Flipping a classroom is not like flipping a coin

I’ll be honest, my understanding of a flipped classroom is nebulous at best.  Is it really that black and white?  Traditional vs. flipped?  My biggest concern is how I’ve seen it be described and how others may subsequently interpret these descriptions.  My intent is to hash out some of my concerns in hopes that I can reach some alternative definition that works for me.

What is a flipped class?

In my brief quest for understanding what a flipped class is, I was happy to read that there is no such thing as the flipped classroom (2012).  This quickly put my mind at ease since I had previously watched Why I Flipped My Classroom and was confused by the relevance of a “90/10” flip and that flipping the classroom automatically led to other educational benefits such as “reaching the needs of all students”.  More on that later.

One definition that I did find but was not necessarily helpful was the following: The flipped classroom inverts traditional teaching methods, delivering instruction online outside of class and moving “homework” into the classroom.  I actually agree with the “delivery of online instruction outside of class bit (as opposed to referring to it as “preloading information”), but I’m hesitant on the moving of “homework” into the classroom.  Again, my main concern is how others will interpret these explanations that ultimately spread throughout the online community.  Besides the term homework, I’ve also heard it referred to as activities, exercises, projects, etc.

Another bit of confusion comes from what a flipped classroom does. Students watch lectures at home at their own pace, communicating with peers and teachers via online discussions; concept engagement takes place in the classroom with the help of the instructor.  Are learners who study at an educational institution really able to go at their own pace?  And wouldn’t concept engagement also include those online (outside of class) interactions students have with peers and teachers?  And what about other potential experts that students might learn from that extend beyond the classroom/institutional environment?

My own definition of a flipped classroom goes something like this.  A flipped classroom allows learners to accomplish outside the classroom what they can already do on their own so that educators can design more interactive learning environments inside the classroom that require learners to exercise more higher order thinking skills.  A flipped classroom then is what it allows learners to accomplish more than it is a specific concept.  These affordances speak little of differentiated instruction mentioned in Why I Flipped my Classroom video although both differentiated instruction and the flipped classroom are interdependent.

This Sunday I look forward to discussing the flipped classroom at WizIQ.  The description reads…

What is a flipped class? In a flipped class the teacher prepares the students, their parents, and other stakeholders for the lesson in advance. Teachers create assignments that motivate students to watch a video or connect with the content and try to learn on their own at the comfort of their homes. After the students are introduced to the material, they come to class ready to engage with the teacher and the other students on the content and beyond. Being introduced to the content in advance prepares the students for the class. The students and their parents (K-12) know what each lesson will be about. 

I’ve parsed the above description with my comments:

  • What is a flipped class? I’ve included my take on this above.
  • In a flipped class the teacher prepares the students, their parents, and other stakeholders for the lesson in advance.  My concern is how one interprets the teacher preparing the students before the lesson since the act of becoming (the learning trajectory) many times extends beyond lectures, for example.
  • Teachers create assignments that motivate students to watch a video or connect with the content and try to learn on their own at the comfort of their homes. Not sure what it means to create assignments that motivate students to watch a video…
  •  After the students are introduced to the material, they come to class ready to engage with the teacher and the other students on the content and beyond. Being introduced to the content in advance prepares the students for the class. Is this really a given?  Students are introduced to the material and they automatically are ready to engage in class?
  • The students and their parents (K-12) know what each lesson will be about. (Flip your class.)  Just like when I used to be instructed to read the assigned text before coming the class, reviewing concepts, videos, readings, etc. before the class helps learners know what the lesson will be about.  I’m not sure if this is specific enough though to argue for it in terms of a flipped classroom. 

Flipping a classroom is not like flipping a coin.  The flipped classroom should allow for a more value-added, educative experience between learners, educators, and other experts.  The value comes with learners interacting with new content, using technology to find more effective, efficient, and engaging ways to communicate with others.  To reach this point, educators must help learners to move from being dependent, to independent, to interdependent individuals who decreasingly rely on educators over time.