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The flipped classroom

When video recordings of teacher lectures are watched at home and homework is done at school, skepticism can ensue. Here, the argument is made for why precisely this can be a good strategy and how to proceed in order to achieve the best-possible results.

By Elisabeth Engum

(This article was originally published in Norwegian magazine Bedre skole No. 2 2012).

Elisabeth Engum

was one of three winners in the Creative use of a learning platform at the 2011 category at the Share & Use Conference in Sandvika, Norway. She was nominated because of her work with the flipped classroom and itslearning. You can find Elisabeth as @PGelisa on Twitter – and see her videos on her YouTube channel.

“I understand everything when you explain it on the blackboard, teacher, but when I have to work on the assignments at home, then I don’t understand what I have to do!” This is not an isolated expression, but completely normal feedback from my mathematics students through the years. As teachers, we start the learning process in the classroom, but we are rarely nearby when the students are working with more difficult assignments, as the students are at home.

There has been a lot of talk about the flipped classroom the past two years. And, as with all new methods, the flipped classroom has been exposed to myths, misunderstandings and skepticism. In this article, I will attempt to shed light on what the flipped classroom is, what it is not and why it can be a useful way to go.

What is the flipped classroom?

In short, teaching that, traditionally, has taken place in the classroom on the blackboard is moved home to the students, while homework is moved to the school. In practice, this means, for my part, that I video record theoretical lessons – which the students are given as homework to watch at home – while we at school get more time in the classroom to work with assignments and, not least, that the students can receive guidance from me as a teacher.

Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams

The term the flipped classroom comes from chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, who are colleagues at Woodland Park High School in Colorado. In spring 2007, they came across an article about software that made it possible to record a PowerPoint slideshow, together with sound and notations, as video clips that could easily be distributed online. This gave them the idea to video record lessons directly from the classroom and post them online to the students afterwards. Keep in mind that YouTube was launched in 2005, such that online videos were just about to ‘take off’ in 2007. The idea behind this was that the students who, for different reasons, could not attend the lesson (school sports, illness, etc.) could keep up by watching the videos at home. The feedback from students was overwhelming – from students who had been absent from periods, but also from those who had attended class. The videos became a good learning resource for them when they were reviewing for tests and exams. Based on the good feedback from the students, Jon and Aaron got the idea to ‘flip the classroom’ and, in the school year 2007/2008, they launched a model where the students had more time freed up in the classroom for more interaction between student and teacher.

Over time, Jon and Aaron received a lot of attention from others – from schools in their own county as well as from other US states and countries.  Over the course of 2010, the ‘Flipped Classroom’ became a new buzzword in education-technology.  I personally came across articles and blog entries about the Flipped Classroom in the winter of 2010/2011, through Roger Markussen and Bjørn Olav Thue at Møglestu secondary school in Lillesand, among others. In March 2011, I initiated a test project where I flipped the classroom for a topic in a Mathematics class. The result was very pleased students.

Khan Academy and the flipped classroom

At the same time Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann started recording their lessons on video, Salman Khan launched his Khan Academy, with the goal of creating high-quality lessons for everyone regardless of where they are. Salman Khan got this idea after helping his cousin with her studies. He posted the instruction videos he made for this purpose publically on YouTube, where they became very popular and, thus, formed the foundation for the resource bank we can find on Khan Academy today.

Many people draw similarities between the Flipped Classroom and Khan Academy and believe they are two sides of the same coin. The similarity is online teaching videos that students can watch where and when they want. But the similarities stop here. The videos are the backbone of Khan Academy, while the classroom activities are the backbone of the flipped classroom. The video resources that are available at Khan Academy can be used as teaching resources for everyone, including for the flipped classroom. The most important element of the flipped classroom is that it is a method for freeing up time in the classroom in order to increase interaction between teacher and student.

Adapted education

Everyone who has taught or lectured knows that it is difficult to reach everyone at their level in plenary teaching, which means that only half the time is left for individual guidance or group guidance. By moving plenary teaching out of the classroom, one gets much more time in the classroom to guide all of the students – either individually or in smaller groups – and, in this way, it is possible, to a greater extent, to provide adapted education.

The teacher role in the flipped classroom

A number of teachers have approached me and said that they fear the flipped classroom will lead, in the long term, to less of a need for teachers in schools, since the lessons are already posted as videos and that the teachers’ role disappears. In reality, the opposite happens. In the flipped classroom, a lot of time is freed up where the teacher, to a larger extent, goes around and guides the students where they are in their learning process. In many ways, the flipped classroom can represent a paradigm shift in teaching.

In the traditional classroom, the teacher often uses time on basic knowledge in the subject. The larger assignments where students have to use several aspects of the competence are often assigned as homework. This means that the teacher is present when the students work at a lower cognitive level, while the students are sitting alone or together with fellow students when they are working with assignments at a higher cognitive level. In the flipped classroom, the students are served basic knowledge via videos at home – at a lower cognitive level – while they are at school when they work at a higher cognitive level, and the teacher can guide every single student where they are. Some will inevitably ask: ‘What about the students who never reach a high cognitive level in the subject/topic?’ There is a simple answer – all students receive guidance by the teacher at their level.

Learning strategies

Some students clearly have very clear understandings about how they learn best: ‘I learn best by reading the book myself’; ‘I learn best by working with more practical assignments’; ‘I learn best by cooperating and talking with other students about the problems’: ‘I learn best when the teacher explains for me’.  In the flipped classroom there is greater room for the students to further develop several types of learning strategies in the same classroom. Students who work best on their own can do this, and those who learn best by collaborating can do this. Sometimes, the work form itself is the learning goal and, in this case, there is room for this, nevertheless, to be managed by a teacher.

Instruction videos = the solution for everything?

Today, it is not the case that instruction videos are the solution to all teaching challenges. Poor teaching does not get better if it is recorded on video. On the other hand, all parts of the lesson that are characterized by direct instruction can function just as well on video as if the teacher goes through it on the blackboard. In scientific subjects, it is often easier to find good examples of direct instruction, but there are also several elements of this in other disciplines: teaching grammar rules, introduction to social science models, epochs or ideologies, learning terminology, training in using sources, technique training in practical subjects, etc. The instruction videos will, in most cases, be examples of direct instruction and, in this way, you can say that this is almost like a behavioral learning approach. When the students, in connection to these videos, express what they have understood and what they need further help with, we are approaching Von Glasersfeld’s constructivism, where we can work further with the aspects that the students have not understood for further learning. In addition, we have the time in the classroom that can be filled with guidance and cooperation between students, where the socio-cultural perspectives on teaching enter the picture. The flipped classroom thus functions as a synthesis of the dominating learning approaches over the past 60 years.

Technology or pedagogy as a driving force?

When Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams started making teaching videos, it was because the technology allowed them to do so. But it was pedagogical reasons behind their choice to flip the classroom with help from these videos. The technology makes it possible to support a teaching approach that says that the most important component for teaching for the students is interaction between teacher and student, which is supported in John Hattie’s meta-analysis (2009). The technology frees up time in the classroom for this purpose. The technology also has other advantages; the students can play the videos over again several times, they can press pause, rewind or fast-forward, which they cannot do with a teacher in the classroom.

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