EdTech & Design, Opinion, Promising Practices

A Modest Proposal – Let’s Flip the Class

In his June 5th Blog, Larry Cuban comments: “Lecturing is performing, a way of conveying knowledge in a fresh way, a way of bridging oral tradition and visual culture that teachers, professors, and so many others have continually adapted to new media … With all of the concern for student-centered inquiry and using tougher questions based upon Bloom’s Taxonomy, one enduring function of schooling is to transfer academic knowledge and skills (both technical and social) to the next generation. Social beliefs in transmitting knowledge as a primary purpose of schooling remain strong and abiding . So lecturing and questioning will around for many more centuries.”

Perhaps this is true, but it still leaves open the question of how the “lecture” portion of instruction is provided.  One promising practice is to “flip the class.”  This phenomenon seems to have originated with the Khan Academy, but it does note merely mimic that limited – some say flawed – approach and takes several forms.

For example, a teacher (or a department or a district or a province) can present the lecture portion of a course – in whole or in part – as a series of podcasts and require students to view the lecture outside of class as their “homework.”  The individual activity that students would traditionally have done at home then becomes a class-based tutorial in which students work together in groups to complete the assignment while the teacher circulates to assist as necessary and perhaps to interject with a brief comment to the class if a common misconception or difficulty emerges.

This is a good example of using digital innovations to create more personal contact time between student and teacher as well as creating cooperative learning time.  For students, it eliminates that sinking feeling that comes when one starts the homework and  suddenly realizes it does not make sense.  That’s when the phone lines heat up.  Wouldn’t it be better to make this discovery in class when there is a friend or teacher immediately available to talk about it.  For teachers, it eliminates the hours spent outside of class with students who come in desperately seeking help (and who then probably do their Chemistry homework surreptitiously in French or while they gulp down their lunch).

There is also an additional task for the teacher, which is creating the podcast.  However, this is now technically trivial so anyone can do it with ease and it is a task that could be shared with other teachers of the same subject, each taking their favourite topic and perfecting their lecture on it.  There is no need for it to be a polished production with multiple takes and so on.  After all, lectures aren’t.  Students just want the goods, not another music video.  And once a podcast is “in the can” there is no need to change it unless some improvement can be made.

The lectures themselves can be posted to a Youtube or Vimeo channel so that students can view them, and review them as often as necessary, at a time convenient to them.

It would be foolish to suggest that video lectures are sufficient as instruction or that they replace teachers, but that does not mean that we cannot do them in a better way.  Flipping the class has been shown to have many benefits and its one more way for teachers to merge onto the high-tech highway.

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Bruce Beairsto

Retired school superintendent, educational consultant and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University

Bruce Beairsto is a retired school superintendent, educational consultant and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University.

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