August 21st, 2017

Three Reasons to Ditch Technology in Your Flipped Classroom


woman closing her laptop

What would happen if you were to arrive to your classroom, unplug the devices, turn off the projector, and step away from the PowerPoint slides … just for the day?

What would you and your students do in class?

This was the challenge I presented to 100 faculty members who attended my session at the Teaching Professor Conference in St. Louis this past June. The title of the session was, “Using ‘Unplugged’ Flipped Learning Activities to Engage Students.” Our mission was to get “back to the basics” and share strategies to engage students without using technology.

Why Use “Unplugged” Strategies the Flipped Classroom?

Most of the conversations about the flipped classroom include discussions about technological tools. What video recording tool should I use? What tools are best for producing a podcast? What quizzing tool should I use to assess the pre-class work?  What types of clickers should I use in class to assess learning? With all of this focus on technology, why would we want to consider flipping a class without it? Here are three reasons:

1. To focus on the process. For many faculty, the “flip” means something more than how technology is used in and out of the classroom. In my work, for example, the FLIP is when you “Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process.” When you FLIP, you intentionally invert the design a learning environment so students engage in activities, apply concepts, and focus on higher level learning outcomes during class time.

This definition encourages us to think strategically about the learning experiences we are designing with our students so they can achieve the learning outcomes. The focus is not the technology. It’s the process. It’s the process of involving our students in applying and analyzing course content, making decisions, critiquing a topic, or evaluating a data set. It’s the process of creating something together to demonstrate understanding or to express ideas. Sometimes technology can help with this process, but sometimes it can become a distraction which could hinder the process.

2. To improve learning and retention. Scholars continue to analyze the pros and cons of technology in the classroom and its impact on student learning, retention, and engagement. For almost every study published on the advantages of technology, you can find another study on the disadvantages. Ultimately, the learning outcomes should inform how (or if) technology is used in the classroom.

It is interesting to consider how the findings of this recent study on taking notes by hand versus on a laptop has been shown to increase conceptual thinking (Mueller & Oppenheimer,2014). And, for those of us who use slides and videos in our flipped classrooms, it’s important to note the combination of images, text, videos, and our voice can be too overwhelming for some students, especially when they are introduced to new information. Using “unplugged” strategies in some of your lessons can reduce the cognitive load and help students remember what they’ve learned (Madda, 2015).

3. To enhance creativity and encourage real connections.
When I use unplugged strategies in my teaching, my students often say it’s “refreshing” to do something different. They often comment on how “tired” they are of slides and online discussion forums. When they disconnect from the devices, they tell me it helps them think of new ideas, and they appreciate the opportunity to connect with other students who are not distracted by a screen.

Likewise, when I use unplugged strategies in faculty development workshops, faculty often say that they appreciate the opportunity to put away their phones and laptops so they can make real connections with their colleagues (and get away from feeling obligated to answer emails!).

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Flipping Faculty Development: Unplugged!

Speaking of faculty development, in my conference session, I wanted to engage faculty in the process of using “unplugged” tools in class to engage and involve students. To demonstrate how it can be done, and with the goal of “practicing what we preach” when it comes to faculty development, I flipped the session and placed faculty in the center of the learning experience.

The faculty participated in activities using five different “unplugged” tools: sticky notes, index cards, dice, a deck of cards, and poster paper. Each group was asked to analyze a case study using each of the tools and then brainstorm different ways these tech-free tools can be used in the classroom to increase student engagement and improve learning. I told workshop participants I would share their work in a Faculty Focus article and on my blog. As promised, here are some of their ideas:

Goal: To encourage students to ask more questions during class time.
Unplugged Tool: Dice
Strategy: Faculty member rolls the dice and the number rolled is the number of questions the students in the class must ask before class is dismissed.

Goal: To encourage students to analyze and prioritize information.
Unplugged Tool: Index cards
Strategy: Give students a case study. Ask them to individually decide which piece of information in the case is most important and write that information on an index card. Put students in groups and ask them to discuss and prioritize the cards from most to least important. Integrate their ideas into a class discussion.

Goal: To help students put information in an order.
Unplugged Tool: Sticky notes
Strategy: Give students a stack of index cards. Ask them to write each step of a procedure or process on the card and place the cards in the correct order from first step to last. Other groups can critique and change the order if needed. Use for class discussion.

For more unplugged teaching strategies created by the participants and to see the case studies, view my post on 25 Unplugged Strategies.

An important part of faculty development is to share ideas so we can all learn from each other. So, let’s keep the conversation going! What “unplugged” tools or strategies have you used in class to engage students and improve learning?

Resources & Additional Reading:

Honeycutt, B. (2016). 101 Unplugged Flipped Strategies to Engage Students. FLIP It Consulting. Raleigh, NC.

Honeycutt, B. (February 13, 2017). Let’s practice what we teach: Flipping faculty development. Faculty Focus. Available online:

Honeycutt, B. (September 26, 2016). The flipped classroom unplugged: Three tech-free strategies for engaging students. Faculty Focus. Available online:

Madda, M. J. (January 19, 2015). Why your students forgot everything on your PowerPoint slides. EdSurge. Available online:

Mueller, P. & Oppenheimer, D. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard. Psychological Science. 25 (6), Pages 1159-1168. Sage.  DOI:

Barbi Honeycutt is a speaker, scholar, and author. She is the founder of FLIP It Consulting in Raleigh, N.C.  She has published several books and developed an online course for faculty who want to learn more about the FLIP model. Connect on Twitter @BarbiHoneycutt and on her blog.