Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Flipping, Back-Flipping, and the Practically Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom is an interesting concept, if not a new idea.  It is getting a lot of press this year. YouTube, ASCD, Mozilla, Facebook are jumping on the bandwagon, not to mention a large number of public school principals and independent edtech bloggers.  What is the draw?

The Plot Diagram
The Flipped Lesson
  • uses technology
  • use Web 2.0 tools
  • takes the teacher off of the stage in the classroom
  • makes it possible for scheduled class time to be used for discussion, writing, reading, practice, exploration and extension - encouraging collaboration and deeper thinking
  • allows the student to independently plug away at understanding new content and concepts, to get necessary repetition, even to do independent research into concepts and content
  • replaces expensive textbooks
  • makes use of free social networking channels and independently posted lessons for education
  • encourages students to question content and construct their own understanding independently from the teacher - and this can be an out-of-school collaboration
Who can find fault in that picture?   Students win, teachers win, social networking providers win (if they are not winning today, they will be tomorrow...)

Nonetheless, there are A Few Practical Concerns for the classroom.
science lesson
  1. Not all students have outside-of-school access to the technology needed to access flipped content, unless that content is also provided on paper or in a text.
  2. Not all parents give students permission to access social networking sites or to post Comments (or other material) online.
  3. Not all schools unblock social networking sites, where flipped content is often posted, or support open in-school solutions; at-home or out-of-school is often the only alternative for viewing and sometimes also for creating (e.g. YouTube and even email).
  4. age 13 is a legally problematic age for creating and using online accounts.
  5. Not all teachers have the time, skill, or inclination to develop flipped content.  Requiring that this method be used can lead to "canned" lessons, dictated curricula, misinstruction, mismatches between HW and classwork, and materials that, in fact, turn kids away from concepts and content.  Here, for example, is a terrible flipped lesson on The Plot Diagram.  It is used by YouTube as one of the 10 Ways to Use YouTube in the Classroom.  The content is minimal, even partially incorrect. The delivery is sloppy. It took 1:30 to make. There are better videos of the same content (including this video that points to an online tool that is way better than paper and pencil), but YouTube is holding this one up as a standard.  A big problem with flipped is that it is often a quick fix, a first-hit solution.  If YouTube bought into this aspect of digital content, teachers will too (alas).
  6. Not all teachers have the skills or desire to change what is happening in the classroom. Flipping is a real PD challenge.  I am concerned that flipped content will be "dumbed down" and will stay there if the teacher is not well equipped to guide or manage a laboratory of learning.  It seems, from a current study, that we may already be dumbing down in public schools, without flipping anything. We don't need to add on another layer of less.
  7. Much flipped content will not be up to new, higher, literacy standards. Check out this example of a science lesson, also promoted by YouTube.  The title of the lesson is grammatically incorrect (Effect, not Affect) and the oral presentation is rife with errors in spoken English. These errors can be glossed over when the same lesson is delivered in class. However, the likelihood of more than one class set of students viewing this video, or of a given student viewing it multiple times, is huge. How many students will learn that Affect is a noun meaning "outcome"?  There are much better examples of this content available on YouTube - why pick this one?  This is again the first-hit phenomenon.  It strikes teachers as well as students. 
  8. Not all courses or classes will benefit from flipped instruction.  This is true, for the most part, of ELA classes beyond the grade of 7 (and often before this), which are already largely discussion-based.  It is also true of higher-level high school classes in history, philosophy, and ethics.  TED speeches and RSA Videos aside, there is not a lot of highly cognitive, complex text on the web that can be understood independently.  Teachers who want to record a year full of lectures can build a collection for the next year - but how many are doing this?  See my comments on the Back-Flipped Classroom below.
  9. Flipped content is asynchronous - questions can not be answered and reflections can not be discussed as the student is accessing the content (unless this is digitally enabled by a teacher who is at home...).
  10. Students who "do not do HW"  lose out doubly - they miss the digital content, and they miss the benefits of discussion/activities the next day.  Accommodating these students takes even more time and effort on the part of the teacher. 
  11. Passive content delivery is still that - passive content delivery.  Making it digital does not change the paradigm of delivery.  Is this interactive story book interactive?  Imagine a 7th grader listening to a short story read by his teacher. Just because content is delivered digitally does not mean that it is either effective or engaging.
  12. Flipped content is not differentiated! Repeatedly reading/listening to text that a student can not read in the first place is a waste of student time.  Creating multiple versions of a digital lesson is double-time work for the teacher.  Creating only a simplified delivery of content does not meet the needs of the most able and informed students.  It's a hard and interesting decision for an ELA teacher. 
  13. Copyright infringement is rife.  Again look at the "interactive story book" (also featured by YouTube).   Fair Use?   If you use an image and post to the public web, it must be cited!
David Truss adds other insights to the discussion.  Please read his post.

The reality is that principals all over the country are telling teachers to create flipped lessons without understanding that digital content/concept delivery is just one aspect of a truly flipped experience.  Read here Jackie Gerstein's explanation of all aspects of the transformation afforded by this model.  Although Gerstein leaves out the Why element, a strong case for which is made by Truss, she does make it clear that asynchronous access to content (The What) is desirable and perhaps essential to learning.

Flipping is a State of Mind

Before jumping into digital thinking, teachers need to take stock of how many non-digital materials are already available for flipping into digital HW.  Flipping is, in fact, great practice in creating Essential Question and Universal Design HW activities.  If it is important - flip it. Teachers who have and use a good text are already paper-flipping.  By taking drill and extension off of the HW plate and adding a reflective dessert, such as writing about content or creating original examples, an old-fashioned assignment can be reborn. 

But wait - that is not what flipping is about!  Students should be engaged and entertained by the flipped content - they should not have to DO anything until the next day, when the teacher leads them through other engaging activities...

Is Reading a Flipped Activity?

No, sorry.  Reading outside of class is important and essential, but that is not the concept here.  Add sound and image to the act of reading, and you are beginning to FLIP the student's attention.  Think: Reading v. Teaching HOW to Read.  If the ELA teacher were to create a vodcast of poem annotation or passage explication - that would be flipping.  Then the students could do the practice with analysis in the classroom and the teacher would guide the practice.  Actually, I get that - it's powerful.

My How-to's

I tried it out, exploring several tools and methods.
  • I  made a demo flipped poetry lesson on my iPad using an app called ShowMe.  It took me about 30 minutes to focus on ShowMe as the best app, to practice, to design the page layout (including screen shots taken on my laptop and shared with the iPad via DropBox), and do the first short recording.  I shared it via a private ShowMe webspace and was emailed a unique URL.  Pretty cool.  I am not sharing it here because I made a spelling mistake, and if you listened the audio, you might notice an information error.  That would not be an OK flipped lesson, even though I might make the same, or more egregious, errors in a "live" classroom delivery of the same content. 
  • I used Keynote on my laptop to create a flipped lesson call Reading Infographics (view it in a previous post).  This took longer to create, but I envision it as a full week's study and assigned viewing.  Keynote exports directly to YouTube, so I uploading to a shared space was instant. I could also have exported to QT and shared that on the school's wiki server or on my school webpage.  One huge advantage to YouTube is the Annotate feature, which will allow interested students to respond directly to the questions and challenges embedded in the video.
A positive result of this process is this: I took the time to think deeply about both the content being delivered and about the purpose of a mini-lesson.   I re-informed myself about small details.  I sought out some expert commentary on the poem. I thought like a student. As a result,  I became a better teacher of Poetry 101: Introduction to Form and a better reader of Infographics. 

I think this method will work in ELA for text analysis skills lessons, reading skills lessons, vocabulary skills lessons, grammar/usage lessons - you get the point. There is certainly a place for Flipping in the ELA classroom, k-12 - anywhere there is an essential question to be asked.

Other interesting options for creation and publication are Prezi (with voice-overs), the iPad apps ScreenChomp and ReplayNote, vodcasts (from a phone) using a tool like Postereous or DropVox, mobile NoteShare (students would need this to view notebooks shared by a teacher and uploaded to a NoteShare server - a wonderful solution for education), and/or an ed.Voicethread thread.  I have used every one of them for flipped instruction and back-flipping (see below).  The Tempered Radical offers a set of instructions for recording yourself directly into YouTube, but I find these video lectures to be "passive" in nature.

You will need:
  • an essential question to be answered by the lesson (or unit of lessons)
  • a chunked (step-by-step) script - 3 minutes is an optimal lesson.  Longer than that and you lose your students and create files that take too long to save and reload.  My long Infographics video is clearly divided into many content - practice - challenge segments that are meant to be assigned separately, and YouTube provides a quickload solution (the upload from Keynote is also very fast, as the file is compressed).
  • illustrations and images - I found that pre-saving many more than I needed was a good idea.  Screenshots are useful images, especially if you are using ShowMe.
  • an account for uploading - YouTube, YouTube Teacher's Channel, a wiki, a blog, etc.  You can even use DropBox for distribution directly to student laptops or mobile devices.  ShowMe has its own free cloud storage. 
  • to experiment with tools available to you.  Tools must: 
    • save to webspace or server for viewing by students, 
    • record good quality audio of your voice (if you want to use voice - I decided not to in the Keynote because it is a video meant to be interrupted), 
    • allow for some variety in image, color, font, design - perferably all four.
  • to practice with the tools and app - it costs nothing for you to create a "throw-away" project, especially if you are only sharing through a private space (which I recommend)
  • to understand the limitations of your tool of choice.  ShowMe, for example, is slow to erase a screen and insert a new image.  So maybe this transition should happen only one time.  Keynote transitions, when sent to video, are all set to one transition and one slide delay - so animations and builds will not work smoothly.
  • to listen for feedback from your students and adjust your presentation accordingly.
Class time:

This would be the traditional continuation of the lesson, which would follow concept direct instruction in a classroom: more practice, questions answered, a quick assessment.  Students who have completed the flipped part of the lesson on their own should be ready for the next step upon entering the classroom.  Theoretically, it is possible to move almost twice as quickly through material as you would using a traditional teaching methods. 

So it is possible to view a Flipped Unit as a sort of instructional notebook for students - a text without practice.  With this image in mind, teachers can include both print and digital materials in their thinking about flipping.  I personally would have students DO something with or in response to the content - something short.  If you use reflection journals - paper or digital - that is the place to make a connection to content and a connection to concept. 

The Back-Flipped Classroom

Practically speaking, the model will not work perfectly a large percent of the time at the middle and high school levels.  Students will not do the flipped HW, students will be absent, the lesson will be too hard or too large or poorly presented for some or all students. Parents and tutors might want access too, but not be quite on board.  So let's not lose sight of the value of back-flipping classroom instruction and practice.  Most good tech-using teachers have been doing this for several years.

Back-flipping simply means using any and all means available to capture and digitally or otherwise share progress made during a class period.  Class wikis and blogs, teacher webpages, bulletin boards, Smartboard captures, smartphone photographs of representative student work, QR codes posted to teacher web pages or emailed to students, test masters and answer keys:  These all become the next step for any flipped lesson. Student learning and insights so archived become the building blocks of a unit.  If the flipped lesson is the instructional notebook, classroom practice and back-flipping create the student learning notebooks.

iPad/iPhone solution: The $.99 app JotNot will take a picture ("scan") of any document, board, etc. and send it directly to either Dropbox or Evernote, with tagging.  This is a fabulous way to back-flip your lessons!  Saves a few steps too.

Why digital back-flipping?  Why not just require notebooks?  Digital levels the playing field.  I believe in that - enough said.  Taken together, flipped lesson materials, class time well spent, and back-flipped archives create a learning experience that is about as complete as a teacher can make it. 

In Sum

The Flipped Classroom is a powerful concept - but a deceptive one. It is not easily accomplished.  It can potentially embed significant errors and misperceptions in the minds of students.  It has to be more perfect than a "live teacher."  And it can not stand alone. 

So educators, please, slow down.  Take time to think through the ramifications of mandating flipped lessons and classrooms.  A bad flip is worse than no flip at all.

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