The Flipped Classroom: The Definitive Guideby Becton Loveless
The flipped classroom is a phrase that’s become increasingly popular in education over the last few years. It’s sometimes used interchangeably with the phrase “blended learning,” but the two aren’t exactly the same. So, what exactly is the flipped classroom and how is it distinct from blended learning?
Blended Learning versus the Flipped Classroom
Blended learning refers to any educational approach that encourages increased student engagement using online interactions. This approach to learning blends traditional lectures with portions of coursework that are computer based and, typically, delivered in an online format. Blended learning allows students to learn partly through a traditional, one-on-one interaction with an instructor in a classroom. Away from the classroom, students can self-pace as they learn through online modules.
The flipped classroom specifically takes work that traditionally would occur outside of the classroom and bring it into the classroom. Lectures, meanwhile, are moved outside of the classroom. Basically, in a flipped classroom, lectures are delivered outside of the class and discussions are hosted on forums or using other collaborative software. Students get the lecture and classroom discussion aspect of their courses delivered online. This leaves more time in the classroom to focus on work.
Flipped classrooms work because they give students the chance to do more work under the guidance of an instructor. Meanwhile, the most passive aspect of the class – the lecture – is delivered online. If students are going to be passive during a lecture, then online delivery at least gives them some control over the lecture. Students can easily move to previous parts of the lecture and review information they may have missed or not have understood completely. Through self-pacing, students can exert greater control over how they digest a lesson. Flipping the classroom ensures that students will do their actual work with the support of a teacher while granting them greater control over the lecture aspect of the class.
In essence, the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning. However, it is designed to specifically place lectures outside the classroom and shift the majority of work into the classroom. This allows students to self-pace their learning and receive greater in-class support from their teachers.
History of Flipped Learning
Before flipped learning as a concept truly took off, researchers and educators were investigating ways of changing the nature of the classroom. As early as 1990, Eric Mazur, a physicist, was looking at new ways of shifting lectures outside of the class. Without modern tools, he accomplished this by having his class read their materials outside of the classroom first. Then, during classes, Mazur would question his students about the reading, have them reflect on the materials, then have students discuss their responses and let them modify their answers. Based on the degree to which students understood the materials, Mazur would decide whether to move on or to continue focusing on the current material.
Even in Mazur’s early version of the flipped classroom, many of the elements still embraced today were already present. Core materials were available outside of the class and class time itself was left to more active learning activities that Mazur facilitated. This process lacked much of the conveniences that today’s flipped classroom enjoys, including widespread internet access, easy recording tools, and the ability for students to easily access different learning tools outside the classroom.
Flipped learning as it is known today traces its history largely to Jon Begmann and Aaron Sams. Instructors at Woodland Park High School, the two men were science instructors who slowly developed a working partnership and then friendship. Unfortunately, they were also presented with a conundrum. Both Bergmann and Sams recognized that they were in the unenviable position of having to teach in a rural setting.
The fact that their school was in a rural location wasn’t a problem in itself. Rather, students were involved in a lot of outside school activities that took their attention away from their schooling. Even when students were in school, they were involved in extracurricular activities that drew their attention away from their classes. Since the school was so remotely located, students had to take long trips to their activities, which meant they often had to leave classes early.
This situation presented Bergmann and Sams with a problem. How could they continue effectively delivering their lessons to students? In an interview with The Journal, Bergmann said that the duo began to solve their problem when they found software that allowed them to record their lectures. They then came up with the idea of stopping lectures in the class. Instead, they simply prerecorded all their lectures so that students could view them later.
Previously, other instructors had tried to shift the lecture out of the classroom. However, the appropriate technology wasn’t yet present. Attempts to invert the classroom were conceptualized as early as 2000 at the University of Miami, but YouTube still wasn’t available. This made the delivery of lectures online more difficult than it was by the time of Bergmann and Sams. With new technology available to them, the duo were able to record their videos, place them online, and make them available for students to view outside of the classroom.
So, the history of flipped learning extends back almost thirty years. However, at the time, the modern tools currently available to teachers weren’t around. Now, with improved technology and ability to distribute materials, it’s far easier to shift lectures outside of the school environment and move work into the class.
Addressing Concerns about the Flipped Classroom
Speaking to The Journal, Aaron Sams said that one of the major concerns teachers have about using a flipped classroom model is in regard to whether students are adequately prepared to view lectures outside of the classroom. Students need a certain amount of competence in accessing online content and require the resources to view these videos away from school.
Bergmann and Sams solved this problem by making resources available to their students. First, they found out which of their students lacked the resources to view the videos online. Then, the duo assigned flash drives to students on which their lectures were loaded. This allowed students to watch the videos on their computers by loading the files on their hard drives. When students didn’t have computers at home, the duo put the videos on DVD so that students could watch them on their televisions. The two reported that by using this approach, they were able to deliver their lessons to all their students.
An important takeaway from Bergmann and Sams is the importance for instructors to understand their classrooms. Teachers need to find out what resources are available to their students and make lessons available to them outside of the classroom using any methods that are necessary. Then, it’s important to design lessons around the obstacles that students face. In order to create a truly flipped classroom, no student can be allowed to go without lectures available outside the classroom setting. So, teachers can begin their year by finding out more about what tools students have available to them at home. Afterward, teachers can put together lectures in formats that will leave no student behind.
Principles of the Flipped Classroom
Now a decade since flipped classrooms were first put into popular practice, researchers have identified some key principles that educators can look to in order to maximize their lessons. As published in the International Journal of languages, Literature and Linguistics, researcher Eda Demirel identified four pillars that should underlie any flipped classroom. These pillars include maintaining a flexible environment, retaining a learning culture, developing intentional content, and developing professional educators.
By maintaining a flexible environment, Demirel referred to the vast fact that flipped classrooms need to have a variety of means by which students learn. In the class itself, the physical space can be arranged so that objectives are more easily met. In some cases, the class will need to be arranged to facilitate group work. In other instances, teachers will need to arrange the class so that independent study is maintained. What’s important is that teachers recognize the goal of that day’s instruction and arrange the physical environment so that those goals are more easily met.
Teachers also have to change the way they conceive of the classroom culture. Many teachers approach teaching as an authoritative source from which knowledge flows to students. Flipped classrooms ask teachers to shift the culture to a student-based one in which students are more active in their own learning process.
Shifting to a student-centered culture requires teachers to intentionally plan the content they will cover in classes versus what students will explore independently. Teachers need to revise their lectures to determine what needs to be recorded for students to watch. During this process, they need to eliminate materials that would best be left to practice in the classroom. This pillar of improving content to optimize what’s best left for lectures versus what’s left for classwork is critical to flipped learning.
Finally, the last pillar of the flipped classroom is the role of the professional educator. Teachers have to conceptualize their roles not only as lecturers who sort what content is appropriate for lecture versus classwork, but also as content creators who appropriately scale content to different levels of student mastery. Teachers have to also be able to guide classwork such that all students get chances to actively participate while always ensuring these materials are scaffolded to the student’s learning level.
To bring it all together, the four pillars of the flipped classroom ask teachers to reconceptualize their roles. Instead of lecturers, teachers become facilitators who work more closely with their students because they have more time in-class to support them in their work. Teachers have to do a good amount of preplanning to make this successful however, including optimizing class layouts, preplanning lectures versus classwork, and reorienting their philosophy toward a more student-oriented style of learning.
Benefits of the Flipped Classroom
Bergmann and Sams, writing in their book Flip Your Classroom, noted several reasons that teachers should consider flipping their classes. First, the duo noted that they no longer had to lecture for 30 or 60 minutes at a time, which changed their roles with their students. The two noted that, prior to flipping their classes, they were nationally recognized in their traditional teaching roles. Bergmann was a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching prior to flipping his class, for example.
However, flipping the classroom was a massive benefit for both students and instructors. First, flipping the classroom was a tactic that was perfectly suited for busy students. Given how much busier the lives of students had become, the flipped model allowed students to view lecturers ahead of time and get work done in advance if they needed to. This was particularly important for students who were often traveling for extracurricular events. Students could identify times they would be out of the classroom, work in advance during those periods, but then return to the normally placed class after an event was done.
Flipped classrooms also helped students who fell behind in their courses. Bergmann and Sams realized that struggling students often become passive in the classroom while students who grasped the material more easily tended to ask questions. This led to a circular pattern in which the brightest students became the most engaged students while struggling students became the most passive. However, the flipped classroom moves lecturers outside of the class and places the majority of work in the class, with teachers acting as guides. This allows a teacher to spend more time monitoring students and identifying those who were struggling with their materials.
There are also interpersonal benefits to flipping the classroom. Teachers shift away from lecturing and become more involved with their students’ work. This allows for increased student-teacher interaction. That increased interaction is good for two reasons. First, the increased interaction directly helps students who are struggling with materials. However, teachers become a sort of friend and mentor to their students. Teachers learn more about the lives of their students when they’re more closely engaged with them, and this creates closer bonds and trust in the student-teacher relationship.
There are therefore multiple benefits to flipping the class. At the heart of it all is the fact that teachers become more engaged with their students. This allows instructors to more easily identify struggling students, work around students’ busy schedules, and get to know their students more closely. This helps to improve student academic outcomes and improve relationships between students and teachers.
An Example of the Flipped Classroom
One example of the flipped classroom comes from Jimmy Ryals, a Physics instructor at North Carolina State University. In this example, Ryals had to deal with classrooms that had large levels of enrollment. Ryals wanted to shift from the traditional classroom lecture to a class that was more interactive. In classes, rather than sit in rows, students sat in nine-person roundtables where instructors could move between all class members.
This process was known as the Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Program, or SCALE-UP. This process attempted to reverse the trend in which students spent up to 90% of their time learning through lectures and only applying 10% of their learning to actual activities. Ryal’s approach placed a heavy emphasis on increasing engagement among students and decreasing their level of passive learning.
Students were responsible for reading their texts and doing simple assignments online. Class time itself was reserved for application of what was learned and for engagement with instructors. Ryals found he no longer had to worry about lecturing his students and could instead go between tables helping them apply what they had learned independently.
Ryals also found that this process increased the strength of student-teacher relationships. Good relationships are associated with improved academic outcomes, and Ryal’s approach has been shown to have positive outcomes. Students improve their problem-solving skills and come to a better understanding of various concepts. This approach also improves classroom attendance.
As can be seen in this specific example, Ryals was able to achieve multiple goals by flipping his classroom. The SCALE-UP approach improved student engagement and class attendance. This approach also allowed students to digest the passive elements of the class on their own time. Meanwhile, the actual application of their learning was done in the classroom, where Ryal could monitor their performance. Small groups helped students to collaborate with one another to support each other’s learning as well. Perhaps the most significant outcome was that the classroom flipped from being highly passive to highly active, with much more time committed to student activities.
Flipped classrooms have only become truly possible in the last decade as technology has caught up to concepts and ideas that were first thought up decades ago. Today, instructors are innovating in new ways to deliver passive parts of their course online instead of in the class. When the classroom becomes an interactive and engaging environment, students are more likely to be engaged and demonstrate improved academic outcomes.
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