Bill Soden explores the potential for flipping our teaching as a means to more interactive classrooms
The York Learning and Teaching strategy highlights the use of technology to “…optimise the contribution to learning and the guidance of students’ independent study”, suggesting at the same time that online resources /asynchronous activities can be a means to creating different types of interactions in class. Those familiar with the term ‘flipped classroom’ will make a connection here. This article examines the ‘flipped classroom’ technique, and explores its potential in relation to several aspects of the York pedagogy.
The concept of ‘flipping’ learning and teaching activities originated in the USA. It involves ‘inverting the classroom’ so that activities traditionally taking place inside the class now take place outside the class, and vice versa. Sceptics might claim that this broad definition suggests no more than a simple re-arrangement of teaching activities. It is argued, however, that its emphasis on increased interactive group activities in class with direct computer based instruction outside the classroom means that flipped learning results in an extension of the curriculum (Lowell Bishop & Verleger 2013).
‘Flipping’ content seems attractive in higher education, particularly in response to criticisms of behaviourist transmission of information via the traditional lecture. The development of an accessible and reliable internet, along with online media tools has also made it much easier to deliver teaching via asynchronous instruction materials. The attraction of flipped learning, however, is best understood in its ability to draw on a range of learning theories such as active learning, problem-based learning, peer assisted learning and cooperative learning. ‘Flipping’ provides students with foundational knowledge which is then applied in interactive tasks in class aimed at engaging with higher order skills (see Figure 1). By increasing student engagement through a student centred approach, flipped instruction fits well with currently valued teaching philosophies.
Scholarly findings from research studies on the flipped classroom are limited at the moment (Lowell Bishop & Verleger 2013) and it is not in the scope of this article to evaluate them. A useful review by Estes (Estes, Ingram & Liu, 2014) indicates positive findings from several studies in US and Canadian universities, but these seem to be limited to flipped lecture approaches in Maths and hard science disciplines.
Flipping learning effectively can, however, place serious demands on teaching staff. According to the ‘flipped network’ (see Estes. M. D., Ingram, R., & Liu 2014), teachers need to create:
- flexible physical environments and flexible learning /assessment schedules;
- a learner centred learning culture;
- intentional content focused on developing higher order learning skills.
Flipping a large lecture event may result in chaotic classroom situations in large steeped lecture rooms with hundreds of students. The prospect of classroom chaos will not tempt too many lecturers into wholesale flipping of lecture delivery, but versions of flipped learning have been going on for some time with smaller groups. Stannard (2015), with group sizes between 15 and 30, created open access to online lecture resources to create more class interaction in a module on an MSc in Computer Science and Multimedia Education at the University of Westminster. He reported success not only in terms of better student progress / completion but also in promoting the programme itself. In my own MATESOL (MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) modules (20 students), I have experimented with moving ‘lecture style’ material out of the classroom to make room for more interactive tasks. An example might be assigning several YouTube clips with scaffolded tasks on specific language teaching methods to small groups of students to complete. In class, students are re-grouped to discuss their observations and share their knowledge, before whole class discussion of the various teaching methods. A transmission mode of learning may still feature in pre-class study, but crucial contact time focuses on application of knowledge, and sharing of ideas. This experiment, however, highlighted for me three key challenges for flipped learning, and the York Pedagogy which I enlarge upon below.
York Pedagogy: This way of working aims…to improve the design and availability of resources to support students’ work in relation to key concepts and skills.
By some definitions, setting reading tasks for classroom discussion is not flipped learning, but designing audio/visual materials to address higher and lower order cognitive skills is a challenge. Providing focused, quality materials for pre-class study demands expertise in use of technology such as screen capture video or podcasting tools. These are helpful for creating engaging videos and online resources, but while some members of staff will already be using such tools, not everyone is equally comfortable with them.
The York Pedagogy: Interactions between students and staff will be designed to encourage, inform and propel students’ work
Increased and improved interaction is a central pillar of the York Pedagogy, but we will not improve interactions simply by moving lecture material out of the classroom. The onus has to be on task design that leads to higher quality interaction. This may mean careful attention to student groupings, the ability to design tasks that engage with higher order learning, but above all the ability to ask the right kind of questions. Adopting a ‘dialogic’ teaching approach may be appropriate here (Alexander, 2006). The latter includes the ability to bring student and teachers together in sharing ideas in a reciprocal and supportive manner. Dialogic teaching encourages a cumulative knowledge process in which contributions from students and teachers build upon one another. In this way, the focus for teachers is on reducing ‘known-answer’ questions, providing more open questions, using appropriate ‘wait time’ and knowing how and when to use ‘uptake’ questions that build on student contributions. The key to all this may be a better awareness of how to evaluate student responses, but early research into dialogic teaching in higher education indicates that it would be a mistake to suppose all teaching staff are equally familiar with or adept at using such techniques (Hardman, 2008) .
The York Pedagogy: The design of programmes and student work will support the students’ development as autonomous learners.
Developing autonomous learners is another pillar of the York Pedagogy, but flipped classrooms depend on learners who are already to some extent self-regulating. Arguably, learners only develop these orientations and skills gradually. Variable student motivation may also result in variable ‘homework’ preparation, which could undermine the approach. And creating the space for more interactive discussion is only a first step, since students arriving with different levels of preparedness require organisation into different groupings, with tasks catering for a varying pace of learning. We must have faith in our students, but also find ways to ensure that more of them are proactive, willing to question, seek collaboration, and engage with peers. These are familiar challenges when working with students from diverse educational backgrounds, with ‘traditional’ expectations of teaching delivered by the expert. More interactive teaching may not bed in quickly with students from less interactive learning cultures where the teacher is still regarded as the leading source of information (Johnson et al., 2015).
To conclude, flipped learning is a version of blended learning which aligns well with elements of the York Pedagogy, but which leaves many questions unanswered in terms of how to package and deliver material, how to make the most of interactive class time, and how to support autonomous learning. It is clearly not a quick fix technological solution..
Alexander, R. (2006). Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. York: Dialogos.
Estes. M. D., Ingram, R., & Liu, J. C. (2014). A review of flipped classroom research, practice, and technologies. International HETL Review, 4. [Online] Available at: https://www.hetl.org/feature-articles/a-review-of-flipped-classroom-research-practice-and-technologies [Accessed 3 August, 2015].
Hardman, F. (2008). Promoting human capital: The importance of dialogic teaching. The Asian Journal of University Education., 4(1), pp.31–48.
Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
Bishop, J., & Verleger, M. (2013). The Flipped Classroom : A Survey of the Research. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education, 6219. [Online] Available at: http://www.asee.org/public/conferences/20/papers/6219/view [Accessed 4 July, 2015].
Stannard,( 2015). The flipped classroom- 20 minute lecture. [Online] Available at: http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/the-flipped-classroom-lecture.html
[Accessed 15 June, 2015]
Bill Soden is a Lecturer in the Department of Education and leader of the MATESOL. He joined the University in 1999 after a career in teaching and teacher training in ELT in Europe, Hong Kong and Oman. He is interested in feedback in higher education (2014), and technology in teaching and assessment. He has contributed to several annual York Learning and Teaching Conferences, focusing on: plagiarism (2005), EAP (2010), screencast feedback (2012) and formative feedback (2015).