Steven B. Johnson writes in Where Good Ideas Come From about the revolutionary power of social media such as Twitter to advance ideas and innovation in a myriad of fields, and it has been fascinating to see this concept in action in the swift spread over the past six months of the practice of flipping classrooms, which is also known as reverse instruction or learning, and is closely related to (or often synonymous with) teacher vodcasting.
Johnson also writes that when a good idea is “ripe,” it emerges from multiple inventors and innovators simultaneously, making credit very difficult to assign (this “convergence” concept is also heavily explored in Kevin Kelly’s fascinating new book What Technology Wants).
Over the past three months, my post on Reverse Instruction on Connected Principals has been read an average of thirty times a day, and shows no sign of slowing down. Educators widely are experimenting with this idea and sharing their own reactions and learnings about the practice online; they are being informed and influenced by the fine work and writing of Karl Fisch of the Fischbowl, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams of the Teacher Vodcasting Network, John Sowash of the Electric Educator, and many others.
This innovation is also being greatly enhanced by the buzz around Salman Khan, who will be a keynote speaker for the NAIS Annual Conference this year. It was in thinking about Khan’s impact that I first began to learn and think through more the implications of reverse learning, and I have written about that twice before, in Khan Academy: Where Does it Fit? and Collapsing Binaries: Digital learning transformation for better learning environments.
Just today, in fact, there is a very powerful post at Singularity Hub, entitled, Yes, the Khan Academy is the Future of Education: “The Khan Academy is the best thing that has happened to education since Socrates.”
Below, after a quick review of the practice, I share input and feedback about the practice from two teachers at my school and from Jason Kern, Lorri Carroll, Shelley Wright, and Chris Bigenho.
For those educators who never use, nor feel the need to use, classroom time for lecturing, reversing learning probably has little significance; hence, extremely progressive educators and practicioners of pure PBL may find this innovation a bit passe. However, many fine teachers do most certainly still find great value in delivering content information and modeling skills, and yet want to make the most of their time with student– and for them, reverse instruction is ideal.
Flip your instruction so that students watch and listen to your lectures (or those of other expert lecturers, including MIT professors and Salman Khan) for homework, and then use your precious class-time for what previously, often, was done in homework: tackling difficult problems, working in groups, researching, collaborating, crafting and creating. Classrooms become laboratories or studios, and yet content delivery is preserved.
Previously, we simply lacked the tools and the resources: we didn’t have a way for students to watch our own lectures at home, and we didn’t have resources available to watch the lectures and instruction of experts. With both now here, the transformation can advance. At the same time, what is now an opportunity is also becoming an urgency: if students don’t need to come to class to get informational content delivery, if they can get it easily on their own, we need to transform how we use our classroom time such that it continues to be relevant and valuable.
At St. Gregory, one of our math teachers, Leanne Kuluski is flipping her classroom; it is great to hear her talk about her excitement when she began to become familiar with the ideas. She is using screenflick to prepare narrated powerpoints for her students, but is still working on exactly the right delivery and posting options for best accessibility. She says she now has more time in class from meaningful discussions and for working on problems; her students find the powerpoints so valuable because they can refer back to them and listen to them multiple times if necessary, and they are so great for absences.
Ms. Kuluski reports they don’t take her all that long to prep, and she works to keep them to 20 minutes or so in length, though they are sometimes longer. She says the kids tell her they love it; one of her pieces of advice is to embed into them funny parts, with jokes and silly accents and things which surprise and amuse her students.
Dr. Scott Morris, our Chemistry instructor, uses reverse instruction extensively. He shares both podcast lectures and narrated powerpoints with students, and lectures in class much more sparingly than he used to: “much of lecturing now is outline and reiterating the problems of the day and how to approach them.” His flip teaching employs the technology of Webassign to assess students in how well they have learned the material in the online lectures, and he says students love getting that “green check mark” when they get the Webassign problem correct. Now, most of his class time is spent presenting challenging chemistry problems and watching as students work in groups.
Dr. Morris advises other teachers considering this approach to not sweat the details. “The key is to not get too bent out of shape about production quality; just bang it out. It is more important to get it out there and online than that it be perfect.” He works to keep his lectures to 15-20 minutes per segment, but sometimes assigns two segments. His students also find Khan Academy a great second resource for their learning; he reports how much stress has been alleviated by this practice when students have to miss class due to illness, travel or sports.
Shelley Wright is a high school educator in Moose Jaw, SK and blogs at Wright’s Room; she has written a pair of posts now on her work in reversing instruction.
I decided to use [reverse instruction] to teach my students the basic concepts of neurons. For homework, I posted to our wiki a Khan Academy video, as well as, a couple of TED talks from leading neurologists to explain some of the purposes neurons have and cutting edge research that’s being done in the field. In total, maybe about 25 minutes of work.
Shelley’s reports on very positive success with her experiment.
I love the idea that my students are now being taught by leading neurologists. Shouldn’t all of our biology students be able to say that?
One of the things that I love about this idea, is the versatility and flexibility of it. Students can watch, pause and re-watch portions of the lecture. This way they can tailor the speed of instruction to their needs.
The next day, I checked my student’s learning. They seemed to get it, and they loved the Khan Academy video.
Shelley helpfully reflects on her project, recognizing that she has to focus on building in students’ accountability for completing tasks by requiring they take notes on the video lectures, and she is really thoughtful about how she should use video instruction not only for foundational content delivery but for optional enrichment for those students motivated to keep going.
I had my students watch two “lectures” from Khan Academy on Multiplying/ Dividing Rational Expressions, my scheduled lessons for Thursday/ Friday. (Here are the two videos: Video 1 and Video 2) I then assigned them the normal homework.
I asked the class if they were able to watch the videos (which actually amounted to under 10 minutes combined) and whether or not they “got” the homework. I was amazed at what happened… ALL the students said they watched the videos (and some even gave me an informal commentary about what they liked and disliked about Salman Khan). All but one student had his/her homework completed in class and the student who didn’t said that he did watch the videos and complete it but, left it at home. That’s no better/ worse than a normal day! (Actually, maybe a little better!)
Lorri reports her intent to do more in the future.
I believe that there are still times for lecture and conveying the basic economic theories and vocabulary that are necessary to have class discussions. I just think that spending valuable time together to disseminate that information is not the best way to accomplish getting this information. So Brad and I spent some of our Winter break podcasting many of the lectures we would typically do during the semester. We stripped the content down to the bare essentials because we new the real learning would occur during the class time discussions of current events, blog post and comments.
The beauty of having the podcasts in iTunes already there is once we make it through the basics we did last week and supply and demand this week we can jump to wherever the class leads us and reach the advanced topics they are interested in. The students in essence are making the roadmap for what we learn through what they are interested in.
In a lot of ways it mirrored what I thought it would, including a significantly more in depth discussion of the economic topics in a significantly more meaningful way. However, it also showed me how quickly we touched on much more advanced topics that we will soon explore in more depth.
Jason then returns to review his progress in a second post, in which he very helpfully reviews the good, the bad, and the realizations of his initiative. For example:
Good – The students seem to be listening and “enjoying” the podcasts. Several have downloaded them to their phones and I have even caught some listening to them at school (kind of a serial experience to be honest). Others have even admitted to listening to them on their drive to school in the morning.
Realizations – As expected you can tell a few have not listened to the podcast when you engage them in class discussion but this is no different than when I asked them to read prior to coming to class before.
I think keeping them to under 20 minutes is the best length for a night’s homework as the couple we have over that have not been received as well.
Over at the NAISAC blog, which is run by the excellent educational thinker Chris Bigenho of Greenhills School (TX), there has been an online study group formed, working on “Experiencing the Snow Day Flip.” Chris has collected a great set of comments and observations about flipping instruction, and interested readers should check out the complete set. I will share here just a few:
- Start to think about seat time differently. What will you do in class when you make the students responsible for content? Where does homework fit it? Could this be part of the replacement for traditional homework? Again, be careful of the” course and a half.”
- Be careful you don’t create a “course and a half”. If you truly flip, and push content out of the classroom, consider how you will use your face to face class time differently.
- Leverage both synchronous and asynchronous technologies when working from a distance.
- Try to avoid the “lecture” as a way to deliver content from a distance. Allow for experiential learning, interactions and collaboration.
- Artifact of understanding. This is something that the student creates that captures the student’s level of understanding through synthesis of the material. This can be anything from a reflective blog post to videos, sound recordings, media presentations, artwork, creative writing, collection of images with reflective text etc. Match the artifact of understanding with the nature and complexity of the material being explored.
- Use the tools that you have available. You don’t have to purchase expensive tools to flip your classroom.
Many of the educators experimenting with flipping classrooms are also thinking hard about what’s next. Dr. Morris tells me that next for him is to implement a 100% reversed program, and Ms. Kuluski tells me she will do action research on reverse instruction for her graduate studies. Jason Kern offers several helpful thoughts about where to go next:
We are also looking forward to other teachers and administrators in our school leading some of the class discussions in the coming weeks, showing the students that these topics affect everyone. We will be looking for people to Skype into the class to discuss topics.”
I am also considering going back and added some video for examples for next semester as there are things that need visuals that we don’t cover as well presently in podcast form.
We are working now in a fast transforming profession,, and we all have to choose whether to embrace the transformation and ride it toward renewed vigor in our practice and reinvented learning for our students.
Flipping our classrooms is a great place to start, and can go a long way to effecting this transformation if it is part of a broader approach of digitally empowered, rigorous and challenging, project and problem-based, active and engaged learning.