The Original Flipped Classroom

There are lots of different kinds of homework: mathematical practice sets, grammar worksheets, programming exercises, poster painting, and reading. This last type is probably most common, especially for university students. Here, the teacher assigns several pages, a chapter, or several articles. For some teachers, the following class is a regurgitation or bullet-point summary of what you read, quite possibly with the teacher’s own perspective. However, for many other teachers (especially, in my own experience as an undergrad and graduate student), completing these readings are necessary in order to participate in the following class discussion, which often involves discussion, criticizing, and applying what was read to previous ideas or practical problems.

The Flipped Classroom is purported to be a revolutionary new pedagogical method which takes the common in-class lecture/out-of-class practice paradigm and reverses it, having students watch lectures at home and doing the practice and discussion in class. But, the flipped classroom is neither revolutionary nor new. This type of flipping has been common practice for decades. Some of my high school classes were flipped, and most of my university classes were too.

The only major difference between the original flipped classroom and the current “revolutionary” Flipped Classroom (note the capital letters) is the level of technology involved. Most flipped classrooms rely on the teacher recording lectures themselves or using someone else’s. In truth, there are more differences than that. With the assigned readings approach of the original flipped classroom, there is no guarantee of interaction, discussion, or help afterwords. With the Flipped Classroom, however, the emphasis is on one-on-one time and meaningful in-class activities. This is probably the most important distinction.

In a way, the Flipped Classroom is a recognition that the lecture may not be the best way to spend time in class because the lecture is ineffective compared to meaningful activities. Lately, the traditional lecture has received heavy attack. What many attackers fail to take into account is that there are good ways to lecture and bad ways to lecture, and by lumping them together, getting rid of the lecture model does students a disservice. A good lecture demands attention from students (which is an important skill for them to attain) as well as interaction from the teacher. It is not a one-way street and is definitely not a method for imposing knowledge. Edutopia has a great article on building dynamic lectures.

My point here is that, while the Flipped Classroom has lots to offer, it is not without its flaws. Given that it is nothing new, I don’t really understand the fervor of flipping. It often seems like using technology just for technology’s sake, or trying to appeal to the mythical “digital native” . This has the downside of denying students the opportunity of quietly sitting down and listening to someone talk for 20 or 30 minutes while taking notes in real time – a skill that is important to acquire, especially since humans have naturally short attention spans.

I’m all for more interaction in class – in fact, it’s what all my teaching is based on. In addition, I support anyone who wants to Flip as much as anyone who wants to lecture (or Lecture). My only hope is that these tools are used carefully and critically to positively effect learning instead of jumping on the bandwagon…or staying on when its about to crash.