From preschool to graduate school, if you are a classroom educator the term “flip” teaching has crossed, or is about to cross your path. Formally defined in the literature by Lage, Platt and Treglia (2000) as the “Inverted Classroom”, the catalyst for initial research was a need, particularly at the university level, to address a detrimental mismatch observed between instructor pedagogy and student learning style (p. 32). By inverting events that took place inside and outside of their economics classrooms, instructors in the study were afforded more time to address the myriad of student learning styles present in class, while reserving traditional lecture for students to view outside of class (Borge & Shapiro, 1996).
Albeit only perception data was obtained, this strategy appealed to a wide spectrum of learners, and although implemented over a decade ago, the emergence of new learning technologies, in particularly growing student access to lecture material online, empowered the process for a majority of the participants. Results suggested that students preferred the inverted approach to the traditional lecture, and would enroll in future courses that employed the same strategy (Lage et al., 2000). Given the fast growth of learning technologies over the past 12 years, specifically the combination of tablet and screencasting devices, momentum around the Inverted Classroom has increased exponentially. This momentum is evidenced by, among many things, the best selling Bergman and Sams (2012) ISTE publication Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.
Moving from an objective lens to a personal one, my own exploration into the Inverted Classroom has been tumultuous. After a few years of employing an inverted Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry curriculum, lack of student interest, motivation and stagnate test scores made it evident to me that a pedagogical shift was needed. This realization was, admittedly hard to swallow. I had spent the past three years blindly dedicated to the inversion of lecture and homework, something I was confident was the most innovative flip I, or any educator, could ever make. It was at this moment that I had a huge, but very simple aha moment: no pedagogical shift was taking place!
To more thoroughly explain this distinction, I must first outline my understanding of the term Pedagogy. Defined by the Cambridge Dictionary (2010) as the “...science and art of education”, I like to refer to pedagogy as simply: the things a teacher does to help students learn. What was I doing to help students learn” (para. 1). Yes, I was providing more in-class opportunities for problem-solving and self-paced lectures, but was I truly living up to the promise I made to myself at the beginning of my career to not recreate the de-motivating lecture environment my high school and college chemistry instructors left me with? Or, was I dressing up the same lecture-driven approach I found so ineffective with pretty technology?
Clearly I was leveraging more tools than I ever had. The use of wireless Wacom tablets, expensive screencasting software, and integration of various Google tools gave me the feeling I was peaking as a teacher. Back to the aha moment. Just because lecture happens in a different space doesn't make it, in today's information leviathan, a meaningful pedagogy. Yes, the self paced medium video provided was better than in-class lectures, and with more class time available for one-one-one assistance my students were solving harder problems more frequently and with greater accuracy. But, when I was honest with myself, I realized I was just employing a “high tech” version of the same didactic approach.
I failed to ask myself the largest pedagogical question of all: How is the information constructed? Is it organized and applied by the student, and facilitated by the instructor? Or is it created by the teacher, and delivered to the student? In the days before the printing press, and even before the internet, the teacher’s role naturally fell into the realm of information transfer. Harvard Physics professor Eric Mazur corroborates this observation, noting that teaching is a two part phenomenon: first transfer of information, second information assimilation. Mazur goes on to suggest in his now famous talk Confessions of a Converted Lecturer, that the ubiquity of information for today’s student naturally changes the role of the modern teacher from one of a medium of information transfer, to one of a facilitator of information assimilation (Mazur, 2009). The simplicity of a Google search alone validates Mazur’s point.
In my opinion, what Mazur, Lage et al., and the plethora of popularized blogs and infographics about the flipped classroom rarely address is the real problem: When information transfer happens, not where. Although I believe passionately in Mazur’s assertion that assimilation is the role of today’s teacher, it is important that not only the location of assimilation be flipped, but also the timing. Rather than view transfer and assimilation as a “one-two punch”, I propose we ask students to engage in the process of assimilation initially, or as a colleague of mine says, “the mess of discovery”, allowing subsequent transfer events to be directed, tailored, and most importantly, driven by student misconceptions, not teacher choice.
During the summer following this aha moment, the chemistry teacher in me naturally began by reflecting on the scientific method. The scientific method does not begin with the dissemination of information, but with questions, problems, dilemmas and issues. The scientist must negotiate these issues, gather information, consult with colleagues and eventually construct conclusions. If the scientific method was the essence of my discipline, why was I reserving to a section in a textbook? How dare I gloss over it like an isolated piece of content? The “mess of discovery” my colleague spoke of, the “assimilation” Mazur refers to, and the pedagogical shift I was waiting for was the scientific method. From that summer on, I have dedicated myself to creating an environment that embodies assimilation before transfer, one that is guided by the principles of discovery, not only in a laboratory rubric, but in the structure of the pedagogy.
A question still remained: How could I harness the benefits of the inverted approach while not being a slave to it? In other words, how could the "flip" be used as a technique in the context of a student-centered pedagogy, rather than a pedagogy in and of itself? I began by studying various learning cycles. The work of physics instructor Robert Karplus spoke to me the most. In Karplus’s cycle, an initial “Explore” phase, where pupils worked through guided inquiry exercises is followed by an “Explain” phase, a more teacher-centered moment where necessaryand tailored information is transferred (Sunal, n.d.). The cycle concludes with an “Apply” phase where the concept is extended to new and unique situations. I rewrote my learning objectives into Karplus-like cycles, developed associated assessments, and began writing lesson plans.
Unlike previous years, a pedagogy emerged guided by student questions and facilitated by teacher content, rather than the reverse. During further reflection and planning, the “Explain” phase of the Karplus cycle surfaced as an appropriate phase to “flip”. However, unlike my 20-30 minute videos of the past, this new pedagogy called for the creation of short, tailored videos designed to address misconceptions and assimilation errors that arose during student exploration. Rather than devote hours to creating complicated and intricate screencasts, I elected for simpler systems, with less frill, but more pedagogical weight. The technology became a slave to the pedagogy, rather than vice versa, and the videos became, if you will, “inquiry spackle”. The figure below is a model of this Kaplus “flip” variation.
Figure. Explore-Flip-Apply Model. Based on the Explore-Explain-Apply inquiry learning cycle developed by Robert Karplus (click here for an interactive version).
Serendipitously, the College Board, the governing body of all AP courses, has begun the process of redesigning a handful of course curricula in search of less content transfer, and more content inquiry. The AP Chemistry test will embrace a new inquiry driven curriculum in the 2013-2014 school year, and upon initial inspection, it aligns well with the “Explore-Flip-Apply” Karplus variation I have already begun to implement. This directly from the College Board: “In moving away from the lecture-and-demonstration model toward a more hands-on, interactive approach to studying chemistry, the course enables students to take risks, apply inquiry skills, and direct and monitor their own progress” (College Board, 2011, para. 6). I welcome this statement and am inspired by the College Board’s shift in pedagogical emphasis.
Whether it be asking students to figure out why we put salt on frozen roads and then telling them, creating an environment where studentsexplore the features of acid-base titration before sharing the known characteristics, or facilitating the discovery of how batteries work rather than detailing their intricacies, the role of lecture, in particular video, is nothing more than a technique we can leverage. I encourage all educators contemplating “flipping” their classrooms to first detail a path towards meaningful student learning, via a struggle to negotiate perplexity, then inspect their pedagogy in search of useful places to off-load content transfer to video. It is my opinion that placing the “flip” before the pedagogy is nothing but a step in the reverse direction.
Bergmann, J. (2012). Flip your classroom : reach every student in every class every day. Eugene, Or. Alexandria, Va: International Society for Technology in Education ASCD.
Cambridge Dictionaries Online (2010). Cambridge Dictionaries Online. [online] Retrieved from: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/pedagogy?q=pedagogy [Accessed: 5 Jan 2013].
College Board (2011). The College Board Redesigns the AP Chemistry and AP Spanish Language and Culture Courses. [ONLINE] Available at: http://press.collegeboard.org/releases/2011/college-board-redesigns-ap-chemistry-and-ap-spanish-language-and-culture-courses. [Last Accessed January 5, 2012].
Lage, M.J., Platt, G. J., Treglia, M. (2000). Inverting the classroom: a gateway to creating an inclusive learning environment. Journal of Economic Education.
Mazur, E. (2009). Confessions of a Converted Lecturer . [online] Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwslBPj8GgI [Accessed: 5 Jan 2013].
Musallam , R. (2011). Cycles of Learning. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.cyclesoflearning.com/page1/page1.html [Accessed: 5 Jan 2013].
Sunal, D. (n.d.). The Learning Cycle:. [online] Retrieved from: http://astlc.ua.edu/ScienceInElem&MiddleSchool/565LearningCycle-ComparingModels.htm [Accessed: 5 Jan 2013].
Comments are closed.