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Posts Tagged ‘classroom

Sometimes I think I no longer need to repeat some messages because they sound old. But I am constantly reminded that I cannot be complacent.

The messages are diverse. They range from “Singapore does NOT cane you for chewing gum” to “gamification is not the same as game-based learning” or “flipping the classroom is not the same as flipping the learning”.

The cane comment surface just a few days ago. Strangely enough, it stemmed from a tongue-in-cheek remark on Singapore’s Schooling being Number One (the swimmer and our PISA results).

Someone else wanted to know if caning had anything to do with our results.

My reply, tongue firmly in cheek, was this:

We had a short conversation thereafter:

This reminded me of my stay in the US over 15 years ago when I had to remind people that Singapore was not in China and that we did not cane people for chewing gum.

While the conversation was not about caning and gum, I had to inform someone on Twitter that we do not cane boys as easily as we would flick a switch.

In the teaching and learning front, the runaway trains are gamification and the flipped classroom. Both vendors and ill-informed individuals push these without first knowing or caring about their histories, research, or critical practice.

I laud their enthusiasm, but when it is misguided, I make my stand: Gamification is not game-based learning and it is not enough to just flip the classroom.

Sometimes I wonder if harping on these messages makes me the squeaky wheel or the proverbial voice in the desert. Then I remember this Jon Stewart quote: If you smell something, say something.

As a watchdog, I have to be vigilant. As an educator, I remind myself that the old messages are new to someone else.

I was appalled when I read this article, For-Profit Coalition Seeks to Bolster the Flipped-Classroom Approach.

First it defined the flipped classroom like this:

A flipped classroom describes a wide range of educational methods, like just-in-time teaching, peer instruction, and the use of clickers.

It did not distinguish between the flipped classroom and flipped learning. JIT teaching and peer instruction can happen in both, but the former is critical in the flipped classroom and the latter is a key enabler of flipped learning.

How in the world did the “use of clickers” even get mentioned? My guess is the university context of lectures and trying to justify clickers as “interactive” or “participatory”. Clickers are neither and their novelty wears off quickly.

The only things flipping when I read the article were my finger and my stomach. All it had to do to flip my life switch off was to suggest LMS, interactive white boards, and smart rooms as means to flipping.

All these and clickers do little to change pedagogy. I have written for years how these constrain pedagogy or maintain outdated methods instead of encouraging progression.

The article also mentioned how the Flipped Learning Global Initiative would be charging a $5,000 annual fee for groups be identified as partners. Why do this? Errol St. Clair Smith, the director of this group said:

…the initiative’s leaders believe there is a $500-million market for products related to course flipping. They include training, software and hardware, and other services. They expect demand to grow to about $2.4 billion by 2020.

So that is what the effort is about: Taking advantage of a financial opportunity. Never mind that university faculty do not really change how they teach. Just sell them clickers. Lots of clickers.

Yesterday I responded to a query about how flipping drives discovery and student-directed learning.

Today I answer a question about how students might not discover the “right” content by discovering or Googling. I have a few responses.

The first is doing away with the notion that students “get it” only when a teacher delivers content. This is merely an illusion because there is no indication or confirmation that learning has happened.

My second response is that one way to be more certain about student learning is to get students to create content and to teach it. These processes help both students and teachers to see evidence of learning.

My third reply is that teaching wrong content happens anyway, not just in the flipped classroom or when you facilitate flipped learning. Both the student and teacher can be guilty of this. However, when the learning is visible the teacher can jump in and intervene.

Three dimensions of flipped learning.

This is why I include content creation and peer teaching in my model of flipped learning.

Peer teaching is something that instructors can do with strategies like think-pair-share, any variant of the jigsaw method, and class presentations. Content creation might be viewed as a prerequisite for this form of teaching. Without artefacts students have nothing to show during the tell.

However, content creation does not always have to be on the teacher scale or standard. The content that students create can also be externalisations or manifestations of what is in their minds. These can take the form of short reflections, practiced problems, recorded conversations, summary documents, etc.

My fourth response is to agree that simply copying and pasting Google search results may not be valuable learning. Most teachers tend to focus on content from an expert’s point of view. This is how they judge if content is good or not, and right or wrong. However, this is not how a learner processes information because s/he does not have structure.

The structure is put in place by thinking processes. So instead of just focusing on content (what artefacts students find and use), the teacher should also model processes of learning. For example:

  • How do I look for information?
  • How do I verify information or evaluate it?
  • How do I incorporate it into my own work?

This response is not unique to flipping. But a focus on process over product is particularly important in flipped learning because one desired outcome is students who are more independent learners.

Yesterday I reflected on my long-running integration of Padlet in my courses and workshops. I intend to share screenshots of two sets of takeaways and questions from participants at the end of a workshop on flipped learning. I address one concern today and another tomorrow.

Flipped learning takeaway and question.

One concern was whether students uncover content in the way the teacher intended.

I am glad that the participant used the word “uncover” because that was something we practised during the workshop. Uncovering is based on discovery and not on the traditional notions of a fixed curriculum, recipe-like strategies, and narrow outcomes.

This does not mean that the process is haphazard. In the past, I have described the implementation as creating serendipity.

One way to design the learning experience is to envision a large plot of land in which you have buried opportunities for learners to unearth. They not only dig up treasures (content-based learning about), they also figure out how to problem seek and problem solve (skills-based learning to be).

My reply to the query is that a strategy like flipping is a means of transferring the ownership of learning to the students. While the teacher is concerned with curriculum, schemes of work, worksheets, and other standard practices, these are not always congruent with the overall design and ultimate goal of flipping.

To put it simply, the standard terms, practices, and tools that a teacher is comfortable with are not necessarily what learners understand and need. The teacher may be armed with a spoon to feed; the students need shovels and other more varied and complex tools.

The teacher may be prepared to deliver; the students need to discover. It is inevitable that the scope of what the teacher expects will be much narrower than what the students discover.

Returning to my analogy of the plot of land with buried treasure, what if students discover relevant and useful nuggets elsewhere? What if they go beyond just digging (e.g., clicking on links in web quests) to surveying with drones and satellites (e.g., Googling, YouTubing) or communicating with previous treasure hunters (e.g., tweeting content experts, consulting Facebook contacts)?

One concern that teachers might have is what if students unearth the “wrong” things? I address that concern tomorrow.

A few months ago, I tweet-wondered this out loud.

I ask again: If we can now work just about anywhere, what could modern offices offer?

As an educator, I also ask: If we can study anywhere, why do the majority of classrooms still look like classrooms? Why do they not look more like a Starbucks, as this educator envisions?

Mindsets. They not only shape thoughts and behaviours, they dictate design and implementation.

Let me give you an example. I still get requests for contacts for vendors who can construct “special rooms” in schools.

NIE collaborative classroom in 2009.

NIE collaborative classroom in 2009. Photo by William Oh.

There are not many good reasons to have special rooms. Having a place to show off when visitors come a-knocking is not a good reason. Having an excess of funds is not a good reason to build a special room.

Having rooms that challenge pedagogy, perplex teachers, and enable meaningful, powerful learning is important. But do we need special rooms to do that? What messages does that send if we do?

Every room should be special. That way they become ordinary and accessible to all. Every teacher should have professional development to learn how to integrate technology effectively. Every student should be consume and create because of technology-enabled learning.

To do any less is to make lame excuses while spouting 21st century rhetoric.


The flipped classroom swaps WHAT happens WHERE. Flipped learning changes WHO does WHAT.

After I help participants define the flipped classroom and flipped learning, I summarise by saying this: The flipped classroom swaps WHAT happens WHERE. Flipped learning changes WHO does WHAT.

That is not to say that the two concepts and practices do not overlap. I also try to illustrate how they do.

Three dimensions of flipping.

Nevertheless, I still advise teachers to flip so that students create content and peer teach. These are among the best ways to learn and based on sound pedagogical principles.

Both creating content and teaching are forms of visible thinking and visible learning.

Creating content externalises mental schema so that a teacher can diagnose and remediate misconceptions.

Teaching requires learners to process and reprocess content. It takes advantage of the proximity that learners have with one another in terms of their experiences, language, and examples. It brings order to the messiness of learning and provides an audience for learners to practice on.

It has been a flipping good start to 2016. Tomorrow I conduct my fourth flipped learning event at a partner institute.

I revisited some of my previous resources, and never content to rest on my laurels, decided to update some of them with newer references and tighter reasoning.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

I plan on using several quotes to provoke thought and create some dissonance. This quote is my favourite of the bunch and I am glad that someone generously shared a near perfect photo of neat and messy clothes.

I am fond of saying it the other way around: Learning is messy; teaching is neat. I swapped the positions of the phrases to suit the photo.

I will share this saying to make a point. One reason why teaching does not lead to learning is because the teacher does not understand or tolerate the messiness of learning.

Teachers are likely to have achieved some order from the chaos in order to gain expertise. They try to maintain this order because everything in schooling is about neatly arranged curricula, tests, and grades.

Most teachers rely on strategies that they have been taught, e.g., deliver, practice, homework, test. If teachers reflect critically on how they know content so well, they might realise that they learnt and mastered content by teaching it.

To teach something well is to first deeply relate to it. This is the initial level of complex processing. Most teachers cycle through these processes with their students when they teach. They might not realise that to teach that content to someone else requires another level of even more complex reprocessing. That is what leads to mastery because it is one form of authentic use of the content.

This is one reason why I maintain that teaching to learn is one of the three dimensions of flipped learning. A flipped classroom might take learners through the first cycle of learning; it does not necessarily challenge them with the second cycle. So I challenge teachers to reflect critically on this and to change their mindsets on what constitutes effective design and instruction.

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