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Breakdowns in the flipped classroom

Posted on: September 16, 2015

There are many areas where the design of the flipped classroom can break down. I describe what might be the top three problems. I do not offer direct solutions because teachers should be flipping the learning instead [1] [2].

Day 146: Do Not Breakdown by jk5854, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  jk5854 

Resource preparation
The first is the teacher not knowing how to design videos or learning resources for out-of-class learning. Let us take videos for example. The first instinct that most teachers have is to record videos of themselves teaching.

Doing this is an attempt to transfer the old method to the new medium. This rarely works because the offline factors like one’s presence and the ability to look people in the eye do not transfer online.

An hour-long face-to-face lecture loses the contextual cues and social pressure online that an instructor can provide offline. Besides, half of users are likely stop watching an online video one minute in, so an hour is pointless. An EdX study on educational videos revealed that learner patience “maxes out at 6 minutes”.

Out-of-class work
A second major issue is students not watching the videos or completing the out-of-class work. This is not a new problem because students have not been doing what their teachers want for the longest time. As long as learners do not have ownership of the processes of a flipped classroom, they will continue to defy their teachers.

I have excluded the learners without access to technology or resources because in most modern contexts, this proportion gets smaller every day. According to the most recent SingStats (Sep 2014), 83% of all Singapore households (including the very low income) have computer access.

That is not to say a lack of access is not important. It is just that I have noticed teachers and leaders use this as a convenient excuse not to flip classrooms. If they bother to find out, they might discover that one or two in ten students might not have ready access. They prevent the other eight or nine from benefitting instead of finding ways (e.g., libraries, aftercare centers, equipment loan) to provide access to those without.

But back to the second issue of students not completing work. Students will not do what does not interest or motivate them. Graduate students do not read papers or chapters assigned by their professors*, younger students do not complete worksheets, and dogs conveniently eat homework.

*On a related note, I often hear this from my seminar or workshop participants: “Oh, I have flipped my classroom but did not realize it!” or “So what I experienced so many years ago was flipping?”. No, you have not and did not. Doing half the job (assigning out-of-class work) is not doing the whole job. If you find it easy to flip, then you are probably not doing it right.

In-class pedagogies
The flipped classroom gets its strength from what happens when everyone returns to the classroom having done something meaningful outside of it. But here is the third breakdown: Some teachers might not know what to do when students are back in class.

They might not know how to keep the self-directed inquiry going, to promote productive collaboration, to leverage on timely technologies, etc. Teachers might not know how to teach or facilitate differently from how they were taught.

Teachers need to learn how to be mentors, coaches, facilitators, guides (on the side), and meddlers (in the middle). It is disconcerting to unlearn and relearn when talking and teaching conventionally seem so efficient and easy.

So I say again: If you find it easy to flip, then you are probably not doing it right. You flip because you care first about your learners and learning, not about curriculum, exams, or policies that shift with the wind.

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