’ completion of the task and their responses to your questions.

One of the most commonly asked questions I receive about flipped and blended learning is “How can you know if your students have watched the video?”. Well, this is one way to know!

I think it’s remarkable that all of those features are 100% free! (and that includes add-free). An optional “premium” subscription ($48/year) gives you additional features, such as the ability to export your class data as a .csv file so you can import it into your own class record-keeping software or Excel spreadsheet. A premium subscription also gives you the ability to create free response questions (whereas the free version only allows multiple choice questions).

Verdict: This is the most exciting new web 2.0 platform I’ve found this year so far. I’d recommend it for anyone who makes screencasts or educational videos for their class.  The small investment of time required to type in the questions should see a big payoff in student engagement.

How an iPad is a More Powerful Content-Creation Device Than a Laptop.

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That the iPad is a great content-consumption device has never been disputed. But just 30 months after its launch the iPad is now in some ways a more powerful content-creation device than a laptop in the hands of students in the classroom.

When the iPad was introduced in 2010, my school (Wanganui Park Secondary College) was one of a handful in Victoria that included them on the booklist for the following year, a move that raised eyebrows! Critics decried the iPad as “a content-consumption but not a content-creation device”. Admittedly, at first there was limited content creation software available – there was no way to make or edit a movie, take or edit a photo, record or edit a podcast or screencast, or even to annotate a PDF!

Now 2.5 years down the track, the iPad is a swiss army knife of content-creation tools. It can be used to make movies, music, podcasts and screencasts. You can write blogs, and eBooks, publish websites, and make cartoons. You can use it for time-lapse photography, claymation, freehand drawing and painting and to edit PDFs.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m arguing that it’s more pedagogically productive, NOT that it is more technologically capable than a laptop. If professional production quality is your imperative, then the iPad is not your best tool. I doubt Peter Jackson produced any part of The Hobbit on an iPad! Likewise, any serious photographer is bound to be shooting with a DSLR and editing in Adobe Photoshop on a 27” iMac. There is no way the iPad camera and iPhoto can compete. Even as a prosumer podcaster myself, I don’t use my iPad for podcasting. I use a Blue Yeti Microphone connected to a MacBook Pro running Übercaster, Audacity or GarageBand, any one of which is far more feature-rich than GarageBand on the iPad.

But comparing podcasting on an iPad with podcasting in Übercaster on a MacBook Pro with a studio-quality external microphone is making the wrong comparison. A more valid comparison (for students in many teachers’ classes) is made beween podcasting on an iPad vs not podcasting at all. The same applies to movie-making, website building, eBook creation, etc.

We’ve had computers in schools for years, but in reality many (most?) classroom teachers don’t and never did have their students making podcasts, movies, eBooks and websites. Doing so seems too time consuming and for many non-technical teachers the learning curve appears disproportionate to the benefits realised.

But producing comparable creative content on an iPad is relatively quick, simple, yields impressive results with minimal fuss, and the learning curve is … well, there almost isn’t one! There is no need to connect an external microphone (the built-in one is better than that in any laptop), no need to adjust recording levels, no need to use a pop-filter. No need to import media from a recording device to the editing device (becasue they are one and the same), and it’s unnecessary to allow 10 minutes at the end of a class, to save, unplug devices, shut down and stow the laptops. Instead, when the bell sounds, students simply flip their iPad cases closed and walk to the next class!

It is getting easier all the time to create content on laptops, too. But the iPad’s seemless integration of technologies and relative simplicity of use further lowers the entry barrier for many teachers – and that has the potential to encourage significant pedagogical change in a school.