I came across this posting on the Innovative Educator’s Site.
It features a video where Aaron Sams, a high school chemistry teacher in the US, has flipped his teaching. So instead of spending his class-time lecturing, he records the lesson content as videocasts and the students watch these at during private study time (ie when they would normally be doing homework). The lesson time is then freed up for doing the homework, thus flipping the usual configuration of a secondary-school teaching dynamic where the students sit in silence to listen the teacher, and then complete work to validate that teaching in their own time.
The innovative educator blog post draws out some very useful benefits of this flipping procedure, not least the fact that the teacher can support students on a small group and one to one basis far more effectively then before (as there is no traditional lesson to teach!), and the teacher doesn’t have to compete for the students’ attention which means they are free to use the technology they have with them.
I was excited by this because firstly I had not heard of it before and new stuff is interesting. And it does seem to be a gaining momentum in the US. Secondly I have been talking about the waste of teachers repeating content over and over again for many years now. We’ve had the technology to capture a decent ‘from the front’ teaching segment for a long while, SMART notebook for instance has had a screen recorder (basic Camtasia) for years which will sync the computer image and an audio track into a simple movie playable on a computer or mobile device. If a teacher can prepare a teaching segment (I use this word to discourage the idea that there should be some ideal of a 1 hour lecture, that’s way too long, it should be 10 to 15 minutes maximum) and concentrate on doing this well knowing that it can be reused, then this is a big efficiency gain. Add to this the fact the students get it digitally so they can rewind, replay, skip, review as many times as they want and play it on the device of their choice and the lesson can never be disrupted and they can hear the teacher clearly and the arguments become even more compelling.
So what are the barriers to adoption to this idea in UK secondary schools? Firstly I think not many people have thought of it as an idea..There is an incredible inertia in the system (in my opinion) which drags like a weight and makes us deliver the same kind of lessons and formats as were happening decades ago (before the technology made flipping possible). Secondly I think the problem is cultural, I do think (although disagree and tell me why), that teachers in the UK absorb implicitly a cultural message that they have to be ‘busy’ in their classrooms, and this means lots of very visible ‘from the front’ teaching and explicit performance of the ‘teaching role’. Certainly the OfSTED regime has reinforced this for many years with a symbolic privileging of ‘from the front’ teaching, over other (quite legitimate and often more appropriate) forms of instruction. I have a sneaky feeling that a teacher in the UK who flipped and provided their lessons for viewing in the students’ own time, and they then spent the lesson time doing their homework with the teacher’s support where needed, would be accused of not doing their job properly or copping out.
But we do need change in the nation’s classrooms and what I like most about flipping is that it is achievable, concrete and innovative. Achievable in that most schools and teachers if given enough support and stimulus could begin to work in this way and the millions of pounds spent on learning platforms over the last 5 years might return some value. Concrete in that you either flip or you don’t, it’s not one of these well meaning but ultimately vague and woolly education initiatives which soon lose their identity and get watered down into the workaday broth of the classroom. And finally it is innovative because it considers the problem of what teaching in the 21st century could look like and comes up with a credible answer.