Flipping the Flipped Classroom

I recently had a discussion with a classmate of mine about the Flipped Classroom, and I think my comments are worth sharing.  In our discussion, I pointed out a couple of problems I have with the FC, which deal with a few fundamental issues in education.

I should start off with saying that I do agree with the idea of moving the long lecture outside of the classroom. Where I disagree with the FC is that the lecture, or its replacement, should be moved home. I think it should be moved a lot further away than that.  There are a few reasons for this.  Firstly, there is a lot of research that tells us that transmission teaching (aka lectures) are not effective. We know that students HATE taking notes.  There is nothing to say that doing a lecture at home is better or any good at all.   Many people associate watching videos at home as the FC, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. I’m treating the FC where some type of lecture or transmissive technique is done at home.  It could be reading, vodcast, podcast, or perhaps something else.

Lev Vygotsky
Lev Vygotsky, one of the founders of Constructivism

Research and personal experience also tell us that dialogue and social learning are crucial for addressing misconceptions in learning and I see no reason to begin a new topic by having kids receive their content at home, where misconceptions are either ignored or possibly strengthened. This stuff isn’t revolutionary or a type of education reform - educators, students, and researchers have known this for a long time.

I’m not naive enough to think that all lecturing can be gotten rid of.  The crux of the matter may hinge on two things: how a lecture is done and how long it takes.  If we were to suppose that lectures can be kept to under ten minutes, then why can’t such a short bit of transmission teaching be done at the beginning of class?  Surely 10 minutes of “lecture” is not a waste if good pedagogy is followed and if the lecture actually serves a purpose (such as revealing a misconception).

This leads to another one of my criticisms of the FC.  If we all agreed that flipping is great and we all did it, how much homework would our kids have?  1.5 hours of watching videos each night?  That’s not how I envision a good education.  The usefulness of doing a lot of homework is debatable at best, and having kids doing lectures at home sounds particularly horrible.

People may ask what is a better alternative to the FC, and the answer is that many teachers already have a better solution, without giving it a catchy name.  Science modeling, project based learning, problem based learning, Socratic seminars… the options are nearly endless.  All we’re talking about is not lecturing and not note taking.

As for me, I still lecture too much and sometimes I do assign some videos for home viewing. However, I’m not hell bent to “flip” my class. Instead, I try to continually think of activities and projects we can do in class that promote meaningful learning. I also try not to give much homework. This of course is another debate but it should be pointed out that there is research that shows homework may have little benefit. For example, the kids that “get it” do their homework, and the ones that “don’t get it” don’t do their homework. In other words, if a child doesn’t understand something then sending them home to practice something they already cannot do, will not help. Of course some homework is valuable, such as project research, practice in acquired skills, etc. I don’t mean to be dismissive of the doing homework but I don’t think it should be the cornerstone of learning.

Certainly there are things in education that are a lot worse than the FC.  It can be a place for teachers to start moving away from lectures.  I think the idea of the FC can make a lot of sense in the university or college context. I know that when I did my engineering degree, I experienced A LOT of 1.5 hour lectures of copying notes and copying practice problems, with having no access to in-class practice where a prof or assistant could help me. College students should be fully literate, motivated and enabled such that doing a “flip” and somehow receiving a lecture at home could work. Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction is one such model, where students do pre-readings at home ahead of the class meeting, and the class time is spent discussing the topic. However, I think this is a far cry from the K-12 environment. Kids are most definitely NOT evenly literate, motivated and enabled, and having them depend upon home lectures, even if the lecture was effective, seems like a bad idea. And if we’re not talking about taking the lecture home, then is there a “flip”? Or are we just talking about constructivism?