What is Flipped Classrooms, the Methodology that is Transforming Education?

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One of the many advantages of incorporating technology to the classroom is that it makes it a lot easier for educators to employ different methodologies that allow students to learn more, to acquire different abilities beyond the subject’s content, and to become engaged in the learning process. Today we will take a look into Flipped Classrooms, one of such methodologies, which is having great impact in many schools and universities.

What is Flipped Classrooms?

Unlike traditional teaching courses, when students are first exposed to new material at the classes, and then move on to assimilate that knowledge on their own through individual exercises, further readings, and home projects, on Flipped Classrooms these factors are inverted. When working with this methodology students get the first exposure to a topic on their own, before the class, through books, videos, and interactive materials such as presentations. Having engulfed these contents, they use the class time to process the knowledge by working together with their classmates and teachers to analyze, synthetize, solve problems, and do all kinds of exercises.

There are basically four pillars that make up a successful Flipped Classrooms application:

  1. Students need to gain exposure to the topic before the class.
  2. Students must get incentives to go through the material and get immersed in the topic.
  3. A mechanism needs to be in place in order to evaluate how well has every individual student understood the lesson.
  4. Teachers should propose in-class activities that focus on higher-level cognitive activities, in order to help students understand each topic.

Pre-class Exposure to Topics

There are many options when it comes to exposing students to a topic before the class. Technology has widely facilitated this, as many teachers are choosing to record their lessons and send them over in the form of a video to their students, so that they get the same kind of information and experience they would get should they attend to the lesson in a classroom. However, many educators also include other materials as a complement, or as the core sources of information for their students. These materials can be as varied as videos created by other teachers, online courses from platforms like Coursera, edX, Khan Academy and other MOOCs, powerpoint presentations, e-books, etc. These materials, however, should not necessarily be digital, as they can be replaced by traditional book chapters, magazine articles, printed papers and studies, or any other kind of physical format.

Incentives to Learn

In “Effective Learning”, a book written by Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson in 1998, the authors argue that it is essential to ensure that students do the right preparation before classes, as otherwise the whole process can not be instrumented. For that purpose, they suggest that students should be given some form of assignment prior to the class, for which they would ideally receive feedback orally as they present it to their teachers and peers at the time of the lesson.

Other educators, however, prefer to instrument other forms to correct and provide feedback for these assignments. In some cases, short essays or exercises are requested from students, and teachers will randomly select and correct a few during the class. Not knowing whether they will be asked to hand in their work, all students will have the incentive to do it every time. In other cases, students will be asked to deliver micro lectures on the topics, or will just be evaluated by their ability to take part in the class debate, or to ask question. And while the way this point is implemented is up to each teacher, it is essential that students are accountable for immersing themselves into the learning process.

Student Understanding Assessment

Since educators are not physically present at the time students are taking the lesson, it is important they develop methods to measure whether they are understanding the material, and discover what kinds of questions are coming up. For this reason many educators use surveys and quizzes, both before and during the classes, which allow them to determine how well versed students are in each topic. This way they can tailor the classes in order to address the most common questions, the topics that were less understood, and to propose discussions and exercises that everyone will be able to take a part in.

In-class Activities

Finally, Flipped Classrooms require some kind of activity to be performed during the classes, in order to help students get better acquainted with the materials and lessons they consumed before. The nature of these exercises will vary according to each class’ topic and goal, but they will usually involve debates and discussions, data analysis, group work, and other highly engaging and collaborative activities.

A Versatile Technique

Applying this technique by no means involves abandoning the classic lecture model altogether since at times, educators will use the class to expand on a particular topic. These lessons, however, become deeper and more insightful once students have taken the time to get immersed in the subject. In an article published by The New York Times in 2012 about new trends in blended education, what some teachers and students value most about this technique is not reducing the amount of time lectures take in regular classes, but rather gaining time for “higher-order thinking activities”, to explain topics further, and to create a space for collaboration where a better understanding of contents can be reached.

The Flipped Classrooms technique, as other educational methodologies, is not set in stone, and its implementation will differ for every topic and educator. The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching identified a series of variations to this technique, that have been applied with great success in the teaching of different subjects both at that and other institutions. Some of these methods, for example, involve taking class time to have students work in small groups on real life problems, or on case studies, applying the newly acquired knowledge, and devoting small portions of time on teacher lectures on the topics that generate more questions. Another method, called “Peer Instruction”, uses class time for teachers and students who volunteer to deliver mini-lectures and to answer conceptual questions. Educators find out which topics they need to address more profoundly, by conducting anonymous quizzes by the means of a technological platform, which allows them to evaluate how well versed students are in each particular topic.

The Role of Technology

While this methodology was first proposed in the 90s, before most schools and educators had access to the Internet and the variety of Ed Tech tools available today, technology plays a vital role in the development of this methodology. Technological tools such as e-mail, LMSs, platforms created for schools that allow teachers and students to communicate with each other, and even traditional social networks, make it easy for educators to distribute the appropriate material among students, be it in the form of graphics, text, audio or video, and to give them the chance to ask questions and receive answers and feedback before the lesson.

Additionally, the massive amount of information, teacher resources, recorded lessons, and online courses available today in the web is so vast, that even educators who don’t have the time to record every single lesson can take advantage of these contents in order to deliver very useful materials to their students. So, while it is not essential, technology makes this methodology accessible for classes in all levels, and in pretty much any kind of institution.

Flipped Classrooms are only one of the many methodologies that are revolutionizing education, and that are helping teachers become more effective both in delivering traditional content, and in helping their students develop the tools they need to thrive in the ever-evolving world they will be living in.


Photo: rhodesj (CC by 2.0)


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