2 Problems with Flipping the Classroom

There has been a lot of talk lately about this idea of “flipping the classroom”.  For those of you not familiar with this concept, it most often involves putting teacher lectures and explanations on video, and hosting those videos online so that students can watch them outside of school; teachers can then spend more time working one on one or with small groups of students during class time.  It can also encompass any kind of plan where technology accessed outside the classroom replaces the traditional lecture format. Knewton provides this excellent flipped classroom infographic.
Flipped Classroom
Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

On the surface, this seems like an excellent approach; after all, what teacher wouldn’t love to see these results?  I see two significant problems with the implementation of a flipped classroom, however.

  • Limited applicability in high needs schools
    • The flipped classroom model relies on students interacting with teacher created videos or other web-based resources outside of classtime, in order to gain a basic understanding of the content.  In a high need school, there may be a lack of video recording equipment or webcams on computers and there may not be access in each classroom to high speed internet.  School districts may also have blocked access to websites like YouTube where teachers can easily upload video.  Additionally, students may not have access in the home to a working computer, much less one with reliable high speed internet access.  If they do have access, it may be shared among several family members, limiting the time they have to sit and watch video or interact with web-based resources.  Certainly smartphones are becoming more and more common, but not common enough for teachers to be able to rely on them for a flipped classroom model, especially among younger students.
  • Misunderstanding the nature of the flipped classroom 
    • When people refer to the flipped classroom, they are often referring to the model of teachers recording lectures, posting them online, and having students watch them at home.  If, however, the lectures are a 30 minute long, monotone speech, then obviously this is going to be no more effective than an in-class 30 minute long, monotone speech.  Gradually falling asleep in front of your computer, in fact, may be even easier than gradually falling asleep in the classroom.  The same goes for the work in class.  Teachers cannot simply take what they’ve been assigning for homework and plop it into the classroom.  If students are sitting at their desks independently filling out a worksheet, you’re doing it wrong. Not to mention, that method of flipping the classroom sounds horribly time consuming.

This isn’t to say that the flipped classroom model isn’t useful; any teacher or administrator thinking about flipping the classroom should be well aware of these potential issues, however.

Thinking through these issues made me consider what it is that teachers are trying to achieve with the flipped classroom; I pored through what people online are saying about the flipped classroom and found a few common themes.

  • More one on one interaction between teacher and student.
  • More time for students to collaborate.
  • Increased student choice in the learning process.
  • Higher student achievement.

The last item is often touted as the end result of the flipped classroom model.   The first three, while certainly possible through a flipped classroom model, are not exclusive to the flipped classroom model.  While I am a big proponent of teachers becoming tech savvy and new media literate, I don’t think more technology is always the answer.  Perhaps what we need to be recommending, instead of the flipped classroom, is inquiry-based learning, student autonomy, and authentic assessment, with the flipped classroom being just one of the potential options available.  Certainly these approaches can be applied regardless of the amount or type of resources available to students, and will encourage the “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage.”

Have you had experience with flipping your classroom, or being a student in a flipped classroom? Share your story! Was it effective?

4 thoughts on “2 Problems with Flipping the Classroom

  1. I do not have experience in a flipped classroom, but as a college student, have lots of experience with professors who are more discussion leaders than "people there to feed you knowledge". I have had high school teachers who attempt this, but end up failing because students aren't used to the system. I believe the idea of teachers stepping back and facilitating our own thinking skills can be really powerful. You are right that the technology barrier is there, but what about if school libraries were to stay open longer and serve as a place to study? (With maybe a laptop rental service?) Renting laptops could also work if there are community centers (or I suppose Starbucks and McDonalds) that offer free wifi.

  2. The problem with your suggestion is that you're assuming that there are working computers in the library, or that laptops rental is an option. In my last experience in a high need school, we had 3 barely working, ancient computers in the back of the classroom, and 1 computer lab (approximately 35 computers) for 1500 students. There were no computers in the library, nor were there any available for checkout. Even the teachers only had access to very old laptops, and our school didn't even use the district-wide email system (not enough access to technology to make it feasible). This was only about 4 years ago…

  3. Speaking on the technology issues, believe me, I've been there and been frustrated by that as well. However, I do want to say that the school district I attended, LAUSD, has recently adopted a policy giving every student a free iPad. They did this knowing that there are severe problems with the technological infrastructure of the classrooms: classroom computers that are old and broken, printers that aren't wireless.. and so on. In addition, the school libraries now have plasma TV screens. It is contradictory and ineffective, and doing this waters down the benefits of free iPads to all students. My suggestion of a laptop rental service is much more targeted. It would consist of students who need laptops going to a place, such as the library, and checking them out for a day. That way, by having to check it out daily, only the students who really need one would get one. And so the root of the issues with having no laptops, really bad computers in the classrooms and slow printers in the classrooms, I believe comes down to the mismanagement of money, and the creation of "one-size fits all solutions", such as the giving of free iPads instead.

  4. Absolutely! If the money is there and is being used poorly, obviously that's the primary problem. Just giving out iPads will do absolutely nothing to improve education. Instead, the money needs to be spent wisely not just on making sure classrooms have basic working technology, but also on training teachers to teach NML, which most have never heard of.

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