“The flipped classroom model is becoming increasingly popular in higher education because of how it rearranges face-to-face instruction for professors and students, creating a more efficient and enriching use of class time.”
I’ve written a fair bit here now about the flipped classroom. Much of that criticism has focused on the lack of assigned reading (or at least the lack of time for assigned reading) if students spend most of their limited homework hours watching videos. What I want to do now is “flip” that critique, and take a look at exactly what teachers are doing in class once their classroom has been flipped, assuming the use of the word “efficient” in that above quote isn’t enough to scare you away from trying to answer that question all by itself.
The first thing I ever wrote on this subject was called, “These flipped classrooms are the educational equivalent of scanning your own groceries at the supermarket” and that critique has survived as the popularity of the flipped classroom has grown. Here’s Robert Talbert in the Chronicle:
The flipped classroom does not automatically provide those sorts of outstanding learning experiences. What it provides is space and time for instructors to design learning activities and then carry them out, by relocating the transfer of information to outside the classroom. But then the instructor has the responsibility of using that space and time effectively. And sometimes that doesn’t work. In particular, if there’s no real value in the class time, then the students are not mistaken when they say they are teaching themselves the subject, and they are not wrong to resent it.
So don’t just hand them work sheets and tell your class to get at it. Yes, you can spend more time with students who don’t get what’s going on this way, but isn’t that what office hours are for? Don’t your students who do get it deserve more of your time so that you can help instill the satisfaction of knowing exactly why the right answer happens to be right in them? [By the way, this goes for math just as much as it does for history.] Unfortunately, that’s not efficient.
So what exactly does the professor do all period in their flipped classroom in order to maximize the efficiency of the classroom experience for everyone? Of course, it varies. As Jung Choi explains:
“…class time can be used in so many different ways: case studies, problem-solving, peer discussion, data analysis, writing, peer-review, internet research, and still other activities.”
Talbert offers a sports metaphor in order to explain his idea of exactly what good flipped instruction looks like:
Under the supervision of the instructor – there’s the rub. I don’t mean a kind of aloof, checking-your-Facebook-while-students-work kind of “supervision” but rather the kind of interactive engagement that a coach might have with his or her players while they practice. The coach doesn’t do the exercises for the players, but neither does s/he stand off to the side and let them flail around the entire time. There is interaction between the coach and the player, between different players, and between different groups of players. And through that interaction, questions get answered, others get raised – and things get learned, if it’s done right.
That sounds great, but the instructor can’t help every student’s individual problems at once. Otherwise, they’d be lecturing. [Neither can a coach. That's why there are assistant coaches, after all.] Come to think of it, if lecturing is so awful how come the Flipped Classroom Messiah Squad wants most class content to be transmitted that way on tape, the least interactive way possible (since Stephen Greenblatt will not take questions)? Learning from peers in small groups is, of course, another option in flipped classrooms, but if peer grading can’t work, why would you possibly outsource actual instruction to students who only just learned the skills that you’re trying to teach them or who quite possibly haven’t learned those skills at all?
You may thinking that you’re teaching more efficiently, but what you’re really doing is putting the onus of learning entirely on the student. Plenty of very smart students require direct interaction with an expert instructor to master skills and concepts across a wide range of disciplines. When they don’t get that, they tune out, or – as the MOOC example so beautifully illustrates – drop out of class entirely. Indeed, I would argue that there is very little daylight between teaching somebody else’s MOOC and flipping your classroom with anybody’s content, including your own. When penny-pinching administrators eventually get around to replacing the Flipped Classroom Messiah Squad’s voluntarily flipped courses with the content they gained access to through a ridiculously expensive partnership with Coursera or edX, we will all learn that lesson the hard way.