Flipping the Classroom: A Practical Approach

Ishan Abeywardena, Ph.D.

Just the other day, I was invited to deliver a guest lecture to a bunch of enthusiastic young academics on new approaches to delivering lectures in a face-to-face classroom. This was at a briefing session in preparation for their new semester. During my initial conversation with the organizers, I was told that the group had considerable teaching experience ranging from two to fifteen years. As such, I was to talk about something totally new and out of the box which they hadn’t experienced before as conventional academics. So, after a considerable overdose of caffeine and staring at an empty notebook for hours,  I decided to deliver a flipped classroom lecture (well sort of) on ‘Flipped Classrooms’ to look at how this ‘ideal’ concept could be practically implemented in a University setting.

What is a ‘Flipped Classroom’?

This was my icebreaker question to the group. It was interesting to hear how they interpreted the image because many of them described a flipped classroom as something spontaneous; i.e. something which turned the class upside down. Obviously some of them cheated by quickly Googling it on their smartphones. This was a welcome distraction as they themselves were being flipped without their knowledge.

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flipped_classroom.png


Overall, the consensus was that a flipped classroom is student-centric rather than teacher-centric. The conversation led us to the following video where penguins are learning in a flipped environment; which makes you think if penguins can do it why can't we humans?

It was encouraging to see that the video clip had led to more questions than answers. Almost immediately someone blurted out “this might work for school but not for University”; which nicely paved the way to my next point. 

The dilemma of Digital Immigrants teaching Digital Natives

Many of us teachers today, if not all of us, are considered to be ‘Digital Immigrants’ for the simple fact that we were born before the digital era; i.e. we had to migrate from a previous form of technology to digital devices. In contrast, our students (with the exception of lifelong learners) are ‘Digital Natives’ who for the most part would have experienced a selfie before Mom’s milk. Therein lies the dilemma as we (the teachers) are trying to teach them (our students) using technology which they are better at using. Thus, it has become extremely difficult to bluff our way through a lecture using PowerPoint slides as they will be silently Googling everything we say on their mobile devices. For the most part, they would be able to find a YouTube video which will explain, in less than 6 minutes, the concepts we are trying so hard to get across using static text and images projected on a screen. For the remainder of the class they will be updating their Facebook status, uploading selfies on Instagram and discussing how boring the class is on Twitter. So why not beat them at their own game? Why do all the hard work of lecturing when we could just let them learn on their own? Why not just go around the class and answer any specific questions they might have? In essence why not go from being a ‘sage on stage’ to a ‘guide on the side’?

 Then there was another interesting observation: “even after this they will still be on Facebook ‘Like’ing someone’s party photos or commenting on a friend’s new pug”.

Social media as a flipping agent

Even we, the so called digital immigrants, have Facebook accounts. It has become a way of life. I’m sure many of us quickly check our social feeds whenever we get a chance even during a lecture. Therefore, why try to suppress what comes naturally to a digital native? Rather than lecturing, why not put up the topic and ask them to Google it? Then share websites, images and videos on the class Facebook group followed by a twitter discussion on the questions they might have? Why not display the live twitter feed on the screen?

 “Isn’t it easier for them to just put their hands up and ask the question rather than tweet it?”.

Well, let’s be honest to ourselves here. Haven’t we ever sent a text massage instead of calling someone up? Of course we have… It’s a basic human tendency to hide feelings and emotions which are hard to conceal. This is why video calling never took off in a big way because it would be easier to hide your true emotions through voice rather than video. Texting allows us to remove all emotions from a conversation unless we want to explicitly express them using smileys. It also gives us the opportunity to think a bit longer about the content of the message we are putting across, its tone, its impact and consequences. It also helps to eliminate issues such as weak communication skills, command of language, articulation, self confidence and fear of public speaking. This applies the same if not amplified in a lecture hall with a couple of hundred students. Even the most confidant of students would refrain from drawing attention to themselves by asking a question publically. However, if we allow them to use a medium such as twitter which they are comfortable with, we might be able to make everyone a ‘front row student’.

“Okey… I agree with all of this but I don’t have the time or the resources to create video clips to be used in my class”.

OER to the rescue

Many of us are familiar with the concept of Open Educational Resources (OER). If not then the following video clip will show the Creative Commons' (http://creativecommons.org/) take on it.

 There are plenty of rich educational material available out there as OER which can be used freely and openly. You just need to know where to look.

Once you have located the OER that would suit your class, you need to understand what you can do with it legally. The following will help.

 As a good rule of thumb when it comes to OER, just use the ones which say CC BY or CC BY-SA and you should be safe.

Towards the end of my guest lecture, I was glad to see that there was some buy-in to the concept of flipping the class. One participant said that she would breakup her two hour lecture in to two parts and use one as a tutorial. Another said that he doesn’t see a 100% flip as a possibility but would incorporate social media in a more effective manner. In sum, I was happy with what they took away in terms of flipping their classroom. How they would go about it practically remains to be seen.

It would be great to hear your take on this....



Click here to access the OER repository

Your gateway to Asian initiatives in educational resources for learning and online teaching