Sunday, October 14, 2012

Flipped Classroom: Some Quick Thoughts

People talked about it and they are still talking about it.
Many have explored; and some are keen to explore.
We heard many sing praises over the impact of "Flipped Classrooms" to students learning. However, once in a while, we also hear people talking about the no so good side of it.

Of course, when we talked about "Flipped Classroom", it's so natural that "Khan Academy" will be mentioned... and many heard of "Khan Academy" before hearing the "flipped classroom" concept.

Came across Khan Academy several years ago. 
That time, I think it's still a pretty 'raw' version, which, to me, is merely a library of resources - yes, a very comprehensive library with video clips that were very systematically organised - and it's as good as a digital "textbook" - that would appeal to visual & auditory learners! Of course, now it's as good as a learning management system that we know - couple with exercises and even a map that illustrates the linkages across the various strands and topics within the subject discipline. Impressive!

As mentioned by Khan (, the introduction of the flipped classroom has increased the teacher-student interaction time, which is valuable, in particular, for children to clarify to learn. And I think this is the 'best' selling point of adopting the 'flipped classroom' approach; and no doubt, it helps to 'create' time for valuable personalised coaching to the individuals.

There are also suggestions about adopting the "Flipped Classrooms" in my current context. I think, while we have heard so much good things we need to recognise that fact that it's not a one-size-fit-all approach... and prior to implementation, we have to examine how to go about mapping the relevant experience of the topic to the approach delivery approach. In addition, we must also take into consideration the format/ mode of delivery (not just depending on video clips alone!).

While many (as we have heard or read from the web) shared that the "Flipped Classroom" was adopted in their practices, I think the 'how' is still not quite elaborated in details. What's often highlighted in the articles are "What a Flipped Classroom is?" "What it is not...".
The critical success factors are often not mentioned - the qualities that the teachers should possess, the mindset that both the teachers and students should adopt, the strategies that teachers need to incorporate into such learning environment, and the way the resources are selected and/or presented, the preparation of the students; just to name a few. I may sound very 'operational'... and that's precisely where I want to focus on because we understand from the big idea what it is and the impact... but as a classroom teacher, "show me how" it works most important to me! A similar analogy: To listen to some experts to tell us the theory about what "differentiated learning" is, as  compared to someone demonstrates how the strategies 'preached' play out in the classroom!

There were reports on how the approach has helped students learnt better, and of course, the teachers' role during lesson time has also been emphasized - for discussion and coaching. Nevertheless, definitely there are more to these. The planning and action behind somehow, to me, is still a blackbox.

OK, for experienced educators, it seems to be commonsense. What I'm looking at is really a guide? A guide that newcomers (those who just come on board) could make reference to and get ideas. I'm quite sure that it's not difficult to start "flipped classroom" in my current context. However, the implementation consideration and approach are what I'm most interested in. I guess what I'm most fearful of is how the good intent and opportunity created could be misinterpreted for those who take the notion superficially. It's not just about video lessons. It's not about discussion in the classrooms. It's not about just doing homework or classwork in class. It's definitely not for every single lesson. It's not about transforming the entire way learning is... but I think, it's about how the approach would augment what's lacking in the known approach.

So, broadly (and in a rather 'sketchy' manner - since it's the first time I give "flipped classroom" a thought)...
  • The approach frees students from the one-size-fits-all lessons in the classroom; similarly that means the teachers no longer have to repeat the same old lesson across the classes. Instead, students "learn" before they turn up for class. This is one important 'space' that we must pay attention and leverage on. This would mean that we must be mindful that given the 'cyberspace', there is more room for us to deliver lessons more effectively, in terms of differentiating resources or materials for a range of learners (in terms of learning styles, as well as ability group)! So, those who think that by uploading a set of material up would have to re-look at the new demands it has the teachers too, when we are to leverage on this 'space' to better the learning experience of each individual student.
  • This brings us to the next point, which is the expectations on the teachers - the quality of materials put up in the web (in this case, I'm making reference to my current context, and assuming accessibility to the web is a 'given'). The quality refers to the suitability and relevance, not just one type, but a range of materials to engage the learners. It's not just video clips, which many a time, it's a "one way" delivery - from the computer to learner. It should provide an avenue for interaction. This interaction could be both "teacher-through-computer-to-student" type of interaction, or could be the "intelligence-behind-computer-to-student" type of interaction. This is something that 'sounds' simple yet tests one's expertise in the subject discipline to be able to take into consideration the learner's needs and mapping back what's pegged at the appropriate level. Video clips, no doubt is useful (and a common resource that's easily available), however, what's next after watching it? or how should the student be engaged while watching it, so that the experience is meaningful? Many experienced teachers would be able to do this with ease when it's about executing such approach in the face-to-face classroom. However, when it comes to online learning, it's definitely a different ball game. 
  • When moving back to the classroom, how would the teacher approach the lessons now? This is something that the teachers must be mindful - the attitude and the beliefs (to some extent), and confidence (they have with the students). It requires a whole new way of thinking and 'shaping' one's way of thinking. Of course, the teachers' utmost fear is that the students do not take up the ownership of learning, and turn up the class without going through the materials. That is very real, and a definite issue that we can't run away. However, do we just 'dismiss' everybody when the issue lies on the small handful of students? I think sometimes it's our comfort level, or sense of security? For instance, I have heard complaints from some that after the elearning week, they have to re-teach the lessons; and the reason being students did not 'study' or they don't understand. The "tricky" part is... they have pointed out that the students "don't understand". What are some reasons behind this "failure"? What "went wrong"? The first thing I look at would be the materials - how are they designed? have been been designed such that it has taken into the account that it's no longer just classroom face-to-face lesson, but something that's delivered online? Has the lesson design leverage on the affordances of the web and platform? Has it take into account what's lacking (compared to face-to-face lesson)? These are questions that I presume that any experienced teachers would have thought through... Nevertheless, I was proven wrong most of the time. So, this points back to the earlier point discussed.
  • Managing (i.e. balancing) tasks carry out online (i.e. outside curriculum time) and in class is an art and science, too! As teachers, we are often 'greedy' and want the students to devote as much time as possible in our subject (so that they could do well), right? To some, I might be 'too kind' to keep reminding ourselves to help manage the students' work load. Yes! Loads and loads of papers issued to them (homework!) and now, more... online learning materials! So, we would seriously need to relook the kind of work given to students if we were to adopt the "Flipped Classroom" approach (for any selected topics/ modules). We cannot "half-heartedly" adopt by saying giving them the materials to 'preload' before lessons, yet give them much practices as well. I'm not saying not giving them homework, but we need to moderate... and pace it accordingly. Get what I mean? Each of us only have that amount of time, and by giving them more means they have lesser time for other engagement (which includes ample rest time). 
  • The next thing is, what goes into the classroom now? How differentiated the learning activities need to be? Must it be differentiated at all times? Can we have time and space for something that's common amongst all the students, too? Definitely! (Keeping in mind that there's always value and a time for everything (approach/ strategy), no matter how big or small it is.

No comments: