Strategies For Digitising Education: ‘Flipped Classrooms’
The flipped classroom is one of the most intriguing and transformative educational possibilities offered by technology. The idea is simple: use technology to deliver static lectures at home (generally via a video uploaded online) and transform the classroom into a dynamic and collaborative space. This creates a more student-centric approach to learning. Increased contact time with teachers allows students to engage with more challenging coursework in collaboration with other students.
Do They Work?
There have been a number of studies over the last decade that show flipped classrooms can deliver improved outcomes. A small study done by the Gates Foundation assessed a summer programme using Khan Academy as a teaching aid and showed that the teacher spent significantly more time in one-on-one dialogue with students than in her traditional class. Increased one-to-one time has been shown to improve student outcomes with a 0.73-0.76 correlation in two meta-analyses.
It should be noted that many trials specifically focused on flipped classrooms have been in a tertiary setting and many are non-scientific, preliminary surveys. The US Department of Education is currently running a $3 million trial on this methodology.
Flipped Classroom Pros:
The ‘flipped classroom’ can be deployed wholesale, or in limited quantity. Either way, it provides several benefits that should be considered for at least certain subjects or lessons.
- Students can engage with lectures at their own pace, allowing them to pause, take notes, rewind and fast forward to fit the specifics of their learning needs.
- The amount of in-class time freed up for collaboration and questions allow students to direct the educational process towards the areas in which they need the most help.
- Teachers are allowed more time to provide direct feedback to students.
- By putting the course material online, students have access to it at all times. This helps in revision, it also helps students who miss class time to remain on top of developments.
- Parents are also provided 24/7 access to learning materials, enabling them to more effectively help children with any additional difficulties that cannot be resolved in the classroom.
- Classroom activities promote greater student collaboration. This setting can not only improve traditional learning outcomes but accentuates the transfer of socialisation skills that are essential to later success in life.
Flipped Classroom Cons:
There are, however, criticisms of such a radical shift in the teaching paradigm. Those include:
- The reliance on access to technology outside the classroom can exacerbate what is called ‘the digital divide’, putting the most disadvantaged students in a bad position [see subsection].
- Not all students have access to computers, mobile devices or quality internet connections. This is a difficult issue to fully overcome outside of boarding schools.
- The flipped model entirely operates on trust.
- Students who don’t do traditional homework will miss out on educational outcomes. However, the near total dependence of in-class activities on having done the appropriate preparation leaves the flipped model vulnerable to student self-sabotage.
- The flipped model places greater (or at least changes) expectations on teachers.
- Teachers have to develop and tape condensed lectures, which takes time and skill. This is in addition to developing classroom activities that will enhance the subject matter. Teachers will build up a catalogue of taped lectures, but getting to this point is a substantial challenge.
- Teachers can also use online resources, such as MOOCs’ lectures or material on YouTube to augment their own recordings.
- Although students are provided on-demand to learning material, the focus of student-directed learning makes the flipped classroom arguably poor test-prep.
- This can be seen positively, but it has to be noted that this is not an environment that is conducive to ‘teaching to the test’.
- The mandated screen time has been criticised by those concerned with the amount of time children are spending staring at screens anyway.
Summary: Flipped Classrooms are Challenging to Get Right, But Are Too Useful to Entirely Pass Up
Flipped classrooms present a large number of challenges to teachers, students and administrators. Students need to be prevented from self-sabotage, equal access must be ensured and teachers need to develop educational material that complements the strategy. It is, however, possible to think about applying this method of teaching to only specific portions of the learning environment — changing single subjects or particular lessons that are conducive to a more collaborative classroom environment and lectures delivered by video. Teachers can also take advantage of online courses and educational videos.
The digital divide is perhaps the hardest hurdle to overcome. Even here, however, the flipped classroom is more of a mixed bag than many realise. For example, students with involved parents will receive help with their traditional homework (making the home more like a flipped classroom) while students with uninvolved parents will miss out on this opportunity. 78% of UK adults own a laptop, 85% own a smartphone and 68% own a tablet. 90% of UK households have access to the internet. That is up from 57% in 2006. Only 11% of parents surveyed say that they spend an hour per day helping their children with homework. This lags behind other countries.
From this perspective, the flipped classroom is an equaliser as much as it deepens any gaps that may exist. Teachers should take stock of the particular needs of their students and think about the lessons and subjects that would benefit most from a more collaborative classroom environment.