Dear Flipped Classroom Messiah Squad…

25 10 2013

On my way home from dinner last night, I saw this on my Twitter feed:

While I would have expected something like this from Tom Friedman, seeing it from somebody as smart as Steve Greenhouse just left me depressed. Therefore, I tweeted the question that I always ask when I encounter flipped classroom propaganda:

You can follow the link and read the ensuing dust-up if you please. Certainly, not all flipped classrooms are the same, but not one person answered my original question: When are my students going to do the reading I assign them? I assign a lot of it in every class. Therefore, I don’t want to load them down with anything more to do.

Oddly enough, the article that started it all does take a shot at it:

“Incidentally, many of those who commented in response to my flipped classroom column asked: where’s the reading? The answer is: where it always was. Students still read for homework. But in a flipped classroom, they won’t do problems at home any more — they’ll watch the lectures instead.”

Unfortunately, in history classes we don’t assign “problems” for homework. We assign reading and writing, which leaves me right back where I began…

PS What Siva says, x5:



8 responses

25 10 2013
John Phillip

I’ve wondered about your reading question in the past and when I ask the question, often find myself underwhelmed by the answer. Partly, I think, a lot of the “Flipped” classroom zeal is coming from certain applied STEM fields where open-ended reading is scarce: texts are assumed to have 5 points you need to master, and if they could get that into your brain via hypodermic needle, they’d be just as happy with that model. In general, of course, humanities classes have long been “flipped” in the sense that homework is meant to establish a baseline, beyond which class goes. Not least via student pressure (refusal to do homework, complaints about how lectures and reading don’t match up), this model has slacked often, especially in larger classes.

In short, I used to think that this failure to communicate was do to the classic “two cultures” mismatch, science and humanities. Increasingly, though, I’m starting to think it’s about a broader culture shift. People don’t believe in broad reading any more. People assume that students can’t listen in lecture; a short step from that is that students can’t be expected to, say, wander around Rousseau’s First Discourse for themselves. They have to have it distilled into 5 key points, of the sort that a 3 minute mini lecture can then summarize for them. And once you’ve done that, why read?

So the answer to the question, “when will they read?” is increasingly going to be, “and why do you think they need to read? Just give them a good lesson plan, and that’s all they’ll need.”

26 10 2013

And really, why do classroom flippers think that students are going to be so willing to spend the time outside of class watching lectures? The assumption that a video of a lecture that one can watch whenever or wherever is highly attractive seems like a problem. The implied comparison here is that students will find it easier to watch a video than to read. For one, as you suggest, videos of lectures probably would replace reading, for another, they might also end up being the part of the class students fail to do. If lectures aren’t a compelling form of teaching when done live, why are they compelling when filmed?

26 10 2013

Maybe part of the idiocy of the Flipped Classroom Messiah Squad has to do with how low they keep setting the bar, as when they tell us that using digitally recorded lectures to flip the classroom can “MAKE IT POSSIBLE for students to learn subjects thoroughly at their own pace.”

“Make it possible”? Big whoop. For centuries now, books have also “made it possible” for students to learn stuff on their own. So have public libraries. Yet oddly enough the invention of books and libraries did not make universities obsolete. (Conversation overheard in 1460: “Wow, man, I just saw one of those Gutenberg Bibles everyone is talking about. This new technology makes it possible for everyone to learn on their own at their own pace. Universities will be obsolete by 1470.”)

Maybe making something possible is not the same as making that thing actually happen? Maybe reality is funny that way?

Why is this so hard for our giddy techno-utopians to understand?

One might as well say that by making information about good nutrition easily accessible, the web “makes it possible” for everyone to avoid obesity. Yay! Problem solved! Obesity is on the decline! Right, Mr. Greenhouse?

28 10 2013
Derek Bruff (@derekbruff)

As I said on Twitter somewhere during the conversation with Siva, the flipped classroom doesn’t necessarily involve having students watch videos before class. In fact, the flipped classroom need not involve any technology at all, beyond that what existed hundreds of years ago. The key point of the flipped classroom is to move the students’ first exposure to the content outside of class, so they come ready to engage more deeply with that material. The first exposure can easily come through students reading the course texts. I’ve been “flipping” my math class for eight years by having students read their textbooks before class.

This assumes, of course, that one has a reasonably good textbook. I was at the University of Denver on Friday discussing the flipped classroom with the math faculty there. We discussed the challenge of finding a math textbook that students can actually read and make sense of. Many are written more like reference books than textbooks. This also assumes that a student’s first exposure to a particular topic is best handled through a reading. Something more experiential might be more appropriate in some cases. (See my blog post about that Denver conversation for more on this idea.)

I’ll add that I really don’t understand why humanities faculty are bent out of shape about the flipped classroom. It poses a significant change to the standard instructional model in the sciences (first exposure via lecture during class, sense-making via problem sets after class), but, well, it’s not a flip at all for humanities courses, which already operate under the assumption that students are doing the reading before class.

29 10 2013
Jonathan Rees


You wrote:

“I really don’t understand why humanities faculty are bent out of shape about the flipped classroom. It poses a significant change to the standard instructional model in the sciences (first exposure via lecture during class, sense-making via problem sets after class), but, well, it’s not a flip at all for humanities courses, which already operate under the assumption that students are doing the reading before class.”

I can’t speak for all of humanities, by my concerns (at least the ones I can think of at the moment) might get at an answer:

1. If the reading is the content, then every moment of home video lecture takes away from reading time. This is bad if your disciplines is…you know…reading based.

2. I’m concerned that we’re not going to be able to choose our content anymore as our classes will be flipped for us (probably using leftover MOOC lectures that Coursera can’t make money on anywhere else). This is what we call in the labor history world de-skilling.

3. When I lecture, I can look at students so I know who’s paying attention. If they’re watching video content at home then I have no idea if they’re just running the soundtrack and checking Facebook on another browser tab. I realize that inability to do the problem set would be an indicator of this in math and the sciences, but we humanists generally believe that students should read and understand the WHOLE book, whether we test them on that book or not.

“Assign a book. Assign a paper on the book, Discuss book and paper in class” generally works for me but that requires book discussion which they won’t be able to do at home if I load them down with video lectures. I’m certainly not going to waste time making them read silently in class.

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