A Misplaced Hero
Famed entrepreneur Salman Kahn the founder of the incredibly popular Kahn Academy is in many respects one of today’s most important and yet somewhat misplaced heroes in contemporary education. It is true that he has made thousands of instructional videos spanning a broad range of content topics that have benefited countless students throughout the world. Not to his own fault, however, many educators including myself have incorrectly identified his inspiring work as flipped classroom instruction. While this post is not about Salman Kahn, his work does provide an open door to examine more closely the realities of the flipped classroom. My own past experiences with flipped classroom instruction have taught me that it’s truly more than just making videos.
Still Trying to Get it Right
My first experiences in fundamentally changing the delivery of lesson content via teacher-created videos occurred in 2009 during a summer technology workshop when I was introduced to a new screencasting application called Jing. Diving in without knowing how or what to do, I started to experiment. While crude by today’s standards, my early screencast videos were created out of a need for continued instruction during personal absences from the classroom. My guest teachers were not qualified to teach math, and I did not want my students to fall unnecessarily behind. Following some initial successes, I started to respond to students’ homework questions sent to me by email with custom made answers via a personalized screencast. The following school year, I decided as a professional learning goal to introduce each new unit in my math courses with a lesson delivered via a video. I also upgraded to a more versatile screencasting platform called Screencastomatic which allowed me to include a separate webcam presence in addition to the captured tablet screen. My goal was to make homework nights following unit tests more meaningful. Because of the changes I made in the delivery of lesson content, I was able to use newly available time to conduct valuable one-on-one post-test conferences with my students. By my third and fourth year, I was successfully flipping entire courses including an Advanced Placement Statistics course. My measures of success were increased academic engagement, improved overall course grades, and higher standardized test scores, Fast forward to today with over 400 lesson videos now behind me, I am still learning and trying to get it right! The paragraphs that follow are mostly based on reflections from my own experiences in flipping classroom instruction over the past 8 years. As the saying goes, if I only knew now what I didn’t know then. The infographic below serves as a visual map of my journey, reflections, and recommendations.
Think Before You Flip – The Realities of Flipping a Classroom
There is an abundance of resources available to educators providing detailed information about the philosophy and development of flipped classroom instruction. To fully understand the pedagogy behind the name, teachers need to take the time to learn and understand this innovative approach to teaching and learning prior to its implementation. So what is flipped classroom instruction? The leadership at the Flipped Learning Network, provides the following definition:
Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.
While I was able to figure things out by trial and error and somehow stumble across a reasonable approximation of the definition above, a little bit of background research in my early days would have gone a long ways in terms of shortening my learning curve.
2. Define a Purpose
Flipping a classroom can serve a wide variety of instructional purposes. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want your students to access higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy? Is your goal to redefine teacher and student roles in the classroom? Is there a targeted group of learners you want to reach and serve in different ways? Maybe you looking for new opportunities to infuse technology in your teaching? There are all sorts of reasons, some good and some not so good, for making the shift to a flipped classroom. If you are unsure, a quick Google search will help you articulate a purpose of your own. Whatever the reason, knowing your motive ahead of time will help you focus your efforts and maximize your students’ learning results in the long run.
3. Learn How
Learn how to leverage and infuse technology to support your flipped classroom instruction, but just don’t do it by yourself. Especially in larger schools, teachers can succumb to their own self-imposed yet unintended isolation. We learn something new at a workshop or read about it in an article and decide it’s worth trying in our own classrooms without fully accessing the support and expertise that others can provide to increase our chances of successful implementation. Over the past years, IT support staff have provided me with a variety of valuable resources and instruction including the use of studio quality microphones and webcams, and access to screencasting applications such as Explain Everything, Camtasia, and SnagIT. Conversations with other teachers have led to new discoveries and experience-based support that would have otherwise not likely occurred while working in isolation. The access to and use of PLN’s adds an entirely new dimension to a newbie’s flipped classroom support network.
4. Sell the Product
Nothing strikes fear in the hearts and minds of administrators, parents, and students like the lack of information and misinformation. Sell your ideas, plans, and goals before you start to flip. One of the most important lessons I learned in implementing the flipped classroom model was to have as much control over the flow of information as possible. Let all stakeholders know why you want to make the change, how it will help learners, and what it will look like in classroom. The last thing any educator wants is to have someone think he or she is no longer teaching students when in fact nothing could be further from the truth in the realities of flipped classroom instruction. Providing the sort of information found in the handout The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P by the Flipped Learning Network can go a a long ways in reducing the fear and anxiety sometimes associated with educational change. I especially like the highly student-centered facts listed on the right side of the document.
5. Make Videos
The road to successfully implementing a flipped classroom is paved with a lot discarded videos and frustration. Choices have to be made ahead of time regarding who will make the videos and how they will be made and accessed. Making, editing, publishing, and posting a single 15 minute video can easily be an hour or longer affair. Doing this 150 times in one year to flip an entire course requires large amounts of planning and perseverance. Doing it with two completely different courses can be breathtakingly overwhelming. Given the case where a person works on a team with multiple teachers who teach the same course, I recommend that all members contribute to making lesson videos including having two or more teachers being present on the same video. Working solo? Take it slow. You don’t need to build Rome in one year. These reflections raise the question of whether or not the teacher always needs to be the one making the videos? I’ve learned that the answer is usually no. There are many other content resources available including TeacherTube, YouTube, and Khan Academy with thousands of well-made videos across a wide range of subject areas to choose from. You as the teacher can choose the videos or students can learn to select video content that best meets their learning needs. On two occasions in the past I have had students make and share their own screencasts as part of a formative assessment process. There are plenty of resources available that outline best practices when it comes to making video screencasts for flipped classrooms. Here are a few of my own suggestions from past experience.
- Choose a place for students to access your videos that meets learners’ needs and complies with school requirements.
- Take time in advance to teach students how to effectively watch and interact with a video screencast. Don’t assume that, “they’ll just figure it out.”
- Select a quiet place and time of the day to make your screencasts without interruptions. No one likes hearing an announcement made on the public address system at an unwanted time.
- Be comfortable with your voice, presence, and little mistakes. Tiny imperfections in your videos will not cause the Earth to quit revolving around its axis.
- Know what’s in your video background. Do you really want the world to see ______? Fill the blank in for yourself.
- Is there anything on your screen that would be an infringement of copyright law?
- Seriously, don’t drink soda pop or other carbonated beverages during your video for obvious reasons, water yes.
6. Being Accountable
One of the most powerful memories I ever had when first starting my journey in the world of flipped classroom instruction was when a fellow colleague asked me, “what will you do if they don’t watch the video?” It’s a great question about student learning accountability. There will be days when students return to your classroom without watching the assigned video. They may have been absent the day before, or they may have forgotten. Some may have chosen not to watch your video lesson despite understanding the requirement and consequences. The bottom line is that they will be back in your classroom the next day. What will you do when they return?
There are many ways that teachers can monitor students’ engagement with online content. The screenshot above is from one of my former flipped middle school algebra courses that I managed and delivered via Moodle. I currently use Blackboard which provides a similar content tracking mechanism. Despite these advances in technology there is no guarantee that a student will truly watch and engage with your flipped lesson content. As I have discovered with brutally honest students, a kid merely needs to click on a link, walk away, and then let a video run its course. I have used and still do to some degree of success, create short formative assessments such as the exit question quizzes shown on the right that accompany video segments. Again, there are some students who will guess and click their way through the assessment without ever watching the video. There are others who will minimally engage with the video content and still successfully complete the formative assessments. They simply figure the content out on their own. In the end, I have learned that the only true measure of accountability is the summative assessment provided at the end of a unit. If a student manages to demonstrate mastery by applying his or her own learning resourcefulness without the benefit of your flipped classroom does it really matter anyway? They’ve succeeded.
7. Adapt to Your New Role
At no other time in my career as an educator can I honestly say that I have felt more like a facilitator and consultant of learning than I have while using the flipped classroom model. In many respects, identifying and adapting to my new role happened as a natural consequence of the learning environment that I created. The evolution of my role in the classroom has, in my opinion, contributed to the following five most important outcomes in my practice. These outcomes are largely synonymous with many other reports of positive benefits associated with flipped classroom instruction. Notice that increased student achievement levels, although realized, is not mentioned.
- An overall more flexible learning environment
- The development of more independent learners
- More positive and meaningful interactions with my students
- Deeper student and teacher engagement with learning content
- A shared increase in the enjoyment of teaching and learning
Simply because of the incredible shift that has taken place in how learning content is delivered and accessed, all teachers’ roles will somehow change in the flipped classroom model. The one constant that will exist in all cases is that classrooms will become less teacher and more student centered.
8. Know When to Flip
For those who say that the lecture is dead, I fully disagree. While other models of teaching and advances in technology have led to new and innovative ways of delivering content and engaging students, to be fair, lecture as an effective method is far from dead. Call it professional judgement or teacher instinct, there are many times in my own content areas of math and science that I would very wisely choose not to deliver content in a form other than lecture. Using lecture as a delivery model still involves dialog, questioning, and vast opportunities for collaboration. Done right, it it includes inspiration, story telling, and the development of new ideas. It is far from a completely passive form of learning. Furthermore, lecture can still be supported by other resources including teacher-developed videos and other forms of shared online content. Likewise, there are times as by evidence in the preceding paragraphs that lecture is completely inappropriate as a teaching and learning model. The most skilled, flexible, and open-minded educator will know when and how to use the best approach for any given situation including lecture and flipped classroom learning.