Why flipping? Why now?

What is a flipped classroom?

The idea of “flipping” the classroom is not a new one. In a letter from Sylvanus Thayer to President James Monroe in 1828, Thayer wrote “A professor can deliver lectures to many more [students] than he can thoroughly teach.”[1] Instead of lecture, Thayer believed that students should be responsible for the content and that class should engage the students in demonstrating/explaining the concepts/principles being learned thus requiring the students to prove their understand the concepts. Note: Thayer’s letters refer to the education of cadets at West Point.

Both the Thayer and Socratic methods of teaching are examples of a flipped classroom. The Thayer method of teaching mathematics and science, like that of the Socratic method for the humanities and social sciences, requires the students to complete some type of activity prior to class and to come to class prepared to engage in the content through working problems, giving short presentations (recitations), asking questions and participating in discussions. The professor is then available to answer questions, present mini-lessons to address a common question, challenge the student’s understanding, and raise academic questions for the application of student knowledge to real-life situations.

So what is behind the modern flipped classroom movement?

I propose that the impetus behind the modern flipped classroom movement is three fold.

Firstly, the rate of change and innovation occurring today requires individuals to be able to self-teach/self-educate in order to stay ahead or just keep up with the trends. Most students engage in some form of self-education outside of their academic experience.  And while instructors may cringe when a student states they “Googled it”, the act of independently searching for content on the web is a strategy for self-teaching. How deeply they conducted their research and whether the information they found is accurate or not is another issue.

Secondly, while there has been a recent insurgence of screencasts and online video I’d challenge that the new flipped movement is not about the videos created on Khan Academy, iTunes U, TED and the like. But instead that it is about what those videos represent. Knowledge. Information Exchange. Ideas. Innovation. Empowerment. What the Khan Academy, iTunes U, and TED video opportunities don’t do extremely well is provide an outlet for engagement with others to share thoughts, ideas, questions, and experiences. This type of sharing is the basis of the academy and life-long learning.

Thirdly, the flipped movement has been fueled by the explosion of social media and networking. Whether it’s Facebook, Google +, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter, etc the opportunity for individuals to engage with and share knowledge, information, and experiences with a network of people has lead to an expectation of engagement. If a student does not feel they are being engaged in the classroom, they will find another way to engage.

So why the flipped classroom?

The flipped classroom model is one way the academy can address/take advantage of the deficiencies noted in each of the driving forces listed above. “I Googled it” can become a discussion around data validity, media evaluation, and the rigors of academic research. A TED talk watched by one or more students as part of an assignment or discovered as a part of research may spur a discussion of social change, environmental conditions, medical challenges or artistic movements. A comment or string of posts on a social media outlet can result in a stated hypothesis and a point of departure for new research, community outreach/activism, discussions around marketing strategy, etc.

Placing the responsibility for learning on the student also gives the students an outlet for delving deeper into the issues, topics, and research that are of interest to them. By removing or limiting lecture as suggested in the flipped classroom model, class time can be used to promote and encourage deep learning, creativity, engagement/collaboration, the development of new ideas, and higher order thinking. This type of engagement over the long term aims to develop the students desire for self-improvement leading to life-long learning.

How can I flip my classroom?

The standard answer I, as an Instructional Designer, give a faculty member who asks this question is “That depends.” Once the fairly nebulous response is delivered, we enter into a discussion around a series of questions such as “What is your teaching style? What are the course goals and objectives? How do students currently engage with the content in class/outside of class? How are the students evaluated? What would you like to see happening in class or in your student’s learning that you don’t currently see? How comfortable are you with relinquishing some of your control as an instructor to the students?

The answers provided by the faculty during this conversation guide how the flipped experience is designed. Flipping the classroom is not an easy out for faculty. Depending upon the extent of the flip it may entail a complete course redesign. Even if a faculty member decides to flip using recorded lectures, the time it takes to make a quality recording is longer than one might think. The point of these statements is not to discourage faculty from considering the flip, but to emphasize the importance of a good course design/redesign process. It is imperative to realize that how the new approach is introduced to the students will determine the success of the approach, but that is true no matter what instructional methodologies are implemented.

Will the flip include video lectures watched outside of class?

Not necessarily. There weren’t any vodcasts, screencasts or podcasts in 1828 and yet Thayer still managed to flip the classroom and place the responsibility for learning on the student. There are many ways to flip the classroom. Video lectures should not be seen as the sole method of flipping. The flip may be mini research projects assigned between classes for presentation in the next class meeting. It may be questions posed for individual reflection outside of class to enable more in-depth conversation in class. It may involve students engaging with individuals from other countries via social media outlets and arranging a panel discussion with those individuals in class. It may be reading scientific articles and assigning individuals/teams to blog the article for discussion outside or inside of class. The options are endless.

How do I flip my classroom?

I’d encourage any faculty member looking to flip the classroom to seek the assistance of an Instructional Designer or a member of their campus teaching and learning center.  If you don’t have access to either resource, ask yourself the questions listed above. You might also consider eliciting feedback from a peer,  your department chair, or even former students.

[1] A typescript of this letter is available in The West Point Thayer Papers 1808-1872, edited by Cindy Adams, 1965.

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Session Summary – Remote Teaching: Using Mobile Devices and Social Media to Teach Outside of Classroom Walls

Abilene Christian University has been a leader in the use of mobile devices for learning.  While I’ve attended a number of presentations by faculty from this institution before, it was nice to hear from a professor of Sociology.

The perspective shared by Mr. Baldridge on his views on the use of technology for teaching concepts in Sociology was refreshing. His honest sharing on what went right and what went awry in his attempts to integrate mobile devices into his classroom was also a confirmation of the importance of considering the design and scaffolding of the assessment.

It is not about turning the students loose with a device and telling them to produce something. It is about giving the students guidance on what is expected for the assignment and ensuring the students have the information, and in some ways the freedom, they need to complete the assignment. It appears that in the experiences designed by Mr. Baldridge the integration of mobile learning opportunities allowed the students to share their thoughts and experiences in ways that the formality of traditional academic assessments often do not. In Sociology, where the person and their engagement with others and their surrounds is so important, it seems like such honest and open reflections are a natural fit to the discipline.

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Session Summary – The New LDL Instructional Design Model for Blended Learning

While the model set forth by Jodi Rust is aimed at designing blended learning courses for adult learners that incorporate problem-solving, experiential learning, and constructivism. The definition applied to Blended Learning Blended in this workshop was that of a course delivery method that allow faculty members to conduct part of the class in the traditional classroom and the other part online.

The activity Ms. Rust presented for rethinking the course from a Learner Driven Learning (LDL) model can be applied to many situations. The activity she walked the attendees through is an example of rapid instructional design used in the study on which the session was based.  Per the presentation slides, the activity went as follows:

Pick a course you teach

  • Step 1: What are 5 learning goals/outcomes you have for the class?
  • Step 2: How can you achieve these goals by allowing the learner to have more self-control/authorship responsibility for his/her learning?
  • Step 3: What background information, activities, and/or resources will need to be provided by the instructor (in what form)?
  • Step 4: How will you know if the learners reached the goals and what will be the learners tangible take away from the course?

Note: Given that tests are typically faculty driven, this assessment type is usually not considered a valid reply to the questions in Step 4

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Session Summary – Pushing in the Clutch: Getting Faculty in Gear and Engaged

Bob’s presentation rang true with what I have experienced. Engaging faculty in professional development activities involves the willingness of the instructional design staff to:

  • work one-on-one with faculty
  • hold workshop sessions during times that work for the faculty including after hours and on weekends
  • hold workshops focusing on specific Departmental needs
  • invite faculty to join in communities of inquiry on teaching with technology
  •  include faculty as part of the instructional technology team attending conferences together
  • organize topical discussions such as book groups, special presenters, etc
  • make professional development opportunities enjoyable and in formats preferred by the faculty

It is important to provide various opportunities for faculty to provide input and feedback on their needs and concerns around teaching with technology. Faculty input should then be used to assist with the development of workshops, targeting of speakers, development of tutorials for just in time learning, and identify other professional development opportunities.

Faculty must feel comfortable with the staff and trust that the staff will work collaboratively with the faculty member to design the learning experiences in a way that support both the faculty member and the students. It is the responsibility of the faculty support staff/ID staff to build those relationships one person/department at a time.

For many of those in the room, this information was not new, but it sure felt good to have ones experiences validated by others in the field.

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Session Summary – Blended Courses to Blended Cultures: Overcoming Institutional Bifurcation

The presenters from SUNY Empire State College discussed their goal of bridging the cultural bifurcation between the traditional face-to-face courses and the online courses. The SUNY system, which services primarily non-traditional students, allows students to design their own curriculum. This includes allowing students to complete a prior learning assessment to receive college credit for non-collegial learning.

In the face to face courses, each student enters into a learning contract for each course. This is used in place of a syllabus and student goals and objectives drive the learning.  For those who teach and design the online courses, this is seen as lacking a focus on tangible outcomes and a bit “loosy goosy”.

Students taking online courses are presented with very structured/templated courses with specific course requirements/assignments. For those who teach and design the face to face courses, this is seen as impersonal, over structured and outcomes oriented vs process oriented.

As they work through these cultural differences they are challenging the paradigms, acknowledging the problems and ensuring that they pay attention to the theory and practice in both. They are then working toward blending the academic goals and strategies transparent to both the faculty and student experience.

Blended course formats require that the students are told what is expected of them in this new educational context. It is also important to make clear connections between the face to face and online aspects of the course so the students have a cohesive experience.

To make the above happen, faculty interested in developing blended courses are working with instructional designers to develop six cross disciplinary courses for a pilot slated to begin in the 2012-2013 academic year.

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Session Summary – Virtual Meeting Tools and Blending Learning: Building Bridges and Connecting Cultures

The Center for International Programs at SUNY Empire State College partners with universities in other countries to offer courses toward undergraduate degree completion. In order to connect international students from their country of residence to their courses and classmates in the United States, SUNY Empire State College uses Bb Collaborate (formerly Elluminate).

The programs include a one week residence where the SUNY Empire State College instructors travel to the international university and conduct an intensive week of face-to-face classes on site. The remaining ten weeks are spent online in synchronous and asynchronous engagement.

The challenge and goal of using virtual meeting tools is to provide interactive, collaborative learning experiences with their peers in the US and to ensure access to guest speaker presentations held in the US or online. Students have also begun using the virtual meeting platform as a way to organize and meet for team projects and to stay engaged.

Breakout room capability in Elluminate allows for group work to be interspersed with lecture during synchronous sessions. Technical glitches with the content on the whiteboard in Breakout Rooms let the instructors to use Google Docs instead of the whiteboard for brainstorming and group activities in Elluminate.

Alternate tools were always available in the event that an Elluminate session experienced technical difficulties resulting in the inability to use the tool. Skype, Movi, and the telephone have all been used to supplement the synchronous technology needs.

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Workshop Summary – Blended Learning Ecosystems: Designing Blended Learning Courses for 21st Century Learners

This 90 minute workshop lead participants through a discussion about the essential elements of the Blended Learning Ecosystem and how those elements together must be considered for the experience to be a success. In the example used by the presenter, the BL ecosystem includes the environment(s) in which the learning takes place, the people engaged in that learning experience, and the resources employed to facilitate teaching and learning. The participants broke into groups to discuss various parts of the ecosystem including faculty characteristics, student characteristics, technology characteristics, learning tools, and environments (classrooms, LMS, etc).

One statement made within the group rang true. That both the faculty and students must thrive in the learning environment. Faculty must be comfortable with and feel fulfilled by the design of the blended learning experience. Students must also be confortable with and feel like they can be successful if they apply themselves.

After the group breakout and sharing, the presenter introduced a number of possible course structures that could be considered blended learning. There was then a discussion again among the group to discern what model is most common at their institutions.

A warning against course and a half syndrome was interjected by many in the group. Course and a half syndrome is where instead of redesigning a course for the blended learning approach, the instructor simply adds more content/activities to the course that are often not integrated into the course goals/objectives or referenced within the course discussions, but still required activities. This work is seen by the students as extra/busy work.

The presentation slidedecks can be found at

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