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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The State of the Flipped Classroom

I really love the idea of the "Flipped Classroom," where "lecture" is consumed at home and "homework" is done in class with the teacher at hand. It's one way to remove the "sage on the stage" and make the teacher the "guide on the side."

A Washington Post interview with Jonathan Bergmann, a chemistry teacher who has flipped his class and became a "flipped class" expert with a new book on the topic, highlights two key "lessons learned." One relates to the nature of the "lecture" consumed at home and the other to what subjects are most suited to flipping.

In most discussions of the flipped classroom the "homework," that is the "lecture" part of the learning, is described as "watching videos." But as Bergmann points out, video is not the only option.
They don’t need to watch my video. You just need to learn the material. Students need multiple ways to access content. A kid would say, “Hello, Mr. Bergmann, do I have to watch the video? Can I read the textbook instead?” We said, “You can learn it any way you like.”
Now that's a huge idea: The flipped classroom can give students multiple ways to learn the same material. How many ways can you learn to tape your bike's handlebars on the Web? I found videos (real life ones and animations), articles, step by step photo essays... The same is true for academic topics including how to multiply fractions! Bergmann explains that the teacher curates these, some of which may his or her own content, to provide a variety of options. Students can try one or more with the goal of understanding the topic well enough to try their hands at it the next day in class. I suspect this model has an added bonus: each student begins to learn about how he or she learns best! Via audio, video, text, interactive activities... That's very valuable! I'd even have older students periodically write essays reflecting on how they learn "best."

The article also addresses one question I've had for some time: Can every academic subject be flipped successfully? I'm thinking about teaching geography and GIS in this model. Says Bergmann:
We started it with the hard sciences, physics and math. It works for foreign language. But we’ve got some amazing teachers speaking at our conference who are English teachers. I always thought that would be harder, but they love it. I haven’t seen a whole lot of social studies and history, but there is a movement amongst them.
My hunch is any subject can be flipped but... you need detailed course objectives, a bevy of curated "lecture" options and engaging in-class problem sets/challenges/activities. I want to see a college level GIS course that had this homework assignment:

1) teach yourself what kriging is and how it works (I'd have college students do their own curation of content!)
2) state what resource you used to learn about the topic and explain how you found and selected it

Once the students arrived prepared for "Lab," they'd then tackle a kriging challenge with their peers and the instructor at their sides. I'd want to take that class. I'd even want to teach it!