A simple search of the flipped classroom topic still produces numerous responses. An academic search in ProQuest produces over 2,000 scholarly articles published in each of the last 4 years. Most of the movement towards the topic has occurred in the last few years. As more and more programs and instructors at all levels flip their classrooms, it is time to stop, reflect, and evaluate how well the efforts are working to improve mastery of content for students. A survey of some of the more recent articles provides a glimpse into the progress and efforts towards flipping classrooms.
Flipping A Classroom Takes Time!
One recent article from October reported on the biggest lesson learned from flipping the classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education article by Talbert (2013) reveals a few key “aha!” moments. One “aha!” that I think gets ignored, (or perhaps it is acknowledged but eventually becomes the reason why many flipped efforts fail), is the about of time it takes an instructor to truly flip a classroom.
Talbert (2013) reminds all of us that a flipped classroom requires video creation, activities to create, differentiated instruction to build and as he states it: “the core of this project is a goal of nothing less than a complete reinvention of freshman calculus at the university level” (para. 1). It is similar to the origins of online learning courses.
Unlike on-ground courses where the academic could walk into each lecture armed with the knowledge in his or her head and talk about the topic of the day with precision, accuracy and sometimes entertainment, both flipping a classroom and building an online course take hours of preparation in advance. Done at a high-quality level, the amount of prep time could be tremendous. Online learning has continued to progress, so if flipping produces distinct advantages over traditional delivery, it is likely to persist even with the heavy preparation workload.
Time Management is Key
An additional outcome discovered and revealed in Talbert’s (2013) article shows that the difficulty students have with the process may or may not have to do with content mastery but rather time management.
A well-flipped classroom as Talbert (2013) is describing includes many of the core principles of good teaching, such as content presented in multiple media and multiple varied assessments. In one unit of study, students might encounter 5 or 6 different tasks required to learn the content, practice new knowledge and solidify that knowledge in order to build and move on to the next step.
The difficulties Talbert’s (2013) students are encountering is keeping up with all the required tasks and completing them by deadlines.
We have to realize that a shift in traditional delivery from lectures accompanied by two exams and a few papers to a variety or readings, watching videos, participating in activities and still writing papers and taking the two exams forces the students to be more organized. It is not surprising that this ancillary consequence has risen from flipped efforts.
Talbert (2013) does a good job of explaining that it is a larger issue than just starting the semester with organization lessons; it is a paradigm shift for how students view studying and learning in postsecondary education. Is it worth ditching efforts around the flipped classroom? No, it is probably not worth tossing the whole effort. However, what about some other findings?
Is It Worth It?
While many empirical studies about flipping the classroom are occurring right now, some preliminary results have been reported. Referring to a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to study the effects of flipping the classroom and student results, USA Today and The Chronicle of Higher Ed report that the first year’s preliminary results show no improvement between flipped and un-flipped classrooms (Atteberry, 2013; Winston, 2013). Both articles stress that the study is incomplete, but even so, if there is not much gain in learning when using a flipped classroom model, is it worth all the effort to plan and implement?
I am inclined to say—yes, it might still be worth it. An ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) article in Educational Leadership discusses the implied benefits of flipping the classroom and why we should continue down this path even while we wait for the complete empirical results.
I have always said that good teaching is good teaching regardless of the motivation. While empirical evidence will lend much credence to the statement that flipped classrooms are good teaching, while we wait, we can use our other skills to evaluate. As Goodwin and Miller (2013) remind us, who can really say that Ben Stein’s efforts to engage Ferris Bueller’s classmates in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is good quality teaching? Lectures are easy but not necessarily the best practice. Ultimately, the studies will determine how much effort we should invest in flipping classrooms.
If it weren’t such an investment of one’s time to build a flipped course, it would be easier to fully jump on board. For now, high student engagement, opportunities for real-time feedback, and self-paced learning (Goodwin and Miller, 2013) are all methods I try to include in my courses.
Until I hear it is doing more harm than good, I will continue to strive towards a class environment that includes such core principles of good teaching.
Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy on liberating the classroom for creativity.