Understanding the Flipped Classroom: Part 1

The flipped classroom seems to be the latest buzz in educational trends. Is this truly a new revolutionary approach or a revision of a technique used throughout the ages? To be clear, in simplest terms, flipping the classroom refers to swapping classroom lecture time for hands-on practice time. So the lecture is done for homework usually via a video or audio file and the classroom time is spent clarifying and applying new knowledge gained.

A survey of the latest literature indicates that flipping a classroom is not a new idea. It is the way that idea is applied that is gaining so much attention and in most cases, so much praise. Many say that reversing the content delivery and practice is a decades old practice. Consider literature classes where the student reads the novel outside of class. Class time is spent discussing themes and archetypes and rarely the plot of the story. Law schools also traditionally flip when students participate in Socratic seminars and must prepare ahead of time to effectively participate in the seminar and have knowledge to back up their statements (Berrett, 2012). So if it is not something new in education, why is it attracting headlines and discussions?

First a little history on the recent re-emergence of this time tested class technique. It seems that the confluence of enlightenment that led to the current use of the term “flipped classroom” originates in three or four different situations. While high school science teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams of Woodland Park, CO are most often credited with coining the phrase flipped classroom in 2007 (White, 2011), there are other schools and programs that essentially developed the same concept around the same time, albeit after.

Dr. Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University, has been using the method for 21 years. He calls it peer instruction (Berrett, 2012). He presented a keynote speech in 2011 at the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston where he demonstrated the technique he uses with his students in class. With the addition of assistive technology to allow for student response and feedback during the peer instruction session, attendees saw how this process works to maximize time with the instructor and focus on higher order thinking skills rather than just taking notes and regurgitating facts.

Some of the characteristics of this latest iteration include engaging the students on a higher level and a smaller ratio of students to instructors while working within the economics of education. As Dr. Mazur said: “Once you engaged the students’ minds, there’s an eagerness to learn, to be right, to master” (Berrett, 2012). According to Bloom (1984), “an average student who receives one-on-one attention is enabled by constant feedback and corrective process, and can jump into the 98th percentile of the student population in academic achievement” (Houston and Lin, 2012). This was stated 24 years ago but most classes are still taught with teacher-centered lectures and only the persistent students seek out one-on-one assistance.

Lecture as a teaching technique is not going away. Economics dictate that class size will not decrease to lower the student-to-instructor ratio. Therefore, lecturing makes economic sense. Flipping and moving the lecture to the homework realm and saving application and one-on-one work for the classroom experience makes the lecture model more productive. Implementing a flipped classroom enables more focused teaching and learning to take place in the classroom.

Effectively flipping a classroom brings many benefits. Flipping uses technology to remove passive, one-way lecturing as the only means of teaching. Thus, the instructor and students can interact within the newly gained instructional time (Houston and Lin, 2012). The increase of teacher-student interaction during class time is what characterizes its success (White, 2012). The classroom time is used to solve problems and apply to other contexts (the application of higher order thinking skills). Flipping the classroom also makes differentiating instruction based on students’ needs easier because everyone does not necessarily need to do the same task in class (Liles, 2012). Simply looking at the perceived and real benefits of flipping as well as the amount of research recently done should be incentive to consider a flip as a great way to reach students and approach mastery of content.

Pamela Kachka, MAEd is an academic trainer and consultant for Pearson eCollege. https://www.facebook.com/eCollegeATC

Continue reading part 2 of this article, posted Oct. 24, 2012 »

Alvarez, B. (2011). Flipping the classroom: homework in class, lessons at home. Learning First, Retrieved from http://www.learningfirst.org/flipping-classroom-homework-class-lessons-home

Bergmann, J.; Sams, A. (2008) Remixing chemistry class. Learning and Leading with Technology. 36(4) 24-27.

Berrett, D. (2012). How ‘flipping’ the classroom can improve the traditional lecture. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/How-Flipping-the-Classroom/130857/

Houston, M., & Lin, L. (2012, March). Humanizing the classroom by flipping the homework versus lecture equation. Paper presented at Society for information technology & teacher education international conference (site) 2012, Austin, TX.

Liles, M. (2012, April 10). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://blog.discoveryeducation.com/blog/2012/04/10/flip-your-classroom-with-discovery-education/

November, A. (2012). Flipped learning: a response to fie common criticisms. November Learning, Retrieved from http://novemberlearning.com/resources/archive-of-articles/flipped-learning-a-response-to-five-common-criticisms/

White, D. (2011). Literature justification for blended/reverse instruction. Unpublished raw data, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia.