Wednesday, October 5, 2011

There Is No Such Thing as THE Flipped Class

The term "Flipped Classroom" is being thrown around a lot lately in both positive and negative light. I think the term is a bit ambiguous and does not fully do justice to all that is being done under the guise of the Flipped Classroom. My colleague, Jon Bergmann, and I have a book coming out soon that I hope brings clarity to what most of us mean by "The Flipped Classroom." In the mean time, I hope to shed some light on some of the confusion, critique, and hype.

1. What's in a name?
There is no such thing as THE Flipped Classroom. The Flip has many faces and the word Flip has certain connotations that do not do justice to the amazing educational uses of screencasting and other video production technology.  When Jon and I began promoting the idea of using screencasting as an educational tool in 2006-2007, we struggled to know what to call the model.  At that time we settled on the name (and website URL) Educational Vodcasting.  While this name encompassed our content delivery model, it also left itself open to various applications of screencasting in education that were not restricted to delivering direct instruction through a video to be watched at home.  We quickly found that the terms "podcasting" and "vodcasting" scared away many teachers and parents.

A few years passed, our model morphed from content delivery via video, to a flex-paced mastery system and the name shifted to Reverse Instruction.  Others began utilizing screencasting technology to create short how-to tutorials for students and colleagues, others were using the technology to provides students with feedback about written essays, still others were using screencasting as a tool for remediation, re-teaching, and filling in gaps in understanding.  These different applications of screencasting, are obviously not the same, and although they use similar technology to create the videos, the classroom applications are as diverse as the teachers who use them.

Another year passed and we began to include elements of UDL and inquiry in our model.  Others, like Ramsey Musallam, listened to the critiques of educators like Frank Noschese and completely integrated inquiry learning with the instructional videos with his Explore-Flip-Apply model.

And then the "Flip" word was used.  Late in 2010, Dan Pink wrote an article for the Telegraph in which he mentioned educator and ed-tech guru Karl Fisch.  Karl had recently returned to the classroom and was using screencasting technology to deliver instruction to his students outside of class.  Pink referred to this as the "Fisch Flip."  Karl kindly credited Jon and I with inspiring him to adopt this model, and we immediately became affiliated with the "Flipped Classroom," and the name seems to have stuck.  We were in the process of writing our book at this time, and decided to call it "The Flipped Classroom," and in doing so we also stuck ourselves to the name.  We submitted our manuscript to our publisher in early Feb. 2011, and shortly thereafter Sal Khan gave a Ted Talk in which he referred to "Flipping the Class"

Here is the problem with the term "Flipped Class:" it implies version one of our screencasting model: that which used to be done in class is now done at home, and that which used to be done at home, is now done in class.  In a nutshell, that IS "The Flipped Classroom," but it does not end there, which is why the term "The Flipped Classroom" does not do justice to the many models being used.  "The Flipped Classroom" evokes images of students glued to their computers, frantically taking notes at home, coming to class, banging out worksheets, taking tests online until they "pass" an objective, unlocking the next task, lather, rinse, repeat.  And I will admit that I had my students doing exactly that for the first year I rolled out the Flipped-Mastery model (2008-2009).  But a lot of time has passed, and I have learned from my mistakes, I have learned from my Twitter PLN, and Flipped-Mastery has undergone many iterations since then.

Here is a summary of the 6 models I have used over the past 6 years:

2006-2007 Live Recording
2007-2008 Flipped
2008-2009 Flipped-Mastery
2009-2010 Flipped-Mastery/Inquiry/SBG
2010-2011 Flipped-Mastery/Inquiry/SBG/UDL
2011-2012 Flipped-Mastery/Inquiry/SBG/UDL/WolframAlpha (open-internet tests)/PBL

You can watch my presentation at the American Chemical Society this past November to hear a brief summary of each of these models here , and if you have watched this, you know that it would be difficult to call my classroom "THE Flipped Class."  Yes, I use video to deliver instruction; no, students are not required to watch MY videos; yes, students can learn the objectives of the class in any way they want; no, all students do not have to take MY online exam; yes, students can demonstrate their understanding to me in alternate ways; yes, I believe in inquiry; yes, students are learning; yes, they love the flexibility of the class; and yes, it works...but no, it is not perfect and I can always improve.

2. Sal + TED does not equal Flip
Just because Sal Khan used the term "Flip" in his Ted talk does not mean that the Khan Academy epitomizes the Flipped Classroom. I can't say this enough: Kahn Academy represents A form of the Flipped Classroom, it is not THE flagship of The Flipped Class concept.  Hundreds of teachers across the US and Canada were using screencasting and mastery learning years before Khan's Ted Talk in Feb 2011.  He has received a lot of attention, he has received a lot of money, but he is A voice of the Flipped Classroom, not THE voice of the Flipped Classroom.

3. The Flip is in flux
It would be foolish for any educator to adopt a model of instruction and never evaluate the efficacy of the model. This goes for Flipped Class, Inquiry, lecturing, Unschooling, or whatever educational model you use.  I have been a teacher for 12 years, and I have modified my instructional practices every year based on my own reflection, feedback from students and emerging educational practices.  Anyone who blindly adopts "The Flipped Classroom" (or inquiry, or lecturing, or unschooling, or whatever) model and never modifies it to meet the needs of his or her students will blindly lead his or her students into educational ruin.

This is why I have adapted my Flipped model every year. My Flip is in flux, which is yet another testament to the fact that there is no such thing as THE Flipped Classroom.  Brian Bennett said it best when he said "The Flipped Class is not a methodology, it is ideology."  Now, please allow me to paraphrase that statement sans buzz words: "using screencasting technology is not a one-size fits-all methodology to be rolled out on a large scale because it would be foolish to use this tool when it is not appropriate to do so; it is tool in the toolbox of education that prevents a teacher from wasting class time lecturing, (but it allows the teacher to maintain the use of appropriate direct instruction) and spends class time meeting the individual needs of students."  What the class time looks like is a wildcard dependent upon the teacher, the school, the school culture, current educational research, etc.

4. Be Specific
 When promoting or critiquing the "Flipped Classroom" please be specific about what permutation you are promoting or critiquing.

Do you think Sal Khan is the greatest educator of all time? Please sing his praises, but do not confuse his model with all who operate under the Flipped Class moniker, and do not assume that all who Flip do so in the same way that Los Altos High School has.  Have you created instructional videos you are proud of? By all means, please share your videos with others, but share them as tools to accomplish a particular task.  Did your department or school decide that all direct instruction will be delivered through teacher-created screencasts? Please share your exciting story, and be specific about the transformations your classroom has undergone.

Are you being critical of the use of ANY form of direct instruction? Then please be critical of the use of direct instruction in the form of a video. Do you take issue with a teacher deciding what a student should learn? Then please critique those who establish learning objectives for their students instead of letting the students decide what to learn.  Are you opposed to a mastery model that does not allow a student to progress until they have demonstrated understanding on a particular assessment? Then please deliver your criticism to those who assess students in this way.  A blanket critique of the Flipped Classroom does not address the nuances that are present in the various applications of the Flip.

The moral of the story:
When you read anything about The Flipped Classrom mentally substitute "a class that uses screencasts as an instructional tool" for "the Flipped Classroom" and all will be well.  Don't make assumptions, don't make blanket statements, disagree with specific points, make specific assertions, and do what's best for kids.


Andy Rundquist said...

I, too, have noticed a trend of a single buzz word trying to represent many things. I use screencasting a lot and have changed things for every course to deal with the feedback I've gotten from students and peers. But when I talk to people, the word "flipped" comes out and I notice that people start making assumptions about what I do. Of course it would be nice to be able to describe what I do with a simple phrase (or 140 characters, maybe), but I think I have to settle on the notion that it takes a conversation. Thanks for the post and I'm looking forward to your book!

Audrey said...

This summarized all I have been thinking. That true change BEGAN with the flip. It opened up the channels of communication during the class, and the ideas keep getting better and better as a result. They will continue to do so as long as good teachers who truly care about their students keep working at it. Thanks, Aaron!

Jerry O said...

You have summed up my thoughts eloquently sir! I especially like how we need proponents and critiques to be specific. Us flippers need to keep all of this in mind. It is an ideology that will ALWAYS be in flux.

ultiteach said...

I personally do not "flip"/ webcast but the APBio teacher does. I use other online resources and we have used the label "blended Learning". I think that would be more of an apt title and it is becoming a buzzword in lots of circles. The Online School for Girls actually have classes teaching how to create a blended learning course. There are so many resources out there now that it is very easy to utilize technology in the classroom. That is given the students can access the material outside of school. That is really the main point. It is great to see though, that there are non-affluent school districts using tech and using it well from what I hear. It is a new frontier and I am looking forward to walking it.

Ramsey Musallam said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent post Mr. Sams. I can't say enough...this will be my go to post when directing anybody to this model of instruction. Great work!

chrischaos said...

i be flippin like whoa. :)

jobu said...

I think that has cleared the air for many of us who use this tool as part of a fuller pedagogy. Best that we all remember that we are 'standing on the shoulders of giants' our teacher mentors, there must be a thousand iterations of this tool. But what an advantage we have with the 'democratisation of media' , we have tools which work. John

MathmanTP said...

I feel like I missed the bus for commenting here, but I'll leave my thoughts for the other latecomers.

In my investigations, students needed guidance by teachers to break education (math in my case) into palatable morsels, with A logical sequence. The idea of factory-line learning is outdated, but the model of groups learning from an expert is going to be hard to break.

The evolution of the revolution will take a while, and ITM has been doing a great job of showing glimpses of where or how it can lead - but doesn't have to lead.

We don't need to go back to apprenticeships for learning, but anything that can nurture a student's passion for something and the learning that follows... the role of the educator is to guide the learner to and through the information required.

But what about the learner who has no passion? I like the sports/fitness/health analogy. Not every kid has a sport that he/she is passionate about, and even exercise may be low in importance. But if the person doesn't have the basic muscles, coordination, balance and stamina, those passions may never have the opportunity to develop.

Throwing this back into education, we see the need for addressing different levels of interest and student goals. While flipping offers chances for all students to build the necessary skills, the more important thing about flipping/inversion/perversion is offering the motivated student the chance to pursue his/her interests under teacher guidance, and yet allowing the unmotivated student the opportunity to follow a manageable pace that can build the foundation for when such interests may come along. And as the "shift happens" video describes, those passions may not even exist yet.

No, flipping is not the final solution, but it sure does allow the opportunity for some change to occur in this outdated education model. And unless some huge problems rear their ugly heads revealing that "flipping is detrimental to learning", we've got to Enjoy the opportunity now and see where it takes us.

Oh yeah, and along the way, let's count the number of problems with "assembly line education" that we don't have to worry about so much anymore.

Unknown said...
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david marcey said...

I recently wrote a grant (with co-PIs) to implement flipping introductory Biology and Physics courses at a small university. In the course of generating a literature review of "flipping," it became clear that Mr. Sams' point about the term being a large umbrella that embraces a variety of teaching models is quite right. Ever since Baker introduced the term the "classroom flip" in 2000, there have been a variety of modalities that can be described as flipping, and the general idea appears to have been independently derived by a number of authors. The use of asynchronously delivered online video and active learning in the classroom, which has gained popularity (especially in secondary education) thanks to the prodigious efforts of Bergmann and Sams, seems to warrant a specific label that differentiates this approach from other ways of flipping. Perhaps the term "CLIC" (Cinematic Lectures & Inverted Classes), which conveys the the creative use of screencasting technology to produce highly engaging, multimedia, online lectures as well as the active learning approach which is the essence of flipping could be useful? I have found "CLIC" to be a practical term that has allowed me to specify a particular model of flipping that many of us have been employing.

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This is quite timely for me in that I am working on my PhD proposal and a large part of it was on the definition of FLIP. To me has become as described above but the essence of flip is to move basic content OUT of the classroom and into the pre-class space, wherever that is. The above "definition" confines FLIP to screencasts, etc. but the original idea is to come to class with "prior knowledge" and content IN the students' heads. It is not a novel idea but the idea of basically having prior knowledge in students before class is essential in order to do Dewey types of experiential hands-on learning and hopefully higher Bloom's Taxonomy thinking. My point is the above definition, screencasting, vodcasting, etc. MAY in fact leave out a lot of faculty. A simple requirement of reading materials or other content oriented pre-class activities may include more faculty IN flipping. The goal, in my mind, is to get more active learning, richer learning in the classroom. Granted, for today's students the video/audio formats MAY enhance and engage but they are NOT necessary. What is necessary is prior learning, engagement, etc. before class and this can be reinforced via quizzes, etc. There need not be ANY lecture, videos, or audio in order to "flip".

Ali Jabry said...

I would love to hear your feedback on how the "Flipped Classroom" approach differs from the "Flex" Blended Learning approach.

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