Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Response to A Response to Five Common Criticisms of Flipped Learning

First, apologies for the wordy title. I struggled to come up with anything original that hasn't already been used in a title to a blog post about Flipped Learning. It's flipping hard.* 

I just read "Flipped Learning: A Response to Five Common Criticisms" by Alan November and Brian Mull of November Learning. I didn't set out today to find this article, but it was presented to me for a class I'm taking right now and I wrote a few thoughts on the article.

I’ll begin by stating that after much reading and discussion on the topic of Flipped Learning I am still firmly on the side of the skeptic, especially for classes like language arts and social studies. I don’t share all the same criticisms as those in the article. For example, I agree with the authors that, if done properly, the Flipped Model does not making teachers less important. Some fear that schools will become labs where students watch videos all day and teachers will be obsolete. Nothing will ever replace live, face-to-face instruction from a quality educator in a caring learning environment. No worries about Flipped Learning there. Additionally, I agree that the gap in technology can be overcome if teachers, schools, an communities make it a priority. There will always be exceptions, but I’m not overly concerned about by this criticism.

What really is a sticking point for me boils down to two (OK, three) key issues. First, there is a huge body of research that calls into question the effectiveness of homework, especially in the younger (pre-high school) grades. Call it what you want, but telling a class of students that they need to go home and read X for 15 minutes or watch Y for 10 minutes, and then submit a reflection and questions and areas of confusion before class tomorrow...that’s still homework. Now, you multiply that 20-30 minutes for science homework to include math, art, and history...and, well, that’s a lot of Flipped Learning homework. 

Second, and tangentially related, is the issue of accountability. The authors of the article idealistically claim that all it takes to ensure accountability on the student behalf is that they are required to post reflections and answers to thought-provoking questions. Just like that, apparently, students will answer the questions and reflections because they’re required to and the questions are thought-provoking. I don’t think I need to go into detail to explain why that’s just a little bit of wishful thinking. The suggestions offered do not offer true accountability. They will inform the teacher about who is and who isn’t doing the assigned work, but that’s no guarantee that students will feel the obligation to do the work.

Lastly, teachers need to be very careful that they’re not simply recording and uploading bad teaching and requiring students to endure outside of the 8 hour school day. Yes, the authors point out that it’s not ideal to record long lectures and have students watch them for the next day, yet many teachers seem to still fall down this hole. It is important that the teachers who choose to go the route of the Flipped classroom take seriously the considerations of why they’re doing it, and what they hope to accomplish.

All of that said, I do believe that there can be a place for a Flipped type of model. So much of social studies is the “doing” of History or the “doing” of Geography, which is much more than watching content. However, in math in particular, and to an extent some sciences and the arts, there are opportunities to use the Flipped model. On occasion it could be useful and wise to have students view materials about graphing linear equations, for example, before coming to class so the teacher can work on specifics that students are struggling with. However, some of my previous concerns are still there. Another way I see the use of video being used best is not so much as a Flipped model, but more of a support. 

Teachers can have videos (and other materials) available for students and parents to consult when struggling on their homework, or when reviewing for an exam, or working on a project. They can record videos and materials of their own, or they can (additionally) locate other materials online for students to use. I do believe that using video and the “Flipped” model in this way is ultimately more supportive of student learning. I myself have recorded dozens of these videos for my students to use to review, and the feedback from my students (and if YouTube comments are to be believed from students all over the world) has been generally positive.

So, yes I’m still skeptical. I haven’t completely written off the concept as I see the possibilities and the value. However, I have a ways to go before I’ll be firmly in the “supporter” camp of Flipped Learning.

*Sorry, I couldn't resist.

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