Thursday, 23 May 2013

Flipped learning: key criticisms explained

Flipped learning: key criticisms explained
In our previous blog posts, flipped learning has been a topic that's gained immense interest, but it has also been one that has split opinion.

While many believe the flipped approach will transform the future of education, others see it simply as a way of replacing an hour-long classroom lecture with an hour-long video and with little emphasis on interaction.

The debate surrounding flipped learning is not entirely new: academic and pedagogical researchers have for years been assessing this type of learning. However, in many instances the debate occurs because of a lack of understanding of what the term means. In lots of articles and online blogs, flipped learning is simplified to the process of issuing students with a video to watch at home or on the go and a set of follow-up or homework tasks to be completed in the classroom. If this is how a flipped classroom is defined then we all have reason to be sceptical.

Dr Eric Mazur of Harvard University has overseen one of the leading research studies into this type of learning, since the early ‘nineties. During his work Dr Mazur has assessed the components involved in integrated flipped learning and peer instruction. The major points go some way to helping us formulate a framework and definition. These include:

  • Students are assigned a visually engaging resource to watch in preparation for their classroom lesson.
  • Once watched, students are encouraged to reflect on their understanding: what they’ve learned, what questions they have and what topics or concepts have caused confusion.
  • Teachers can combine online learning with Facebook-like social writing sites to enable students to post their questions or misunderstandings prior to their class.
  • Teacher can collate questions in advance and develop lesson materials and activities to address the areas of concern.
  • Socratic methods of learning and cooperative structures (e.g. Kagan) can then be used in the classroom to encourage collaborative group work that gives the teacher time to approach students face-to-face, clarify individual misconceptions and facilitate students’ group learning.
Dr Mazur’s framework is widely perceived as one of the most comprehensive definitions of the flipped model. So, on this basis we have identified and responded to some of the most common criticisms directed at this methodology.

1. Reducing lecture time means reducing my importance as the teacher!

Many practitioners and teaching professionals that I meet at social gatherings are all in favour of innovating teaching and learning but their concern is that reversing the responsibility of learning reduces their importance in the classroom.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. To conduct a flipped class rich resources have to be sourced, quality assured and tailored to the syllabus, opportunities need to be created for content to be studied in more depth and students need to be able to communicate lines of questioning. Once in the classroom students are then at an accelerated level of understanding but this is not ‘job done’ − teachers must identify and clarify misunderstandings, reinforce and build on content knowledge and support learners of differing abilities in group activities and problem-solving tasks.

In many ways the flipped classroom heightens the role of the teacher:
  •  As an academic: teachers will be challenged more and questioned on topics and concepts that may extend beyond the defined curriculum.
  • As a tutor: teachers will need to work their way through the classroom, allocating equal face-to-face time with students.
  • As a facilitator: teachers need to listen, observe, direct and move between groups to ensure they are successfully working towards their task objectives.
Technology is not aimed at replacing the teacher, nor is it designed to reduce their importance. Instead, it complements teaching and learning: saving time, innovating practices and tailoring the learning experience to a twenty-first century audience.

2. Students won’t watch a lesson tutorial at home, in their own time – at least in class they’re under supervision!

It’s true, watching a boring lesson video on a digital device is not going to engage students, and neither would a simple podcast.

Poor sound quality, out of focus videography, PowerPoint-heavy videos that simply replace an hour-long classroom lecture with an hour-long video have not helped the image of flipped learning. For many teachers an additional concern about flipping their class is access to quality resources or the need to create them for themselves. However, imagine using HD-rich, quality assured tutor-led videos that fit with your exam board’s specification. Resources that go beyond podcasts and images and provide students with short bite-sized videos that combine classroom content with end-of-topic test and learn questions.

Finding the right resource for your school is essential. Not only can this save you time and the difficulty of creating your own set of video resources, but provided they are high quality and stimulating resources, then students will be motivated to spend more time learning at home and while they’re on the go.

In addition, students like to be social, and combining online video tutorials with online social networking platforms further appeals to their mediums of choice. In our previous article we considered the role of Wikispaces Classroom and how this social writing tool can be used to encourage participation, collaboration and lead to more innovative mechanisms for students to communicate and feed back.

3. Many children still don’t have access to the internet at home or to an internet-enabled device.

(Watch case study) Homewood school flips their classroomsWhile domestic access to the internet is constantly increasing we appreciate that there are still many children that don’t have the internet at home.

Nevertheless, there a variety of ways video resources can be made accessible outside of the classroom:

  • Access outside of school hours: schools should provide access to their library and/or IT suites outside of the standard school day.
  • Device loan programmes: schools should establish loan schemes whereby students can check out a device for the evening and return it the following day.
  • Going offline: while the appeal of subscribing to an online video resource is the freedom and flexibility to learn, revise and test on the go, it’s important to offer an alternative to those who may not always be able to go online. Burning a DVD or uploading tutorials to a flash drive may be an alternative for some schools.
Digital learning does not necessarily mean a broadening of the socio-economic divide if the school and its leaders understand their community and work  to establish equitable environments for learning.

Our verdict

Students today are often referred to as digital natives, growing up with touchscreen technology and wireless internet connectivity. When a young person wants to find out how to do something, most commonly they’ll refer to YouTube, where preference is towards visual learning. As teachers, it is our goal to create opportunities to make thinking visible – to see where students are struggling and to support and encourage them to be successful.

Flipped learning does this and more so while there will always be challenges to overcome, it’s little wonder that more and more schools are adopting flipped learning in their classrooms.

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Flipped learning: key criticisms explained