Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘learning

This is the sixth part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

Yesterday I explained that having students create or co-create content is a critical dimension in flipping because this is an active process of learning.  

Another active learning process is teaching and I include it as my third dimension of flipping. 

Why is it important for students to teach one another?

Teachers know how difficult it is to teach. Let us consider a basic example: One person trying to explain a concept to another person.

Using Bloom’s framework as a reference point, the person trying to explain a concept must be able to recall and comprehend that concept first. That person must combine that understanding with a degree of application to explain it to someone else. The explainer has to juggle these while getting visual, auditory, tactile, or other feedback from the listener. Processing this feedback will require analysis as well as an evaluation of noise vs signal. After deciding what is important to say and show, the explainer will need to synthesize something that makes sense to the listener.

In short, anyone who has to explain a concept to someone else has to constantly recall, process, and reprocess.

Teachers become content experts not primarily because they read up on that content or complete worksheets. They teach that content over and over again and get better at it. They develop deep knowledge of that content and some even fall in love with it, all because they teach it.

If you want students to understand something better, then get them to teach it.

Monarch School Mobile Stories by MACSD, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  MACSD 

Learning is messier than teaching. Some teachers forget that structured teaching does not always lead to learning. Formulaic teaching by a teacher can sometimes take out the discovery, joy, and necessary struggle of learning because the teacher over-simplifies and does the thinking for his/her students.

Leveraging on messiness of learning means applying Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. In a nutshell, cognitive dissonance is mental unease or discomfort due to new information. For example, if you strongly believe that only teachers can be trusted to create content and teach it, what I am proposing about flipping will cause some cognitive dissonance.

When applied to flipping, using cognitive dissonance means strategically allowing learners to struggle with what they think they already know (or do not know) and letting them teach each other what they could know or should know.

For example, a group of learners might wrongly assume that all Muslims are terrorists. A teacher could tell them otherwise, but this is no guarantee that the learners will believe the teacher.

Instead, a teacher could get the learners to analyze and share with one another their findings from various sources of information, e.g., books, articles, interviews, videos, websites. While this does not guarantee a change in mindset, the students learn to think by thinking.

Didactic delivery is faster, but that does not mean that it is effective. If you want students to appreciate something better, get them to teach it.

DSC_0030 by Holtsman, on Flickr
Creative Commons  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Holtsman 

I wager that many teachers have experienced this scenario. They try explaining something ten times to Student A and s/he does not get it every time. Student B comes along and explains the same concept once and Student A has a eureka moment.

Students develop a language and understanding of their own that teachers sometimes cannot or do not tap into. As I summarized earlier, learners:

  • can find ways to make the content more relevant and exciting
  • are more creative with relating concepts or ideas
  • are closer to the “a-ha” moments and reach their peers in a more visceral way

If you want students to learn, get them to teach it.


Getting students to learn by teaching is not a new discovery. Dale first theorized something like this in 1949 and revised it in 1969. He posited that it was more effective to learn by doing concretely than by any other method.

A side note: Dale’s cone was more about the effectiveness of different media forms and experiences. Others after him repurposed it and added numbers to the levels to indicate effectiveness for learning. These numbers have little or no research merit.

If you are still not convinced about the effectiveness of learning-by-teaching, read my quick review of two studies that showed how students who expected to teach or had to teach performed better than those who did not.

There are other reasons why teachers should encourage their students to teach content, e.g., the audience effect (Google it or read my summary near the end of this reflection).

I have described four reasons for flipping who teaches: When students teach content, they have to learn it more deeply, they learn to think more critically, they teach in ways we cannot, and research says they learn better. If these are not good enough reasons to flip learning, I do not know what is.

This is the fifth part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

I shared my three dimensions of flipped learning (flipping) in a video and during various presentations (most notably, Righting the Wrongs of Flipping).

I have previously shared my rationales on the merits of getting learners to create content and to teach as part of the process of flipping.

Today I revisit why it is important for learners to create content.

Teachers are not mind-readers. If they were, they could make a more profitable living elsewhere! A teacher does not know what a student knows (or does not know) until the student tells or shows the teacher.

An educational psychologist might say that these performances are externalized manifestations that provide evidence of internal processes. They are representations of mental schema (Ausubel).

The more tangible and manipulable these representations are from a student, the easier it is for teachers and other learners to compare that student’s schema with their own.

As serendipity would have it, here is a very good example from a teacher, @enoch_ng, who is experimenting with learner-generated content.

It should become obvious that the students who created the video got the eventual answer right, but their explanation for simplifying the fraction was wrong.

I reiterate: Until a teacher gets a student to speak, sing, dance, or otherwise perform and create some content in the process, that teacher is unlikely to know for sure what that student understands or misunderstands.

I cite this example to counter common teacher thinking about the rigour and amount of time for content creation.

Creating content is typically the concern and likely a source of pride for the teacher. This is because an informed teacher will tend to create content that is aligned to learning objectives and curricular requirements.

When I tweeted the thought above, I was referring to content creation not from a teacher’s perspective, but from a learner’s one.

A teacher might be thinking about lesson units. I am referring to content nuggets that students can create to show what they (mis)understand. The content does not have to be a long, complex video. (BTW, the same principle applies in conventional flipping: Teacher-created or curated video is not mandatory or a given.)

When I model this idea in workshops, I get teachers to create quick, simple, and powerful content. For example, they contribute data points via a Google Form which we visualize with graphs; we use online stickies to collect reflections, issues, and opinions; we use Google Slides to co-create quizzes.

Now this does not mean that students not be given slightly more ambitious content to create. This is the domain of reusable learning objects or micro-content. Combine these with getting learners to teach and we have the third dimension of flipping. More on that tomorrow.

This is the fourth part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

In 2009, I tried to balance the components of an overloaded curriculum for a compulsory course for preservice teachers, ICT for Meaningful Learning. The core topics were self-directed learning and collaborative learning. There was also a minor cyberwellness component.

I opted to introduce the cyberwellness topic by asking my student teachers if they would friend their own students in Facebook. I did so outside of class time and used VoiceThread to collect their responses. My student teachers responded enthusiastically and creatively with text, voice, and video. A few even took to performing skits.

One thing I did wrong was not follow up with this activity in class. Assuming that the topic was covered and that teacher intent somehow translates to learner understanding is something some teachers who experiment with flipping might be tempted to do.

The bigger sin was trying to extend curriculum time. There was no time in the planned curriculum for cyberwellness even though the student teachers had to incorporate it into a graded assignment. I relegated that topic to non-class time while telling myself I had partly covered the topic. But I had done this at the expense of my learners’ personal time and I did not facilitate a rise above so that there were clear take home messages.

Imagine if more teachers or instructors gave in to the pressure to complete curricula instead of focusing on actual learning by our students. Collectively we would get our extended curriculum time, but only at the expense of, and not to the benefit of, our learners. As I explained yesterday, we would burden them with a different kind of homework.

How might teachers right this wrong of flipping?

One way is to play the zero sum game. If a class session or workshop is allocated three hours, then keep to a total of three hours instead of trying to create an extra hour from students’ personal time. When I conduct a three-hour workshop, for example, only two hours may be face-to-face time. The other hour is dedicated to online or out-of-workshop time that my participants invest in.

Teachers might argue that they are limited by their timetables. If they gave their students a 15-minute online task before class, how might they return it to their students? If they have a 60-minute class session, they might return that 15 minutes by allowing their students to rest, relax, or do something else.

Another way is to focus on learning instead of teaching. Teachers with curricular concerns worry about width and how much they can cover. Teachers who focus on their learners and learning realize that it is about depth and what their students can uncover.

One of the worst reasons teachers might adopt flipped classrooms is to create more curricular time at the expense of learners’ time. Increasing curriculum time might appeal to an administrator and even to some teachers, but it does not put students at the centre of learning. If a worker would not accept doing overtime work without overtime pay, then we should not expect students to give up their time for your curriculum.

Teachers and school leaders who buy in to the flipped classroom approach might view it as an administrative or curricular solution to create more timetable slots for more teaching time. Focus on what is important: Flipped learning is about the learner and learning; it is not about the teacher, school principal, or the curriculum.

This is the third part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

Yesterday I explained why changing the medium but not the method in a flipped classroom is not flipping.

I used my podcasting experiment in 2007 as an example. That experiment also highlights another potential wrong of flipping: The reinvention of bad homework.

As I had required my students to consume content outside of class, I was assigning homework that was no different from how teachers or tutors tell students to read X chapters before class. I did not consider if such homework was meaningful or effective.

It was not meaningful because my students did not know the rationale for consuming that content in advance. The question that remained unanswered was: “Why am I doing this?”

It was not effective because, even if my students knew why, I did not provide an adequate advance organizer to help them milestone their learning. The question that remained unanswered was: “Where does this fit in the scheme of things?”

Most school homework seems to be dished out because teachers tend to say “Do because I want you to!” or think “Parents will question me if I do not give homework!”.

I am not against homework. I am against unquestioned, unconsidered, and unchanged homework. There is a body of research on the ineffectiveness of homework, how to design it better, and how to use it strategically [see my Diigo links].

38/365: Homework by cplong11, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  cplong11 

How might one right this flipping wrong?

Teachers could reconsider the place for homework. A central idea of a flipped classroom is providing time and space in class for homework. “Home” or “independent” work is when students actually need the help of their teacher and/or peers the most. If you give learners work to complete at home sans structure or help, they will seek it in the form of their parents, friends, or as become common now, their tuition teachers.

The making of meaning typically happens when the learner has to put theory into practice. It does not normally happen when the teacher is talking. That is the reason MOE Singapore has a “teach less, learn more” (TLLM) approach.

However, this approach falls apart if teachers interpret this as teach less because tuition teachers will fill in the gaps. Or teach less but give more homework to compensate. In flipping, TLLM should be (teachers) talk less, (students) do more that is meaningful, and (both) be there as they try.

Teachers could reconsider the design of homework. Instead of drill-and-practice or busy work, teachers might use spaced practice/repetition. Furthermore, instead of requiring only isolated practice, teachers might provide sounding boards in the form of offline or online* peer support.

*When I monitored my son’s use of Edmodo, the most non-teacher initiated postings were by his classmates asking about homework. BTW, Kidblog offers some ideas on how students, teachers, and parents can use social media to help with homework.

Teachers could change the current rationale for homework. If there is a need for homework, make it logical to or driven by learners. Instead of appeasing parents, keeping kids busy, or practising outside of context, teachers could explain the rationale for doing the homework in class. Doing this provides support structure for explaining, clarifying, and reinforcing content.

Doing homework in class also requires curriculum time. This is how a teacher might explain the need for learning content outside of class. As I mentioned yesterday, such content must be redesigned too; it cannot be a simple transfer from face-to-face delivery to online delivery. Ideally such content is designed with the pedagogy of questions so that meaning-making starts outside of class, and continues or is solidified in class.

Rationalizing the where and how of homework is a step towards creating learner ownership. Homework is a chore because kids to do not want to do it (and if teachers are honest, they wish they did not have to check and mark it). Now imagine flipping so that the “delivery” includes problem-finding and the “homework” becomes problem-solving.

When I conducted flipped courses for teachers, I required them to choose and even define topics. They took ownership of those topics and worked hard in the time assigned to them to prepare and facilitate lessons. Their peers did the homework in order to learn and to support their classmates’ efforts.

Doing something like this does not reinvent bad homework. Instead, it creates ownership and autonomy, both of which are desirable outcomes of flipping and characteristics of self-directed learners.

This is the second part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

In the context of schooling and education, flippers are educators who know the differences between the flipped classroom and flipped learning (example), and promote the latter. For the purpose of this week’s focus, I use flipping to refer to flipped learning.

Flippers view flipping as a philosophical orientation, not just a set of instructional strategies. It stems from the desire to do what is best for the learner, even if this is not what is best for the teacher.

If I was pressed to put flipping in pedagogical terms, I would say that flippers apply principles of the pedagogy of questions (PoQ) and the pedagogy of empathy (PoE).

But I am not reflecting on PoQ or PoE. I am focusing on flipped learning all this week and elaborating on the stories in my presentation, Righting the Wrongs of Flipping.

My journey with flipped lessons started in 2007. I decided to provide lecture content outside of a graduate class largely because it was conducted in the evening. I reasoned that this would help my students since:

  1. lectures were the least engaging part of each session
  2. whole class and group discussions got their energy up
  3. they were mostly adults coming to class after work and could listen to lectures just-in-time
  4. they could also consume content at their own pace and place
  5. we could use the time saved on lectures for meaningful discussion in class.

My experiment was short-lived and failed because:

  1. I was still just lecturing
  2. I was (and still am) not a great lecturer
  3. (surprise, surprise) my students did not like lectures no matter how short or interesting they were
  4. I wanted to try a tool that seemed cool at the time.

I had created the appearance of flipping without actually implementing any meaningful change.

My wrongdoing was changing the medium (from face-to-face to online) without changing the method (traditional lecturing). My delivery was still didactic, designed merely to front load, and driven by the pedagogy of answers.

To my credit, I had shortened the lectures and tried to provide outlines or key takeaways. I am aware of other lecturers who do not change lecture duration (same X minutes) or design (e.g., non-interactive, no questions, no strategically placed quizzes) because that is the most efficient way to create “e-learning” resources.

How might one right these flipping wrongs?

Where delivery is still required, video lectures might be redesigned to complement other learning resources like readings or other videos. Such “lectures” might provide summaries or outlines and serve as launch points to other resources. To use an analogy, the “lectures” should be more like tweets and less like book chapters.

Most teachers will be concerned about delivering content and be advised by instructional designers to chunk content. I do not recommend just relying on the chunking strategy. Chunking is like cutting up an elephant into small pieces to force feed a group that is not hungry or unsure why they are sitting at the table.

A more significant way of flipping is to rely on the PoQ. The “lecture” does not focus primarily on content but on actual questions for students to answer, meaningful problems to solve, or challenges to struggle with. I used this strategy when I designed my video series on flipping.

The PoQ requires learners to seek content to answer their questions. It is part of a just-in-time strategy and counter to the just-in-case, front loading strategy that most instructors are taught to employ. As front loading often provides information devoid of need or context, this might explain why learners do not connect with this approach.

Flipping the first wrong so that you do right is not about finding a different method in order to teach the same way. It is about understanding the learner and what drives them to learn. It is about leveraging on questions, application, or problem-solving instead about delivery. It is about changing the way you teach.

This is the first part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

I posted a rather cryptic tweet in the aftermath of #educampsg and in response to a query on flipping.

I unpack the tweet by illustrating with questions or comments that I get frequently from teachers.

One thing that troubles some teachers is the link between flipping and self-directed learning. They realize that for both flipped classrooms and flipped learning to be successful, students must learn to be more independent and self-motivated. However, they put the cart before the horse when they ask questions like: “Doesn’t flipping only favour students who are self-directed?” or “How do I ensure that students complete pre-class work?”

This sort of thinking presumes that self-directedness must be a prerequisite to flipping. They reason that if their students are not motivated, they will not consume content before class and flipping breaks down at the very first step. Furthermore, since academically strong students tend to be more motivated, teachers often make the assumption that flipping favours such students. Since students are not likely to cooperate or if flipping only seems to benefit a few, teachers reason that it is not worth the effort.

That is not how to approach flipping. I argue that well-designed and skillfully-managed flipping is one way of nurturing self-directed learners.

In a conventionally flipped class, a teacher might find out that only half of his/her class watched a video, completed a webquest, or collected some data beforehand. Flipping breaks down if the teacher opts to deliver content again in class. The students who refused to play their part get their way and the ones who followed instructions feel cheated.

A persistent educator will resist the urge to give in and might instead apply social pressure on those who have not completed their work prior to class. This could mean pursuing the in-class activity that is linked to and builds on the out-of-class activity, e.g., a Flubaroo-graded quiz. Both the teacher and the students who did work beforehand apply pressure on those who did not.

This takes time to work and can be very effective should students be provided access to resources whether at home or in school, and if school leaders and parents support the teacher. The students who do not play ball then run out of reasons to not join in the game.

Now all that said, a learner-centred teacher could also provide leeway to those who did not do the work beforehand but were still able to answer questions, solve problems, or complete tasks acceptably. The students could be quick learners or learn non-linearly by picking up cues and clues in class. This means that having self-directed learners is less of an issue here; the capacity of the teacher to differentiate instruction is.

Flipping is not the end result of having self-directed learners; it is a means to that end. Flipping is not a just a product of teachers who are already skilled in differentiating instruction; it is a means for teachers to learn how to do this.

After I present ideas that are old to me but new to an audience, I normally gain a new perspective when I have discussions and answer questions. I get to strengthen the pillars that hold good ideas up, remove weak structures, or test the ones I am not certain of.

My rehashed presentation of Righting the Wrong Flipping Ideas at the recent reboot of #educampsg was one such opportunity. I used the same slides but told the Plan B story that I opted not to use in London.

A result of trying something different was questions, comments, and other follow up that I did not get when I presented in London. Despite an active backchannel and an audience of almost 800 in London, I was provoked to think more about righting the wrongs of flipping by my audience of about 20 at #educampsg. I attribute this to a better informed audience and a more intimate group.

As a result of this, I am going to revisit my reflections on flipped learning over the next week. Since I am conducting a Flipped Primer workshop in another school next week, these blog entries can also be a fresh reference.

This is how I plan on giving back this week to those who generously asked questions and offered their views:

I might move things about a bit, combine ideas, leave them out, or interrupt the flow with something more current. But at least I have a plan.

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets


Usage policy


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,322 other followers

%d bloggers like this: