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!).

Download the free report “Blended and Flipped: Exploring New Models for Effective Teaching & Learning.” Get your copy now »

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.


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  • goodsensecynic

    “If [I] were to arrive at [my] classroom, unplug the devices, turn off the projector and step away from the PowerPoint slides,” it would be called a normal day. If everyone were to do so, “just for the day,” it would be a liberating day of pedagogical sanity … and I would encourage others to keep it going.

  • Gonzalo Munevar

    Excellent article. Although I should point out that it very much resembles the best of my undergraduate education 50 years ago, as well as the way I taught philosophy, math, biology, literature, neuroscience and psychology during the 40 years of my career. I did have PowerPoint presentations occasionally, but given by small teams of students (on their projects), with extensive discussions by the whole group. A typical first day of class would have me ask the students the following question: Suppose that you wanted to learn to play basketball better, so you took a class taught by a former NBA star, someone you actually had heard about. The professor met you in the gym and told you to take a seat in the stands. He then proceeded to show you how he dribbled, shot, rebounded, and so on, throwing in some amusing anecdotes about his life in the pros. How much basketball, I asked, would you have learned by the end of the semester? “None” or “very little” were the usual answers. I would then ask my new students what would have to happen for them to learn a lot. The practically unanimous answer is that they would have to go on the court and practice those skills themselves, with the professor giving them feedback and advice on how to improve. I would then ask if it would be OK for some students to say that they would still rather watch from the stands. No, the students would say, for that would defeat the purpose of the education they were there to receive. Now, I would point out, basketball is a team sport, so presumably you would be divided into teams to scrimmage. Suppose then that you were going to shoot the ball, what would be better for your development as a player, to have the player guarding you give you all the room in the world or to have that player all over your face? The answer was clear again: challenge was essential. That little discussion set the tone. You can develop the skills that belong to a certain subject only if you practice them. Students taking the introductory course in philosophy, which was required of all students on my campus, would have to read philosophical classics such as Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, and Machiavelli’s The Prince, and come to class ready to discuss them critically. I would start the challenge and soon it would spread throughout the classroom (we would first have a 15 minute small team discussion, for a warmup). In upper division neuroscience and psychology they would read the materials and come to class with at least three questions worth asking, per person. In these two subjects their grades would be determined mostly by an original experiment that each small team would design and then perform (a preliminary study). So philosophy students would have to be philosophers and psychology students would have to be psychologists. Phones had to be turned off before the beginning of class. Computers could be used only if clearly relevant to an experiment or presentation.

    • goodsensecynic

      Excellent post!

      I, too, completed my undergraduate education 50 years ago and am about to enter my 50th year as a postsecondary educator (counting a couple of years as a TA up to my current position as a professor.

      In that time, I have witnessed wave upon wave of “reformers” (beginning with a dolt – the Campus Dean at the time – who first introduced me to the phrase “a guide on the side, not a stage on the stage” in August, 1969, just before he hopped on a plane to Dallas TX, where he would purchase a small library of videotapes designed to replace classroom teachers – the tapes were never used but the young faculty or, more accurately, mostly their post-retirement replacements still are.

      Meanwhile, technologically mediated education in all its forms has permeated higher learning and its advocates increasingly mock those of use who are conducting a “rear-guard action” against clickers and buzzers and online flipped and flopped virtual classrooms in an era of “postliteracy.” If this is to be the fate of higher learning, there’s not much we can do about it except to remain steadfast for as long as we can so that, in the words of the 16th-century English theologian Richard Hooker: “posterity may know we did not, loosely through silence, let things slip away as in a dream.”

      Of course, “posterity” may, in fact, not know and not care for it will not have access to information that is not digital data in cold storage. That would be a pity.

    • Herbert Coleman

      Good example but we do need to be careful when comparing learning a psychomotor skill to learning intellectual ones. In your basketball analogy, you assume that everyone knows what basketball is. You’re assuming they understand the rules of the game and have desire to want to play. A better analogy would teaching American students Jai alai. Most have never heard of the game (or how to pronounce it) much less the rules, goals, scoring, etc. So they would have to read about it’s origins and history. Possibly watch some video or preferably live matches. Yes, hear from a player who describes some of the intricacies all before setting foot on the fronton (court). This is often what we face in academia. Students come in to a new field they may or may not have heard of with little or no background. They certainly don’t know the rules, goals or strategy. So we do have to provide some guidance and background before turning them loose. Afterall, you don’t want a student to get smacked in the face with cesta or dinged by the pelota, would you?

  • Herbert Coleman

    While these activities sound like good ones to use in in a flipped environment, don’t kid yourself. YOU ARE STILL USING TECHNOLOGY. We just no longer think of paper, index cards and sticky notes (invented at 3M in the 1968) as technology but they are. They may not be electronic but they are still a specific type of tech. I’ve never understood the prejudice that we automatically put on new technology while we retreat to older technology as being somehow “better”. Once again, the focus should NEVER be on the technology by rather on the learning process. I’ve done similar exercises mentioned above using clickers and in computer classrooms. I chose to use that particular technology because it made collecting and sharing the information faster, easier and provided me with analytics. Prior to clickers, many faculty used to use color coded cards to gather student responses. While visually appealing, it lacked the real data you get from using clickers. I’m not saying clickers are “better” than cards (in fact I use a hybrid called Plickers –paper clickers). I am saying focus on what it is you are trying to achieve, what you want students to do, and find the technology that best meets the need whether it’s electronic or not. BTW, I’m assuming the lessons mentioned above weren’t truly “unplugged” I bet the lights and climate control were still on (technology).

  • Harold Katcher

    When I was still teaching face-to-face, I hated using those cheap shots like videos, Internet presentations, though the equipment was readily available and I could have saved myself effort if I did so. I needed to ask questions of the student at every part of a ‘lecture’ (because to me a ‘lecture’ is a two-way process – at every stage where a concept seems difficult I’d ask people questions about it – and look at them – it’s easy to see when that glazed look comes over their eyes. I made sure that people understood what I was saying (I teach STEM courses) while I was saying it – and I think it was effective as I had a huge ‘following’ though everyone said how ‘hard’ my classes were. Now, online – the classroom is flipped – but when students don’t understand the hard stuff and yet are assigned to give lectures on it (they say it’s effective way of learning – I don’t know – I haven’t seen the statistics (or am not even sure what statistics I want except long-term recall of the major concepts and facts)- I take over. What, send them to YouTube and hope for the best?