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Justifying my three dimensions of flipping

Posted on: September 29, 2014

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When I came up with the three dimensions of flipped learning last year, I did so because I thought that some commonly implemented ideas of the flipped classroom were flat, teacher-centred, and even irresponsible.

If teachers use video cameras and YouTube to flip their classrooms, they are might be simply substituting themselves with technology equivalents. Alternatively, they might just be augmenting the lesson because their students can now pause, replay, skip, or speed up parts.

Why does this superficial change happen? When teachers think first of content and videos, they are doing the same thing they have done before: Focusing on the curricular race and didactic delivery.

When that happens, teachers worry about the quality of their videos, the access their learners have to technology, and whether students obediently consume content before coming to class. These are not wrong in themselves, but these teaching foci are less important than learning foci.

Far too few think about how to improve the other half of the flip when they meet in the classroom. For example, how the lesson could be redesigned to focus on remediation, feedback, individualization, differentiation, etc.

Furthermore, far too many think of flipped classrooms as a way to help increase curricular time by using travel, family, or personal time of students.

The first dimension of flipping should be about learners and learning, not about the teacher and teaching.

In the other two dimensions of flipping, the role of the teacher and content creator are flipped. Students teach in order to learn deeply and they prepare content like a teacher would in order to teach.

Why get learners to teach?

Teachers know their content well because they teach it over and over again. The cyclic processing, reprocessing, and reflection hone teachers’ internalization and treatment of content. So why not let students do something similar?

Learning Pyramid by dkuropatwa, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  dkuropatwa 

The oft cited theoretical basis for teaching-to-learn is the Learning Pyramid and how different strategies lead to different retention rates.

Side note: I have not found a reliable source for this model despite the labels on graphics like the one above. It seems to be a variation of Dale’s Cone of Experience. But any practitioner will be able to relate to how an instructor develops content competency and confidence by repeated teaching. Any theoretician with knowledge of the information processing model of the mind will be able to rationalize the merits of learners-as-teachers.

Side note 2: Learning is messy and does not happen by numbers nor does it form a neat pyramid. At best the model should be used as a visualization on what might lead to meaningful learning. It is not a reliable descriptive model. It is definitely not a prescriptive model with which to design courses or programmes.

Why get learners to create content?

Artefacts are externalized manifestations that provide evidence of internal processes. In simple speak: You do not know what a learner knows, does not know, or misunderstands, until you get him or her to explain it to you.

The creations can vary in complexity from a summarizing tweet to a concept map to a musical play.

Content when performed as evidence of learning requires viewership. In traditional instruction, each student typically has an audience of one — the teacher. In flipped learning, the student has a larger audience that could comprise a small group, the whole class, or anyone in the world. This is the audience effect.

Most people will intrinsically understand how having an audience “ups the ante” because of the social and reputational pressure.

I explained the audience effect at two talks I gave a while ago. I cited a Vanderbilt study where the learning outcomes of three treatment groups of kids were measured. Predictably, the kids who had an authentic audience performed the best.

The second and third dimensions of flipped learning are what really give flipping its shape and depth. They focus on the learner and what they can do to learn more meaningfully and effectively. They also remove the unnecessary pressure for teachers to prepare content all the time. However, they require teachers to unlearn old content-focused habits and relearn how to operate as true facilitators.

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