A Flipped Classroom Primer

There are a variety of working definitions for the flipped classroom.  Some define it in a functional way.  They might refer to it as having students experience the lecture (or other content) outside of class and using classroom time for deeper learning.  Others define it by highlighting an affordance of the flip.  It might be something like, “Using technology in a way that allows the teacher to spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing.”  Or, it might be “Using technology in a way that allows the teacher to spend more time addressing individual needs of learners instead of lecturing.”

It can also be valuable to understand the flipped classroom by comparing it to another phrase, blended learning.  For some, blended learning involves replacing some classroom time with other digital learning activities.  Others define blended as simply a mix or blend of face-to-face and digital learning experiences, regardless of whether or not the digital experiences replace or supplement face-to-face learning activities.  Where does the flipped classroom fit with regard to blended learning? I like think of blended learning as the broader term, and the flipped classroom as one way of going about blending.  For a helpful visual example of this, check out the Innosight Institute’s “Classifying K-12 Blended Learning.”

The term flipped classroom has some synonyms.  You may come across journals and blog posts that call it by other names: the inverted classroom, the reverse classroom, or the backwards classroom. In these instances, the name still depends upon one’s understanding of a traditional classroom.  Largely, it is named by what it is not, or how it is different from a traditional classroom where the teacher devotes most of the time presenting content in one form or another.  Of course, many teachers do not spend the majority of time presenting content, but teach using a variety of cooperative, collaborative and project-based formats.  Nonetheless, the very name “flipped” as the opposite of a lecture-based class comes from the history of the term.

The idea of the flip has clearly been around longer than the name “flipped classroom.”  In fact, we can trace the beginnings of the flip back to the time when books and pamphlets were able to be mass-produced and made available to each learner.  As soon as media could be mass-produced, aspects of the flip became possible.  Prior to that, one of the most important roles of the teacher or professor was the dissemination of content in well-chuncked, clear, and understandable ways.  As various forms of media became more readily available (e.g. textbooks. libraries, cassette recorders), new teaching and learning strategies became possible.

With regard to the flip, the history goes back to the turn of the century, with a presentation at the International Conference on College Teaching and Learning entitled “The Classroom Flip: Using Web Course Management Tools to Become a Guide by the Side.”  Note that the title of this presentation actually popularized two phrases.  The first is the “classroom flip.”  The other is the phrase, “guide by the side.”  This is the first instance that I recall reading an article that referenced the teacher as a “guide on the side” and not a “sage on the stage.”  The article highlights a new affordance of the learning management system, allowing the instructor to make classroom lecture materials available to the learners before the start of the face-to-face class session. This allowed the instructor to plan class activities where students applied, analyzed, created, and experimented.  Having the basics down before class, students could engage in deeper and more substantive activities.  Note that this early reference focused on the affordance of taking students to a deeper level of learning.

A second article, published just a year later, focused on yet another afforadance of an inverted or flipped classroom: the ability to customize, differentiate, or meet the individual needs of each learner during the classroom. In, “Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment”, Lage, Platt & Treglia note that inverting the classroom allows the instructor to move from an industrial model of teaching and learning or a one-size fits all approach (not that they used these same metaphors in the article), to one where the teacher coaches, guides, mentors and helps each learner during the class period.

Only a few years later, between 2004 and 2007, we saw the multimedia revolution on the web.  This is the time period where companies like YouTube, Vimeo, TeacherTube, and Khan’s Academy started.  For the first time in history, people with inexpensive cameras, microphones or other capture devices could quickly create and easily share video with people around the world.  All of this, especially Kahn Academy, served to amplify the possibilities of individual teachers flipping their classroom with video lectures (not that video is required to flip…you can also have a flipped classroom with text-based content).  It is during this same period that we see the open learning and open courseware movements gaining traction, especially in the form of things like iTunes University, and many Universities creating sites where they freely distribute lectures from excellent (or at least willing) instructors.  With these developments over less than a five-year period, the teacher electing to use a flipped classroom model gained the power to leverage pre-existing media from places like Kahn Academy or iTunes University.  Or, they could just as easily create and distribute their own video content, whether it be just for their students, or freely shared on the web.

Given these developments, most any teacher with a laptop and Internet access can flip a class (of course, one is wise to also ensure that students have the necessary technologies).  For those who are interested in designing a flipped classroom by using pre-existing media, there is now a massive collective of resources at your disposal.  Check out my Diigo List as a good place to start.  It includes links to places like YouTube U, iTunes U, Academic Earth, Open Yale Courses, and more. For those who want to design their own video or multimedia, many simple and free options are also available. If you want to do screen sharing or speak over Powerpoints, you might want to try something like Camtasia Studio, Jing, SnagIt, or any number of Android and Ipad apps.  If people want to start with a straightforward video lecture, I often suggest that they try YouTube, especially given that it is free and has a very easy to use video recording tool built right into the web site (no additional software needed).  Once one creates the video content, I often encourage people to try the TedEd site, which has everything that you need to design a flipped lesson (quizzes, checks for understanding, instructions, embedded video, etc.).

Of course, it does help to think about learning experience design as well.  For that, I offer this simple visual below.  It divides the planning into three stages: before class, during class, and after class.  Many times, teachers spend almost all of their planning on the during class stage, but effective flipped classroom designs require one to be just as intentional about planning the before and after class activities.  Note in this visual that you also get three different times to check for student understanding.  You can use quizzes (formal or informal, graded or ungraded), have students reflect upon what they understood or didn’t understand (See this article on recursive teaching practices for formative assessment or checking for understanding ideas), or any number of assessment activities.

Another part of the visual below is Bloom’s taxonomy. The pre-class activities turn into times where learners focus on the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: remembering and understanding.  This is a time to get familiar with the terms, phrases, and concepts.  Too often, teachers with significant content knowledge and professors with graduate degrees spend entire class periods focusing on these lower levels, when what they most have to offer to students is their expertise and guidance in learning to think about the content at a higher level.  This visual shows that the flipped classroom design allows room for classroom activities that focus upon those higher levels of thinking as students explore projects, cases, problems, and questions.  These are often more collaborative, cooperative, student-centered, experimental or experiential activities.  Finally, once the class is over, there is yet a third stage of planning, one where the teacher can design more experiences that require the learner to dig even deeper into the content (or just to review a few basic concepts once more).  This follow-up allows the learners to test out their newly found knowledge and skill away from the class and support of the “guide on the side.”

By the way, you will notice a quote at the top of the three columns in the visual.  Those exist for a simple comparison or illustration. I compare learning new things to dating.  The “before class” stage is like meeting a person of interest for the first time.  That is where you are just trying things out a bit, simply learning about each other. Next, during class, that is like going out on some sort of date, doing something together.  That is where you really get to know each other as you spend time with each other.  Finally, in the “after class” stage, you decide to commit, perhaps in some sort of formal relationship.  That represents the stage when the learner comes to really own the content or the learning, to develop a deeper and more intimate relationship with it.  People don’t just jump to the commitment stage in relationships, and it doesn’t work well when learning new things either.

Ultimately, this simple outline for a flip helps us to design learning experiences that reflect the way that we are wired to relate and learn.

beforeduringafter flip

There you have it.  That is my quick 15-minute primer on the flipped classroom.  I hope that you find it useful.  If you have other resources to suggest or questions, please feel free to send me a quick voice message using the tool on the right of your screen (might not show up on all mobile devices).  Or, consider posting a comment.

3 Replies to “A Flipped Classroom Primer”

  1. Dr. Buri

    Nicely put, Bernard. The diagram illustrates this very well.
    I have enjoyed your posts and blogs and have found very good value in them as well.

  2. Gail Potratz

    Working on a flipped lesson today and really appreciating your explanation of the three parts of the lesson and how the emphasis needs to be equally in all three parts in order to be successful. Well stated pedagogy! I’ll be referring to this piece in our next Welstech Podcast – Topic: Flipped Classrooms

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