Thursday, October 31, 2013

Technology and The Classroom: To Flip or Not To Flip

This past week I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation given by Jon Palmer (Website) on "flipping a classroom." What is involved in this model? In a "flipped classroom," students are given video lessons to watch at home that pretty much take the place of traditional lectures, and when they are in class they work on worksheets, projects, and other activities based on the lesson they learned at home. So in this kind of model the student gets the information at home, and the student does work in class. The logic behind this is based on the idea that traditional style lectures are uninteresting and disengaging so a lot of students have difficulty paying attention to it. Also in traditional classrooms, students are given homework, usually on a regular basis, where they are expected to do it at home on their own even if the homework assignment is difficult. In a "flipped classroom," students are just expected to watch a video at home instead of having to work on difficult homework, and when they are in school they can work on activities or problem sets like the ones they would originally do for homework but this time, they would have the teacher with them to provide any help or support they need. So in short, lecture at home, homework in class.

The idea of it sounds really appealing. Making students only responsible for watching a video at home on a lesson, which isn't too bad considering students probably spend countless hours watching television or YouTube. Students also get more support while working on problems in class, and have access to immediate help and feedback from the teacher. Now instead of students trying to figure out difficult problems or activities at home, they have the teacher there with them. The model sounds really interesting after hearing about, and I can see the potential it presents as it addresses several prominent issues in schools such as getting students to be engaged in lectures and also encouraging students to complete their homework. However, I know from my own experience that there are a lot of possible problems that need to be addressed before this model will produce any results.

First, I'd like you to watch one of the presenter's created lesson videos.

Pretty amazing stuff. As one of his hobbies has been video editing, he above average skills when it comes to producing videos such as these. He created a video where he is able to have three people (all played by him) in the video at the same time interacting with each other. Here's where one of the problems exist. In order for the "flipped classroom" model to work, you have to create these lesson videos that are as engaging to students as the ones Mr. Palmer has created here. He informed us during his presentation that he spends over 200 minutes of planning, recording, and processing for every one minute of the finished video. How many of us has the motivation, skills, and time to put into creating these types of videos for each lesson in a curriculum? Is this really feasible for an average teacher? This also made me wonder about something else. If I were to invest 200 minutes of my time in planning each minute of a lesson, I think it would exponentially increases the quality of my lesson to begin with and students might be more engaged as well as learn more in a traditional lecture.

Another problem that arose during the presentation was the context in which this "flipped classroom" was used. Yes, Mr. Palmer mentioned that he saw improvement in attitudes and engagement of the students as well as quiz grades. However, he used this model to teach an AP physics class. The problem with this context is that most students who elect to take AP courses tend to be highly motivated students who have more than not proven themselves to know the basics of what is takes to be a successful student. In other words, the student for the most part knows how to be responsible for his or her own learning. This translates to these students having a higher likelihood of actually going home and watching the videos on their own. Now consider using this model in an urban "high need" school where students are lower achieving students to begin with who are not motivated in the first place. You really can't assume that the majority of these students will actually watch these videos at home on their own. Even for many who do watch the video, they won't have the necessary knowledge or skills to process that information. How do I know this? Well at my current placement at the Detroit School of Arts (DSA), we are currently using a "flipped classroom" model and these are the problems that have arose during the course of this semester. There are other issues such as students not having the proper technology such as computers or internet access at home.

Mr. Palmer taught at a suburban school which was probably comprised of mostly students from middle class to upper class families. He also said that when he started this model, there was no technology issues either such as students not having access to a computer or internet. In this kind of context, I can see how a "flipped classroom" could produce inspiring results. However, in a context like the one I mentioned previously, I'm just not sure if it's working. I did learn some things I could try in regards to activities, tests, and how to make better and more engaging videos, but I'm not convinced that a "flipped classroom" is the model I want to use in my future practice.


  1. I really enjoyed your post Jonathan especially since I think we can agree on a lot of things in regards to flipped classrooms. Granted you have a little personal experience with the model to draw from, but I agree that the flipped classroom model has its positives and negatives associated with it. I like how you credit John's amazing video editing skills and his motivation to work tirelessly to create these engaging videos. That's something I don't think I would have time for myself, especially since as you say, that same amount of time could be put into creating engaging lesson plans delivered the "old fashioned way." I also struggle with how I can flip an English classroom successfully, especially given the fact that I want to teach middle school students. While many students, regardless of age, might complain about having to learn the material outside of school, I think middle schoolers in particular would put up a fight since they are still young and complain about the small amount of homework we occasionally give them now (let alone every day in the form of videos of varying length with a flipped classroom!). And what about students who participate in a variety of extracurricular activities? We don't really want them staying up late to watch long videos do we? Thanks for giving us a little more to think about in terms of flipping classrooms! I hope it ends up working well in your placement :)

  2. Jonathan,

    I think your post is very thoughtful and comprehensive. Overall, I agree with your conclusion that that the "flipped classroom" model is not something I intend to use in my classroom. However, I did learn a tremendous amount from Mr. P's presentation as well.

    Frankly, I was incredibly struck by his dedication to the "flipped classroom" idea. I specifically like learning about how the model instructs students to learn material first independently at home and then compliments tutorials with in-class activity with the teacher. I think this idea is very powerful. Giving students an opportunity to familiarize themselves with content information can function as purposeful scaffolding knowledge. Interestingly enough, I was surprised to hear about your placement's interaction with the model. What ways could you see the model being altered to suit the needs of a low-income environment?

  3. Jonathan,

    I'm glad to have the opportunity to read your thoughts about flipping classrooms. Comparing your experience of this at your placement and Mr. Palmer's flipped classrooms is very illuminating! You made a good point when you highlighted the difference in learners that you work with in comparison with his students. It seems as though students at your placement would benefit even more from this model than the traditional, because they may not have the support or resources at home to attack really difficult problems in their homework sets. However, their access to the internet may not be consistent and their motivation may be very low. I would think that flipping the classroom would only be possible once a strong classroom culture has been built and the tech/equity problems have been troubleshooted. A big "if/then"!

    I appreciate too your insight about planning! You're absolutely right- if I spent hours and hours with each lesson plan, my own teaching would be much more engaging! The question becomes then, "What's the best use of our limited time?" I think that the flipped classroom model is compelling, but there are still a laundry list of questions, logistics and issues to be ironed out before it becomes a practice model for learning!

  4. Thank you all for your comments. To address your question Ben, I feel that the best way to alter the flipped classroom model to suit the needs of a low-income environment is to first introduce the model to them slowly so they get used to it. The model relies heavily on students taking more responsibility and ownership over their learning, which is something many of them aren't used to or don't like. I think the real benefit of a flipped classroom is to reach a state of self pacing where students can work through the material at their own pace. This way, students who are struggling or behind can get more targeted support from the teacher, and students who are way ahead can be given more enrichment activities. But I'd like to mention that I'm not a fan of it especially from what I've seen at my placement.