Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finding time to engage (a potentially huge idea)

Suppose that students suddenly had 45 minutes or an hour every single day when they could work through ways to apply their knowledge and hone their skills with their teacher right there on the spot to coach their efforts. Suppose they had that much time, with that much support, in every major subject.

To me, that sounds like a hugely powerful change, and until just now, like a change that would be impossible to schedule and afford.

Well, it could be possible if students watched their teachers' lectures and demonstrations at home, and came to class ready for the activities that used to be called their "homework." That's the key impact of the idea of "flipping" a class.

Karl Fisch, a Colorado math teacher, is trying it. The Telegraph (the English one) reports:
... instead of lecturing about polynomials and exponents during class time – and then giving his young charges 30 problems to work on at home – Fisch has flipped the sequence. He’s recorded his lectures on video and uploaded them to YouTube for his 28 students to watch at home. Then, in class, he works with students as they solve problems and experiment with the concepts.
Lectures at night, “homework” during the day. Call it the Fisch Flip.
“When you do a standard lecture in class, and then the students go home to do the problems, some of them are lost. They spend a whole lot of time being frustrated and, even worse, doing it wrong,” Fisch told me.
“The idea behind the videos was to flip it. The students can watch it outside of class, pause it, replay it, view it several times, even mute me if they want,” says Fisch, who emphasises that he didn’t come up with the idea, nor is he the only teacher in the country giving it a try. “That allows us to work on what we used to do as homework when I’m they’re to help students and they’re there to help each other.”
Justin Bathon, a University of Kentucky professor and innovator, reports that he's using the same approach:
Education law is a perfect candidate to be flipped. Get the content online. Record lectures (I can help you learn how, if you like) and post them. Then build readings around them. You can still rely on the textbook (although I would discourage it), but link to the Constitution. Link to cases. Link to summaries. Link to blog posts. Link to news stories. Link, link, link. Once you get enough links, you'll realize the textbook is not as important anymore. Also, let the students have their initial discussions online. Get the basic questions out of the way. If you must, like I do, build in an online quiz to assure students do the reading and the videos.
Okay, now, all that work you would have done in class is over with. Now is when things get really fun. In the class meetings (of which you now need fewer) do the homework - the activities, the discussions, the modeling and everything else that reinforces the learning that occurred online. It is much more fun that way and the quality of the course improves. While you have them, you can build points around all those activities, so suddenly you realize you don't need an exam. There are plenty of ways to assess learning formatively in real time as the course is happening and those things add up to enough points that an exam is not necessary.
Granted, flipping the course like this is more work. Now, instead of just lecturing, assigning textbook chapters and writing and exam, you also have to plan activities, manage technology, write on discussion boards and provide more formative feedback, among other things. But, that is the kind of work that actually takes learning to another level, from consuming to engaging.
Of course, this is an idea that depends on students having strong internet access at home, something we can't quite depend on yet.  The thing is, if teachers can use the "flipped" time to engage students more effectively and move their learning to higher levels, then maybe the internet really can contribute to a truly important step up in how (and how deeply) the next generation learns.


  1. Love it! It also provides access to curriculum through multiple learning styles and accessibility might be obtained by using iPADs and smart phones at a much lower cost than providing computers and internet access to students who don't have it at home already.

  2. This idea is flipping excellent! It gives students responsibility for mastering the lower-level material at their own pace at home and capitalizes on the skills of a good teacher to assist with the higher-level stuff (e.g. synthesis and analysis)in class. This model would magnify any decent teacher's added value.


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