Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Higher Education
The Flipped Classroom, as most know, has become quite the buzz in education. Its use in higher education has been given a lot of press recently. The purpose of this post is to:
- Provide background for this model of learning with a focus on its use in higher education.
- Identify some problems with its use and implementation that if not addressed, could become just a fading fad.
- Propose a model for implementation based on an experiential cycle of learning model.
Background About the Flipped Classroom
This first section provides information from various articles that describe the flipped classroom, and how it is being discussed and used in educational settings.
In its simplest terms, the flipped classroom is about viewing and/or listening to lectures during one’s own time which frees up face-to-face class time for experiential exercises, group discussion, and question and answer sessions.
It’s called “the flipped classroom.” While there is no one model, the core idea is to flip the common instructional approach. With teacher-created videos and interactive lessons, instruction that used to occur in class is now accessed at home, in advance of class. Class becomes the place to work through problems, advance concepts, and engage in collaborative learning. Most importantly, all aspects of instruction can be rethought to best maximize the scarcest learning resource—time. Flipped classroom teachers almost universally agree that it’s not the instructional videos on their own, but how they are integrated into an overall approach, that makes the difference (The Flipped Classroom by Bill Tucker).
Several trends have converged that are influencing how classes should be taught within higher education settings.
The first is technological innovation, which has made it easier to distribute lectures by the world’s leading instructors. Some faculty members wonder whether it still makes sense to deliver a lecture when students can see the same material covered more authoritatively and engagingly—and at their own pace and on their own schedule.
At the same time, policy makers, scholars, advocacy groups, and others who seek to improve higher education want to see more evidence that students are truly learning in college. Cognitive scientists determined that people’s short-term memory is very limited – it can only process so much at once. A lot of the information presented in a typical lecture comes at students too fast and is quickly forgotten. (How ‘Flipping’ the Classroom Can Improve the Traditional Lecture).
Physics education researchers determined that the traditional lecture-based physics course where students sit and passively absorb information is not an effective way for students to learn. A lot of students can repeat the laws of physics and even solve complex problems, but many are doing it through rote memorization. Most students who complete a standard physics class never understand what the laws of physics mean, or how to apply them to real-world situations. (http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/tomorrows-college/lectures/rethinking-teaching.html)
Sal Khan, of the Khan Academy, states:
There was nothing practical that anyone could do about this broken “learning” model until recently. But we can now deliver on-demand content to any student for nearly zero incremental cost. The video content can be paused and repeated as needed. Students can focus on exactly what they need to know. They don’t have to be embarrassed to fill in remedial gaps. They don’t need to take notes. Crucially, the lectures can be given by superb communicators, with a deep, intuitive understanding of the material.
Ten years from today, students will be learning at their own pace. The classroom will be a place for active interaction, not passive listening and daydreaming. The role of the teacher will be that of a mentor or coach as opposed to a lecturer, test writer, and grader. The institutions that will remain relevant will be those that leverage this paradigm, not fight it.
There are a number of higher education initiatives that are seeking to go beyond the lecture and flip the classroom.
Charles Prober, MD, senior associate dean for medical education at the School of Medicine, teamed with Chip Heath, PhD, a professor of organizational behavior, to design and use the Flipped Classroom with a core biochemistry course.
This year, our core biochemistry course at Stanford Medical School was redesigned following this model; rather than a standard lecture-based format, the instructors provided short online presentations. Class time was used for interactive discussions of clinical vignettes highlighting the biochemical bases of various diseases. The proportion of student course reviews that were positive increased substantially from the previous year. And the percentage of students who attended class shot up from about 30% to 80% — even though class attendance was optional (Lecture Halls without Lectures — A Proposal for Medical Education by Charles G. Prober).
Eric Mazur, a Harvard Physics teacher, has gained popularity due to changing his teaching methods. The following are excerpts from the Harvard Magazine article, Twilight of the Lecture.
To Mazur’s consternation, the simple test of conceptual understanding showed that his students had not grasped the basic ideas of his physics course. “In a traditional physics course, two months after taking the final exam, people are back to where they were before taking the course,” Mazur notes. “It’s shocking.”
Sitting passively and taking notes is just not a way of learning. Yet lectures are 99 percent of how we teach!
Active learners take new information and apply it, rather than merely taking note of it. Firsthand use of new material develops personal ownership. When subject matter connects directly with students’ experiences, projects, and goals, they care more about the material they seek to master.
Taking active learning seriously means revamping the entire teaching/learning enterprise—even turning it inside out or upside down. For example, active learning overthrows the “transfer of information” model of instruction, which casts the student as a dry sponge who passively absorbs facts and ideas from a teacher. This model has ruled higher education for 600 years, since the days of the medieval Schoolmen who, in their lectio mode, stood before a room reading a book aloud to the assembly—no questions permitted. The modern version is the lecture.
“I think the answer to this challenge is to rethink the nature of the college course, to consider it as a different kind of animal these days,” he continues. “A course can be a communication across time about a discrete topic, with a different temporal existence than the old doing-the-homework-for-the-lecture routine. Students now tap into a course through different media; they may download materials via its website, and even access a faculty member’s research and bio. It’s a different kind of communication between faculty and students. Websites and laptops have been around for years now, but we haven’t fully thought through how to integrate them with teaching so as to conceive of courses differently.”
I began my teaching career in the field of experiential education – the focus, obviously, is on learning by doing. My first job in higher education was as an instructor of Outdoor Education at Unity College in Maine. I knew from past experiences as an experiential, outdoor educator for at-risk youth, and from my desire to create classrooms that I wished I had as a student, that lectures would not be part of my classroom strategies. Theoretical content learning would occur as homework during the students’ time. Face-to-face classroom time would be spent putting the theory into practice. In the twenty-plus years I have been in higher education, students were given course content to review and study at home. Since I never valued the textbook as the best means for delivering that content (they are edited books based on one or two authors’ perspectives), I started by providing them with compendiums of theme/content-related articles, later lists of web links to articles, and currently adding video lectures to those lists. Students are not required to read nor view all of the suggested web resources. The list offers a menu of learning possibilities. Class time, as I’ve said, is then used to put the theory into practice. These experiences include group problem-solving and team building games, simulations, case study reviews, and group discussions.
Use and Implementation Problems with the Flipped Classroom
Two noteworthy problems exist when thinking about using the flipped classroom in higher education settings.
- If video lectures drive the instruction, it is just a repackaging of a more traditional model of didactic learning. It is not a new paradigm nor pedagogy of learning.
- Educators need to be re-educated as to what to do with the class time that previously was used for their lectures.
Repackaging Old Paradigms
As Cathy Davidson noted in Why Flip The Classroom When We Can Make It Do Cartwheels?
In some ways, the flipped model is an improvement. Research shows that tailored tutoring is more effective than lectures for understanding, mastery, and retention. But the flipped classroom doesn’t come close to preparing students for the challenges of today’s world and workforce. As progressive educational activist Alfie Kohn notes, great teaching isn’t just about content but motivation and empowerment. Real learning gives you the mental habits, practice, and confidence to know that, in a crisis, you can count on yourself to learn something new.
The flipped classroom isn’t likely to change the world. Energized, connected, engaged, global, informed, dedicated, activist learning just might. Transformative, connected knowledge isn’t a thing–it’s an action, an accomplishment, a connection that spins your world upside down, then sets you squarely on your feet, eager to whirl again. It’s a paradigm shift.
Harvard Professor Chris Dede stated in his Global Education 2011 keynote in response to a question directed about the flipped classroom . . .
I think that the flipped classroom is an interesting idea if you want to do learning that is largely based on presentation. You use presentation outside of the classroom. Then you do your understanding of the presentation and further steps from the presentation inside the classroom. I think it is a step forward. It is still, in my mind, the old person. It’s still starting with presentational learning and then trying to sprinkle some learning-by-doing on top of it. I am interested more in moving beyond the flipped classroom to learning by doing at the center than a kind of the intermediate step that still centers on largely on tacit assimilation.
What am I supposed to do with class time that was once used for lectures?
In The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture, I discussed that a problem with flipping the classroom is that educators, who are used to and trained in using class time for lectures, do not know how to transition from a lecture-based classroom to one that includes more student-centered activities. The message being given to teachers is that when students review the lectures on their own time, the teachers now have time to do whatever they want during class time. A major roadblock or barrier to the implementation of this model is that many educators do not know what to do within the classroom, with that “whatever they want to do” time. For educators, who are used to and use the didactic model, a framework is needed to assist them with the implementation of the Flipped Classroom.
This problem is especially relevant in higher education where faculty are hired based on their content expertise not their expertise in being facilitators of learning.
There are many reasons professors who lecture don’t want to give it up. Tradition may be the mightiest force. A lot of them are not excited about the idea that they might have to move out of their comfort zone.
Professors stick with traditional approaches because they don’t know much about alternatives. Few get training or coaching on how to teach. It’s kind of ironic that professors don’t have any type of training in any way, shape or form. It’s the only teaching degree that you don’t need to go through any actual training in teaching to do. (http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/tomorrows-college/lectures/inventing-new-college.html)
The Experiential Flipped Classroom Model: Foundation
This section describes a model of flipped classroom learning that addresses the concerns just discussed. It incorporates the use of videos and other online content in the flipped classroom fashion described by current proponents but also includes methods, strategies, and activities for the face-to-face and/or synchronous class time.
The tenets that drive The Experiential Flipped Classroom Model are:
- The learners need to be personally connected to the topic. Student engagement is the key to learning. This is more likely to occur through engaging experiential activities.
- Informal learning today is connected, instantaneous, and personalized. Students should have similar experiences in their more formal learning environments.
- Almost all content-related knowledge can be found online through videos, podcasts, and online interactives, and is more often better conveyed through these media than by classroom teachers.
- Learning institutions are no longer the gatekeepers to information. Anyone with connections to the internet has access to high level, credible content.
- Lectures in any form, face-to-face, videos, transcribed, or podcasts, should support learning not drive it nor be central to it.
- And from Doug Holton, “Lectures do still have a place and can be more effective if given in the right contexts, such as after (not before) students have explored something on their own (via a lab experience, simulation, game, field experience, analyzing cases, etc.) and developed their own questions and a ‘need to know.’” (http://edtechdev.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/whats-the-problem-with-moocs/)
- A menu of learning acquisition and demonstration options should be provided throughout the learning cycle.
- The educator becomes a facilitator and tour guide of learning possibilities – offering these possibilities to the learners and then getting out of the way.
Foundational Learning Theories
Along with the tenets above, the Experiential Flipped Classroom Model has it roots in several theories. Older models of experiential learning can be updated to include technology tools and build off of the tenets proposed for the flipped classroom model.
Experiential Learning Cycle
The Experiential Learning Cycle models emphasize that the nature of experience is of fundamental importance and concern in education and training. It is the teacher’s responsibility to structure and organize a series of experiences which positively influence each individual’s potential future experiences. In other words, “good experiences” motivate, encourage, and enable students to go on to have more valuable learning experiences. Experiential Learning Cycles can be seen as providing a semi-structured approach. There is relative freedom to go ahead in activity and “experience”, but the educator also commits to structuring other stages, usually involving some form of planning or reflection, so that “raw experience” is package with facilitated cognitive (usually) thinking about the experience. (http://wilderdom.com/experiential/elc/ExperientialLearningCycle.htm)
David A. Kolb (with Roger Fry) created his famous experiential learning circle that involves (1) concrete experience followed by (2) observation and experience followed by (3) forming abstract concepts followed by (4) testing in new situations. (http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm)
For more information, see http://www.ldu.leeds.ac.uk/ldu/sddu_multimedia/kolb/kolb_flash.htm
The 4Mat System
4MAT® System is a teaching model which combines the fundamental principles of several long-standing theories of personal development with current research on human brain function and learning. 4MAT is a process for delivering instruction in a way that appeals to all types of learners and engages, informs, allows for practice and creative use of material learned within each lesson. A very important component of this method is the need for teachers/instructors to understand and present their material conceptually, presenting the big picture, and the meaning and relevance of material to be learned. The instructional events of the 4MAT system can be divided into four categories: orientation, presentation, practice, and extension/evaluation.
See http://www.aboutlearning.com/what-is-4mat for more information about the 4MAT model.
The Experiential Flipped Classroom Model
What follows is an explanation of the Flipped Classroom Model, a model where the video lectures, screencasts, and vodcasts fall within a larger framework of learning activities.
Experiential Engagement: The Experience
The cycle often begins with an experiential exercise. This is an authentic, often hands-on, learning activity that fully engages the student. It is a concrete experience that calls for attention by most, if not all, the senses. According to McCarthy, learning activities are designed that are immersive. Learners “experience the now.” They become hooked through and motivated by personal connection to the experience, and a desire to create meaning for and about that experience (ala constructivist learning).
These are teacher generated and facilitated. They work best during classroom time. These are those “what to do with the time that used to be filled with lectures” class activities.
The options for experiential engagement are limitless. Again, the goal is to offer an engaging and authentic learning activity that introduces learners to the course topic, that creates a desire for them to want to learn more. Options include:
- Team Problem Solving Activities: Wilderdom, Teampedia
- Science Experiments: Steve Spangler Science Experiments, Kitchen Science Experiments
- Experiential Mobile Activities (Note: Some of these can also be used for online courses)
- The Arts: Artsedge
Facilitating experiential activities may be tricky, at first, for those who have never led them. Experiential activities are often used for organizational development and corporate training. As such, those new to their use can get ideas for the how-to facilitation through business related websites:
There are also some options for online courses:
- Virtual Field Trips: 100 Incredible Educational Virtual Tours
- Online Simulations: PhET Science Simulations, National Library of Virtual Manipulatives
- Google: Google Earth Tours, Google Art Project
- Students can conduct interviews or take photos or videos and post these online, e.g., Picture Your Values.
Concept Exploration: The What
During this phase, learners are exposed to and learn concepts touched upon during Experiential Engagement. They explore what the experts have to say about the topic. Information is presented via video lecture, content-rich websites and simulations, and/or online text/readings. In the case of the flipped classroom as it is being currently discussed, this is the time in the learning cycle when the learners view content-rich videos. This is where and when videos are used to help students learn the abstract concepts related to the topic being covered. The role of the teacher, during this phase, is to offer the learners choices of video and related online content.
Some video archives and related online resources that may be of value in higher education include:
- Khan Academy
- Youtube Education for Universities
- Academic Earth
- MIT Opencourse
Teachers can also record their own lectures for student viewing. Some tools to do so include:
- Camtasia Studio (PC) or Camtasia for Mac
(Note: Describing the specific technologies that one can use to record one’s own lectures is not the intent of this post. I recommend doing further research to decide which tools would be most appropriate.)
Free online courses by major universities also offer some materials that can be used to assist students in developing an understanding content-related knowledge:
Part of this phase can include an online chat for asking and addressing questions about the content presented via the videos, podcasts, websites. Through online “chat” areas, learners can ask questions and post thoughts and opinions. Responses can then be provided by co-learners and educators.
- Google Docs
- Elluminate, Adobe Connect or Blackboard Collaborate Rooms with chat functions
- Obviously, in a face-to-face setting, students can bring their questions into the real time environment where questions and answer periods become part of the in class activities.
Meaning Making: The So What
Learners reflect on their understanding of what was discovered during the previous phases. It is a phase of deep reflection on what was experienced during the first phase and what was learned via the experts during the second phase. Learners develop skills for reflective practice through discussing, reviewing, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing key learning through their experiential activities and exploration of expert commentaries.
I discussed the importance of reflection in a blog post, Where is reflection in the learning process?
Learners do not just receive information only at the time it is given; they absorb information in many different ways, often after the fact, through reflection. The most powerful learning often happens when students self-monitor, or reflect.
Students may not always be aware of what they are learning and experiencing. Teachers must raise students’ consciousness about underlying concepts and about their own reactions to these concepts. ETE Team
During this phase, the educator can demonstrate reflection strategies and offer choices for student reflections, but the focus should be on the learner constructing his or her understanding of the topic. Learners can articulate and construct their understanding of the content or topic being covered through a variety of technology tools:
- Blogs such as WordPress or Blogger: Student examples can be found at http://gretelpatch.wordpress.com/ (graduate student in Educational Technology) and http://perfectlypaigespage.blogspot.com/ (undergraduate student in Interpersonal Relations).
- Audio and Video Recordings
- Facebook Group Page: Facebook introduced Groups for Schools. An example for my Interpersonal Relations course can be found at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Broadview-Interpersonal-Relations-Course/241152722603421
- Voicethread: The advantage of using Voicethread is that students can hear review the ideas of other students and have a choice in the type of medium used; video, audio, or written. The Voicethread set up for my undergraduate course on Interpersonal Relations is at http://voicethread.com/?#u1025159.b2349919.i15073398 and the one for m graduate course on Integrating Technology Into the Classroom at http://voicethread.com/?#u1025159.b1372964.i7281354
Within the standard school system where testing is the expectation, this would be the phase when students are tested about their understanding of the content. If this is the case, it is recommended that the tests target higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – evaluation, applying, synthesizing.
Demonstration and Application: The Now What
During this phase, learners get to demonstrate what they learned and apply the material in a way that makes sense to them.
When students have multiple choices in ways to demonstrate their knowledge, the evidence of their learning is more accurate. We wanted the students to actually become the experts through the learning process. This assessment isn’t just a fancy term for a presentation at the end of a unit. To actually engage in an authentic celebration is to witness a true display of student understanding. (http://education.jhu.edu/newhorizons/strategies/topics/Assessment%20Alternatives/meyer_glock.htm)
This goes beyond reflection and personal understanding in that learners have to create something that is individualized and extends beyond the lesson with applicability to the learners’ everyday lives. Opportunities should be provided for students to, at the very least, make concrete plans how they will use the course content in other aspects of their lives.
This is in line with the highest level of learning within Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Learning – Creating - whereby the learner creates a new product or point of view. In essence, they become the storytellers of their learning (See Narratives in the 21st Century: Narratives in Search of Contexts). A list of technology-enhanced ideas/options for the celebration of learning can be found at: http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/a-technology-enhanced-celebration-of-learning/
Here is a slideshow of former students’ Demonstration and Application projects and presentations.
- A ten commandments of teaching strategies.
- A calendar where each month had reminders of application ideas.
- A Minecraft video of what was learned and how it is being applied in his life.
- A Medicine Wheel by a Zuni student about how the course concepts applied to the Native American culture.
Flipped Classroom Full Picture: An Example Lesson
An example on how this model was used in a blended undergraduate course can be found at Flipped Classroom Full Picture: An Example Lesson.
The Flipped Classroom offers a great use of technology - especially if it gets lecture out of the classrooms and into the hands and control of the learners. As it is being discussed, it is part of a larger picture of teaching and learning. The Flipped Classroom videos have a place in the models and cycles of learning proposed by educational psychologists and instructional designers. Providing educators with a full framework of how the Flipped Classroom can be used in their educational settings will increase its validity for educators and their administrators.