To flip or not to flip?

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.

Author: mjp6034

Education consultant specialising in educational technology and change management.

11 thoughts on “To flip or not to flip?”

  1. Well reasoned. You mention the Learning Platform element but I think this is key to this concept being a success in UK schools in that there needs to very close monitoring of work completed/homework done and analysis of that data needs to facilitated by the LP. Without that structure in a middle of the road, fairly chaotic average comp’ then loads of kids would get away with not doing the ‘learning’ hwk.

  2. Nick, thanks for commenting, and yes this can’t become an easy ride for the students. I guess with the lesson time being given over to support rather than teaching it would be harder rather than easier for students to get away with doing nothing, and the teacher would have more time to explore the reasons for this.

  3. I agree it’s a culture issue, but not that OFSTED (or ESTYN or whoever) caused it.

    By chance I read this today on Leading and Learning

    ‘It was pioneer creative teacher Sylvia Ashton Warner who was believed to have said , ‘you can tell the creative teacher he , or she, is the one lying dead in the corridor with an arrow in their back fired by one of their fellow teachers’.

    Not everyone likes change, others need to be persuased it’s in the best interests of the learners because they truly, but misguidedly, believe that another dollop of content gets students to ‘pass’ exams.

    Where schools, with strong and supportive leadership, make it the norm to shift the balance to the best interests of the learners from the ‘comfort zone’ of the teacher then we can truly start flipping all sorts of things!

    1. Karen, thanks for leaving a comment, and tragically there is truth in the notion that creative teachers can be targeted by the more workaday staff who see them as a threat and rocking the boat. In terms of blaming OfSTED (always safe territory one feels), I wanted to express the ways in which certain kinds of teaching had been validated by their inspection practices. And of course you are right with the strong leaders the creative teachers can flourish and others can follow this lead.

  4. Yeah it would soon be exposed wudnt it I guess. Dont get me wrong I really like the idea but I also wonder what about those kids who need assistance in the learning in the classroom or even those who are brainy but still need things explaining. How does that happen at home? We already have lots of students who say that they cannot really help their students in some subjects cos they dont get it so what does a student do then? I’m thinking support via social media etc out of school time or out-of-lesson assistance for this may provide solution or perhaps it isnt needed if materials are so thorough to provide the support. (Can’t say I can recall ever seeing materials so thorough to provide this)

  5. Interesting debate. Flipping reminds me of a couple of things.

    Firstly, I found out years ago that many parents of pupils in the Czech Republic were subscribing to a website which offered pre-class preparation of basic concepts etc. which were to be covered in the school sessions. This was rather straightforward as the Czech national curriculum was based on all pupils at the same grade studying exactly the same lesson at the same time on the same day. So parents who could afford it were giving their children a head start on what was coming up the next day.

    Whether or not the teachers were then able to extend the pupils’ understanding etc. in the lessons I don’t know but the concept is rather like flipping – imagine what your lessons would b like if pupils turned up already confident in the basics!

    Needless to say, the website offering this service made a huge profit…

    Secondly, I remember someone recording a lot of videos for their pupils – was it @mwclarkson ?

    Finally, colleagues where I work now run short, online courses for school leaders. They are beginning to record help videos to avoid wasting time on technical matters so I suppose the next step for them would be proper flipping so the could concentrate on extension as well.

    Tanks for an interesting debate.

    1. I came across the Khan Academy and Exam Solutions type of segmented topic teaching when I was looking for ideas to help my eldest revise.
      Two things happened;
      (i) the app and links went ‘viral’ across the year group via facebook; students were eager to access them and whilst that might be because of proximity to exams it shows they have a sense of knowing what they need to access what in matters ( so we have to make it ‘matter’ for flipping?)
      (ii) my son used these clips/screencaptures and gained confidence to ask his teachers the questions he needed to develop his understanding. It had a really big impact; he didn’t (couldn’t/wouldn’t?) use the text book in the same way.

      It would be interesting to find someone who’d tried it . I don’t think they ( the students) would necessarily be totally confident even after they’d accessed the material but that brings a whole new agenda of differentiation ……
      Great topic for debate ( should be a #ukedchat?)

  6. Kevin, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m a fan of short targetted videos, and often when I have run a training course and get a request or query after the event, rather than explaining a technique in text, I just make a short Camtasia movie and dropbox that over. It’s more personal than an email, and ultimately it is easier to make . .so for technical issues the videos are clear winners.

  7. I tried my first flipped lesson this week with yr7 after they had self managed a few lesson Prof Sugata Mitra style. I was bouyed with optimism.

    What I learnt in this rough attempt, the learning medium / content is important, the school culture to homework / extended learning and the testing medium are also important.

    To be investigated – do all subjects / topics lend themselves to being flipped? Which are more effective?

    I plan to try again with a more ‘structure’ screencast for Yr 10. I believe this will help with their Controlled Assessments. I let you know how we get on, would like to hear your experiences.

    1. Thanks for posting a comment and the extra information on your blog about what you have been doing is great. Do blog about how you get on with the year 10 flipping..
      My thoughts are very much that for flipping to work a teacher would need to do it and stick at it, even though the first few times may not be that successful. You are effectively asking students to change their expectations of what a lesson is and their approach to working at home, and this of course takes some adjustment time. I think for education innovations to take hold they need to have time to bed in, even time to fail, and as Karen commented above, the school leadership need to get behind these initiatives and back them completely.

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