The Flipped Classroom: New Look, Same Great Taste!

Why not try things upside down, backwards, and inside out?

My first reaction to reading about the flipped classroom was:

How is this new, exactly?

After all, the definition of the flipped classroom appears to be as follows:

  1. Teacher finds video.
  2. Students watch video at home.
  3. Teacher and students analyze, synthesize, evaluate…problem solve in class.

This is the opposite of what many appear to see as the ‘traditional’ model of lecturing in class and assigning problems to reinforce the concepts (a method recommended by the ASCD).

And, like, wow. It’s not like teacher have ever, like, assigned students a chapter to read, and then, like, asked them to be ready to talk about it the next class.

But whether it’s a new phenomenon is beside the point. The fact is that teachers should continuously question how they could use their students’ time more effectively, and flipped instruction is a way – not the only way, but certainly a valid one – to do that.

So let’s get some things straight. The Flipped Learning Blog tells us it’s a myth that flipped learning is all about the videos. Certainly, “kids can get the lectures, can get the content delivery and skill modeling as well (or often better) by computer lecture than in person.” But this is not the exclusive province of videos. While videos can be more engaging, this doesn’t mean that a reading assignment wouldn’t be just as – or more – effective, especially in a highly literate student population.

Furthermore, in-class lecture has its advantages, like engaging with the audience: allowing students to ask questions to a living, breathing person. They’re simply more interactive than videos.

In any event, as the Flipped Learning Blog reminds us, it’s not all about the videos. Rather, once “you’ve freed up class time, you need to use it productively” (Reverse Instruction). It’s all about what you do with your class time to challenge your students to move up Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is what the flipped classroom doesn’t specifically address, because it’s an ideology, not a teaching strategy. The freed up class time is where your university pedagogy classes come in.

Flipped Classroom: New Look, Same Great Taste.

This is a good thing! No, it’s not novel. Nothing is original. It’s a repackaging of the same principles that we’ve always known comprise good teaching, with a bit of 90s tech thrown in. It’s a philosophical mashup/remix. It’s marketing. But it’s still a good reminder for us as teachers to focus on the intellectual habits that we need to be teaching our kids. If the flipped classroom does that, then it’s alright by me.

And by the way, I think you could easily do this in the humanities, at least in social studies. History documentaries and a few movie clips? Solid gold. The only strong objection I have is: WHAT DO YOU DO IF THE STUDENTS HAVEN’T DONE THE WORK? Sure, you can hold them accountable, but I teach a population where 10-20% of the kids aren’t motivated by adverse academic consequences. It’s really more an issue of motivation and management rather than the flipped classroom ideology, but it’s still something to think about.

The WoW of Flipped Classrooms

There’s a whole world of free and open higher education online for you to battle through! photo by rangzen on Flickr.

I’ll get to my response to the flipped classroom this weekend, but I came across the topic of “Massively Open Online Courses” on Slashdot and had to share. Basically, where the flipped classroom is about taking direct instruction out of the primary and secondary classroom and replacing it with higher-level thinking activities and an increased role of the teacher, MOOCs are about replacing and/or supplementing higher ed with independent courses open to anyone with an internet-connected device. They’re distinct visions of technology integration, but they both reimagine the role of the teacher and student:

If you were asked to name the most important innovation in transportation over the last 200 years, you might say the combustion engine, air travel, Henry Ford’s Model-T production line, or even the bicycle. The list goes on.

Now answer this one: what’s been the single biggest innovation in education?

Don’t worry if you come up blank. You’re supposed to. The question is a gambit used by Anant Agarwal, the computer scientist named this year to head edX, a $60 million MIT-Harvard effort to stream a college education over the Web, free, to anyone who wants one. His point: it’s rare to see major technological advances in how people learn. (Regalado)

I’ll come back to this about a later, but think about this: in an era of democratized information where finances and student visas are huge obstacles to higher education, are MOOCs the future?

Slashdot: MOOC Mania

New != Good

I’ll cut to the chase: my integration of technology is fairly middle-of-the-road, but just because my teaching isn’t revolutionary doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

I started by brainstorming a list of all the technology integration examples I could think of from my ancient & modern world history classes:

Most of these are described on my Showcase page.

Not trying to do everything at once

I hit a fairly broad range of the SAMR components, and as Jeff says, not every example of technology use needs to be a reimagination or completely new way of doing things. Edutopia tells us that tech integration needs to foster “active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts,” and most of my activities hit the first three criteria. However, connection to real-world experts is not something I’ve managed to integrate. What would this look like in the real world? It should go beyond just research expert resources – that would fall in the “Substitution” component. My understanding is that kids need to interact with expert in order to move up to the Redifinition component. I don’t imagine too many history professors and think-tank members are going to want to interact with all six of my history classes. But what about armchair experts? Having kids add to Wikipedia entries or comment about current events on a site like the New York Times would expose them to authentic, content-related conversation.

What I could change now

One example of a way I could improve my use of technology now is in my implementation of iClickers (a student response system). I currently use them for multiple choice practice – I project a question and the kids discuss what the correct answer is and why. If I wanted to redefine the way I do lecture, though, I could use iClickers to give the kids some processing time, ala Jeff Utecht, and ask them to answer one or two multiple choice questions every 5 or 10 minutes. This would give them time to reflect, discuss, and practice an essential test-taking skill.

What I could change in a perfect world

My technology integration examples have been cobbled on to my teaching over the past two years as I’ve progressively been given access to a document camera, iClicker system, Starboard, and just this year, reliable internet! As such, the tech skills my kids use aren’t scaffolding very neatly. It would be great to start from scratch, but I’m hesitant to do this since the curriculum at our school isn’t vertically aligned between grades or horizontally aligned between subjects. Like I said – in a more perfect world.

…and something to think about

SAMR and TIM share the unwritten assumption that new = good. This is necessary to get teachers and students to push the envelope, to dare, to dream, to challenge the status quo. I recognize it’s important to battle inertia in education. But we should recognize that these framework do not offer a way to evaluate the efficacy of these new tasks – for that, we’re still going to fall back on traditional criteria for evaluating learning. Making a video, for example, is awesome and can let more creative, less academic types demonstrate their learning. But for others, a video might “take an inordinate amount of time to complete but yield little “bang for the buck.”” (ASCD, Five Hallmarks of Good Homework). When I made my workout video, I spent about two hours planning and thinking about content and five just assembling the nuts and bolts. It was fun, but it spent 70% of the time working on skills and only 30% on the content. This is not absolutely BAD – it’s just something to be aware of when we’re deciding what assessments to use.

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Whose job is it, anyway? NETS implementation proposal

ISTE NETS-S. All rights reserved by ISTE

So you’ve decided your school is into 21st century learning. You want specific, measurable, and achievable goals for your students; you want them to have a skillset that will enable them to be successful in the decades to come. In other words, you’ve decided to implements NETS.

So now what?

The fact is, NETS is not a set of standards for computer competency. They are a holistic set of habits and skills for the development of critical thinkers and independent learners that uses technology as a framework to develop the requisite traits. This means that implementing them is a shared –  though not necessarily equally distributed – responsiblity in a school.

Continue reading Whose job is it, anyway? NETS implementation proposal

Moodle Gives Me a Headache

Not pictured: broken window, pavement rushing to meet me.
Some rights reserved by Zitona

If you’ve ever tried to send a message to a student or class on Moodle, then you know that the effort is liable to induce stabbing pains and an intense desire to throw yourself out of the nearest window.

I was grading some projects tonight and wanted to send quick notes to two or three students with some immediate feedback. Now, if this was one of my friends I was trying to get in touch with, I would:

  1. Open GMail
  2. Select friend from buddy list
  3. Type message and hit “Send”

Here’s what the process is like in Moodle:

  1. Go to Course
  2. Go to Participants
  3. Select class from “Separate Groups” menu, since 190 students are enrolled in my Moodle course
  4. “Show all students” because only first 20 are listed by default, and listed by Last Access date rather than something logical, like last name
  5. Select relevant students
  6. With selected users…Send a message
  7. Type message and Preview – there is no option to send directly (because having a preview of a one-sentence message is critical)
  8. Send message


Is Moodle being designed by anyone who actually teaches and uses the darn thing? Here’s what the Moodle interface SHOULD look like:

  1. Messaging window in left column. All enrolled students are grouped according to Moodle’s built-in Groups function.
  2. Select student from list
  3. Type message and hit “Send”
  4. BONUS: Right-clicking on student brings up options to send message via Twitter, Facebook, SMS, and/or email. Students could opt in to these options by putting them in corresponding fields in their profile. This way students have the choice of how close to, or far from, they want to be from their teachers – they can delineate their own school/home boundaries. This brings me to my next question:

Why are we still so far apart from our students?

As I alluded to above, I realize there’s the issue of boundaries here. But I don’t see why we aren’t making it easier for students to opt in to being more connected to school. After all, a young person’s only responsibility for which they are tangibly accountable is to do well at school (yes, I said it. Social and emotional development is taking a back seat, at least in this post!). I use a Facebook group to keep in touch with my swimmers; some of my students send me questions on Twitter. I find this far more convenient than email or making announcements during class – it frees up time for instruction. Moodle is what many, many schools use to structure their virtual classroom extensions… but Moodle is not at all doing a good job of bringing us together in an online community.

My Very Own Moodle

Here’s what my Modern World History class looks like on my school Moodle in Grid Format.
At my school we use Moodle as a virtual extension to our classrooms. Unfortunately, we don’t have guest access so I’m not able to demo how I set up my Moodle classroom. I jumped on that problem this weekend by setting up my own Moodle instance (at my web hosting service. I then exported my two Moodle classes from my school Moodle and imported them to my personal Moodle. I’ve only spent about two hours from setup to import, but the experience has highlighted to me how Moodle is not a simple drop-in replacement but rather an organic, dynamic, and temperamental beast – quite similar to many other pieces of open-source software.

Take the installation process, which is not terribly complicated but demands familiarity with the command line and basic web hosting tools. It’s along the lines of doing a manual WordPress install – not terribly complicated – but I had to install an older version (2.2.5), migrate my MySQL database to use UTF-8, and edit the .htaccess file to change the PHP version to make Moodle compatible with the environment provided by my host, 1and1. I’m used to having to dig through mountains of forum posts when doing anything Linux-related, so it wasn’t a big deal – I was able to find a post that exactly outlined the steps I needed to follow.

Then to the installation of plug-ins. WordPress makes it easy – log in to the web interface, go to the plug-ins section, paste in a URL, and bingo – WordPress will download and install the plugin for you. Moodle makes you remote into your server, wget the plugin, unzip it, manually move it to the appropriate directory (which could be any one of five or six locations), go to the admin interface, and then complete the install process. Furthermore, plug-ins don’t appear to be rigorously tested for compatibility: the Grid Format plug-in recommended and used by my school and adopted enthusiastically by myself for its visual literacy-friendly paradigm actually breaks the backup function, at least in Moodle 2.2.5. So I had to revert my course to the Topic Format, back it up, restore the backup to my own Moodle instance, and then re-enable the Grid View.

I like using the Grid Format, but it doesn’t play nice with some basic Moodle functionality. Here, my own Moodle instance has the Grid Format plugin installed, but the images are all broken.
And voila – my courses have appeared, albeit without the cover images for each Topic, which is a feature specific to Grid Format. Given that Grid Format breaks the backup function I’m not surprised they didn’t make the transition, and upon uploading new images I’ve found that every image is broken. So that’s where I am now.

Moodle reminds me of my experience with Ubuntu five years ago. It was powerful, fast, and had some really neat features, like display spanning and workspaces – but a typical install meant finding drivers, manually tweaking the XOrg.conf file, and generally spending a lot of man-hours to make everything work as it should. Sure, OSX cost about $130 at the time, but it installed in an hour or two and didn’t require you to piece together your own manual from six different forum threads.

Here’s hoping that Moodle quickly matures. It’s an ornery beast right now, but what scares me more is that it’s apparently miles and miles ahead of its commercial competitor, Blackboard. My advice to you: if you’ve got Moodle at your school, set up a dev environment inside a virtual machine and only roll them out to production once you’ve thoroughly tested (it’s best practice anyway, and a copy of VMWare Workstation is well worth the cash). At our school, the Moodle admin needs to make changes live, and doing that is not for the faint of heart.