Flipped Classroom Point

I wrote the following essay as a response to the ISTE Community Point/Counterpoint question: “To Flip, or Not to Flip?” You can see the discussion on the ISTE Community Forum.


The Flipped Classroom has enjoyed a boost in popularity recently. Unfortunately, the focus has been on the distorted idea that students spend all their time listening to web-based lectures and completing worksheets.

A true flipped classroom is centered on the idea that technology can help us deliver quality teaching when and where the students are ready for it. Teaching methodology must be pedagogically sound in order for a flipped classroom to be effective, but that is no different than any other method being explored by teachers.

Having said that, the flipped classroom is an extremely effective way to A) reduce the cognitive load of learning new content (Musallam 2010), B) open up time with students for differentiation and personalized learning, and C) be a powerful tool in a teacher’s arsenal of teaching strategies.

There are multiple articles (Musallam 2010, Overmyer 2011) published that show that a flipped classroom (or even using video as a teaching tool) can help students learn difficult content at an appropriate pace. Not all material can or should be taught using constructivist or inquiry approaches, and it is a well-known fact that people learn at different rates. Rather than forcing pupils to learn on a set timetable, the flipped classroom allows students to learn in a variable, scaled environment. Students that work quickly through content can be pushed to higher levels of reasoning while students that work slower can be nurtured and guided by the teacher. The time I would spend talking to a group of passive listeners is now spent engaging every student every day at a level appropriate for their individual learning needs.

The flipped classroom does not claim to be 100% constructivist, nor is it exclusively based on direct instruction. Rather, it is a blend of tools used when and where they are appropriate. When direct instruction is appropriate, it can be recorded as a video. When inquiry is appropriate, I can use inquiry in class and then offer the opportunity of reinforcement through a short video tutorial. I do not require students to watch my videos, but they are an available resource for learning. Many times, students end up curating and sharing their own discoveries in their learning.

Finally, technology limitations are often a cited reason to avoid a flipped classroom at all costs. Again, there are workarounds to this problem. Many times, students can use a flash drive to share the content with one another. Sometimes, teachers are even taking a portion of their classroom budget to buy the drives for students lacking their own resources. DVD’s can also be burned (although on a limited basis for rare access situations) with the chapter’s videos for students to watch at home. In these cases, parents begin to learn with their students each night at home. With the optimal video length ranging from 8 – 15 minutes, there is usually a significant decrease in “homework” time listening to the material the first time through. Flipping can also be done without assigning homework at all. Particularly for me, there are students that choose to listen to videos in class in small, collaborative work groups (self-assigned groups). The groups then support one another through the material.

All in all, the flipped classroom is not a panacea, nor does it claim to be. It is unfair to relegate it to the section of “completely hopeless” education ideas. There is a growing number of educators, myself included, who are working to remove the time variable in schools by developing and supporting students in flipped classrooms, and that endeavor alone is a step in the right direction.

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