Flipping isn’t a thing apart

Re-posted from Keep Learning

Slate’s article on “flipped classrooms” in colleges by Rebecca Shuman is useful as a hub to recent work on the approach. But it’s also an interesting starting point for conversation on what “flipping” is all about.

Schuman points out several potential problems with flipped classroom models that deserve consideration. It’s not just that “professors are forever annoyed—often justifiably so—at the possibility of “disrupting” an instructional style that is often the result of years of trial and error”, it’s that the flipped model seems risky; indeed, the article starts by warning students that they may be part of an experiment and not even know it! (So much for the “years of trial and error” it’s taken to perfect the traditional model…)

First, Shuman suggests that, at least in the humanities, “the flip threatens to flop” — presumably due to the discussion-based nature of the traditional f2f course experience prevalent in many humanities courses. Rather than discounting the flip, the answer is probably just to move the course up the technology-enhanced teaching spectrum and begin using asynchronous online discussions in addition to synchronous f2f. See, flipped classrooms are really just one variation of blended, with plenty of opportunity for variation and experimentation even within the definition of “flipped”.

Second, Shuman asks, if students have to watch you lecture outside of class time, when will they find time to do their readings? (I’ll set aside the evidence that students typically spend about half as much time on homework as they are advised to do.) Readings are homework, so if students’ only homework is reading and you’re flipping your class to put the in-class experience offsite, then inventing new onsite activities while maintaining those reading assignments you’re falling into the course-and-a-half syndrome — a common mistake made by teachers first getting started with blended or online course design. One way to avoid this: redesign based on outcomes and a total learning time standard like the traditional 3-to-1 study-time-to-credit-hour formula.

Shuman explores these concerns using an example of a typical Shakespeare course where the teacher doesn’t lecture much in the first place; class sessions center on discussions instead. Students read the text outside of class, and participate in-class based on that reading. This kind of course seems hard to flip and maintain effectiveness, right?

But that’s really only because this Shakespeare course is already flipped. See, like many technology-based education buzz-trends, the flipped classroom model is not really new; it’s only that new technology facilitates adoption of the model for more courses, in more subject areas, with greater flexibility, and with the potential for different or better outcomes.

3 thoughts on “Flipping isn’t a thing apart

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