The Flipped Classroom Buzz – Part 1: Exploring the Idea

13 Nov

Preliminary Considerations – Pieces of the Current Conversation

The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions…. The value of a flipped class is in the repurposing of class time into a workshop where students can inquire about lecture content, test their skills in applying knowledge, and interact with one another in hands-on activities. During class sessions, instructors function as coaches or advisors, encouraging students in individual inquiry and collaborative effort.


The flipped classroom is about making connections with learners and differentiating your instruction. If videos are a part of that multi-faceted plan, great. If they are not, still great. The flipped class is an ideology, not a methodology.  The relationships, the discussions, and the experiences matter. We know that already. Regardless of what methods or ideas you use in your room, let’s continue to focus on what helps learners learn best.

Brian Bennett

The Flip is in flux . . .  as is an educator’s evaluation of any instructional practice.  Educators should always continue to evaluate the efficacy of an adopted model of instruction.  This goes for Flipped Class, Inquiry, lecturing, Unschooling, or whatever educational model you use.

Aaron Sams

Preliminary Contemplations – Setting the Puzzle Pieces into a Border

Piece 1:  Simply put, Derek Bruff describes the flipped – or inverted – classroom as “a teaching approach in which students get first exposure to course content before class through readings or videos, then spend class time deepening their understanding of that content through active learning exercises.”

In this configuration, students complete a first pass at learning during their informal study time outside of the class:  Working with a pod- or vod- or screen- or audio-casting of a presentation or lecture that otherwise would have been an inclass lecture, a student’s active preparation for the upcoming class session does have room to include responding to a set of embedded questions and assessments of learning.

Through engagement with these prompts – which might have been excluded from an inclass lecture’s time and space  constraints – students move from noting initial ideas and information to looking carefully at misconceptions through short assessments and reflection on how / what they’ve both learned and unlearned.  Student can, further, synthesize their thinking through these flipped presentations by noting which ideas addressed questions they brought into the assignment – and by fully noting the questions that have surfaced in the completion of an assignment.  This is the full extension of the flip – the stretch to learn.

Active preparation for class could also include assignments such as: comparing ideas with peers, viewing/hearing electronic content multiple times, concluding the one’s studying by seeking out others’ questions in an online discussion, by creating or adding to a blog post, or by Tweeting resources to pursue a question that emerged in the preparatory thinking.  When learning becomes public – at the course level and sometimes beyond those in the class – through sharing of sparks in thinking about a given topic, those materials, in turn, shape the teacher’s preparation, creation of tasks, and finalizing of “just one or two level harder” problem to be posed to groups, even the entire class.

In this inverted configuration, classtime (like active preparation time) features multi-directional interactions as teachers shift from “the lecturer” mode of transmitting information into a stewardship mode of tending to the field and its future thinkers.  A mentor mode, if you will.   Mentors – if we look at that role in its full robustness – are people who advise, tutor, support, supervise, model, and network.

As mentors we typically exercise multiple aspects of our professional roles and identities while interacting with students.  With a “flip of the classroom,” it might well mean that we teachers are able to make fuller use of our selves and our skills. With the “flip of the classroom,” it might well mean that we teachers are able to see again how a beginner’s mind works when it’s expected to come into the room with question, to re-think ideas (and to do so by drawing together information with others), to stumble into problems as they wrestle with threshold concepts.  With “the flip,” we expect them to do this hard part of learning right in front of us.

Backflip photo by JackHynes

Backflip as Photo 95 in One-Photo-a-Day stream:

And this beginner’s mind – with new skills and motivations for persisting in a learning process that, indeed, is rocky – this beginner’s mind will spark in new ways having seen how minds work.

And the mind of the teacher-as-mentor?  When she is in my shoes in this flipped classroom, she knows more about how the 400 ideas of a couple of weeks of class take shape as the 4 core ideas that can I can better use to filter, prioritize and re-shape to select framing concepts and content for the out-of-class active learning objects and assignments.  I whittle content and in that process make richer tasks for the inclass learning who come into the mentored classroom.

In short, the flipped classroom invites practices of teaching and learning more akin to the professional work someone in our fields might undertake.  We mentor toward the profession in practices that include socializing students into the processes and practices in shaping questions, writing, discussions, presentations and other interactions as they might in the field.

Piece 2:  Ever notice that at gymnastics events there are supports everywhere – spring boards for mounting equipment, extra mats for dismounts, chalk and wrist supports aplenty for surer grips, spotters who give an assist for mounting high bars?

All of these supports are available during practice as well.

All of these supports are part of a system of learning that blends active preparation outside of team practice or individual coaching sessions with guided practice, peer engagement and authentic evaluation during this intensive time-on-task session during which mentors orchestrate performances involving individuals, pairs, whole teams. 

All of these supports are part of the constructivist pedagogy that guides gymnastics practices as I saw them unfold across middle school and high school when I photographed practices and meets.  Coaches assumed that budding gymnasts came onto the team with misconceptions about how a body in motion worked muscles, about how a body could be propelled into action by small movements, about how a body shifts into motion from inert starts and throughout runs of moves.

From this, then constructed preliminary training (viewing films, studying diagrams, talking about human anatomy and physics) that moved onto mats and apparatus for specifically designed series of tasks seeking practiced improvement of strength and movement by doing, precision and grace by watching, sequencing and invention by collaborating with others on the team.

The gymnastics coaching teams I watched then, I would say now, practiced constructivist active learning by setting up a flipped environment – jumping into it with both feet – strategically placed, of course.

Andrews, et al, makes the case for active learning as a practice of constructivist learning theory – and that can, and does, falter, when it’s added onto teaching practices we’ve received in our own student roles rather than as a mentor-influence strategy infused across a course.  In that mixed-methods research article, the authors describe a constructivist approach in these ways (with the quotes below as a mashup of passages from 400-403 of the article cited below):

Constructivism—the theory that students construct their own knowledge by incorporating new ideas into an existing framework—likely permeates all aspects of education researchers’ instruction, including how they use active learning. Without this expertise, the active-learning exercises an instructor uses may have superficial similarities to exercises described in the [active learning] literature, but may lack constructivist elements necessary for improving learning.

Constructivist theory argues that individuals construct new understanding based on what they already know and believe, and what students know and believe at the beginning of a course is often scientifically inaccurate. Therefore, constructivist theory argues that we can expect students to retain serious misconceptions if instruction is not specifically designed to elicit and address the prior knowledge students bring to class.

Instructors should assume [as part of a constructivist approach] students enter science courses with preexisting ideas that impede learning and that are unlikely to change without instruction designed specifically…to elicit misconceptions, create situations that challenge misconceptions, and emphasize conceptual frameworks, rather than isolated facts.

Like those gymnastics coaches I watched from the edge of the mats, I have come to understand that we can truly flip our classes when we flip our theories about learning and teaching, when backward design becomes the springboard, the mat on the ground, so that we make choices about structuring the whole of a course.  Rather than a simply flip of the in-person lecture location from classroom to a podcast carried into coffeeshop or dorm room settings (something I tend or hear about after it’s been tried and found wanting by students and teachers alike), the design of a constructivist flip will have us asking where and why and when and how we present information and ideas to students – where to place the gym floor mats, and which mats and how thick and which ones with springboards or spotters.

So, what if like those coaches, we continue thinking about learning outcomes as mentoring tools, if we and our students continue to attend to the goals once we’ve polished the syllabus wording by working those learning outcomes into the design of class sessions, or drawing on them to  guide how we design units/modules within a course?  We can draw on outcomes to determine which concepts are featured in the out-of-class lectures.  We can use the outcome to guide us in determining how to develop the “at home” presentations and lectures: Will the learning be better supported via vod- or podcasts, as interactive lectures on Camtasia or Voicethread, as student-generated presentations rather than teacher presentations?  And how will these “at home” materials be paired with reflective active learning – perhaps via designer statements through which students reflect on the process of making meaning, or as writing- or drawing-to-learn tasks .  These activities can turn passive reading assignments to engagement in two places: at home students map ideas and insights as these coming together and in the classroom students are poised to  contribute meaningfully to the learning in the discussions and other higher-level activities.

In short, we need to see and study our own “coaching theories” – those beliefs and understandings we hold about how learning happens in a human brain and in human communities, those pedagogical practice that we can draw into our planning to create contexts, environments and activities in which complex learning sparks.

Those pedagogical considerations will shape Part 2, next week’s post on Pedagogical Considerations: Flipping to Backward Design.

Preliminary Connections – Pieces for Preliminary Reading

The photo below is from day three of sifting through others’ words on the flipped classroom, the scene as I was down to finding not fewer than three and not as many as ten select electronic resources I would suggest for this post on Preliminaries. Although the listing does follow the alphabet as its organizing principle, that is accidental.  I actually piled the select resources in a preferred reading order, and so I list them here with that suggested order as the actual guide.

Andrews, TM, MJ Leonard, CA Colgrove and ST Kalinowski.  “Active Learning Not Associated with Student Learning in a Random Sample of College Biology Courses.”  CBE-Life Science Education 10.4 (Winter 2011):394-405.

Brian Bennett.  “The Flipped Class is not a methodology, it is an ideology.”  Bennett is a biology and chemistry teacher who “write[s] frequently on using technology to enhance instruction and simple methods teachers can pick up and use immediately.”

Derek Bruff.  “The Flipped Classroom FAQ.” Bruff is director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, and lectures in the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics; alongside this he, consults across the curriculum on educational technology, social pedagogies, and other teaching and learning topics.

Educause.  “Things You Should Know about Flipped Classrooms.”

Michael Gorman.  “Flipping The Classroom… A Goldmine of Research and Resources To Keep You On Your Feet.”  Gorman is intent on advocating for teachers and students as part of developing learning and teaching practices congruent with 21st Century education.

Andrew Miller.  “Five Best Practices for Flipped Classrooms.” Miller has taught in online as well as brick & mortar settings, always implementing his self-described core tenets of culturally responsive teaching, project-based learning, and game-based learning.

Aaron Sams.  “The Flipped Class: Shedding light on the confusion, critique, and hype.”  Sams is credited with using screencast techniques to move

delivery of information to via technology outside of the classroom to open classroom space for application and inquiry.

Robert Talbert.   “The inverted classroom and student self-image.”  Talbert is a mathematics and computer science associate professor a SoTL (scholarship of teaching and learning) interest focused on undergraduate courses, especially involving  problem-solving and use of technology.

Next Month – Part 2, Pedagogical Considerations


3 Responses to “The Flipped Classroom Buzz – Part 1: Exploring the Idea”


  1. Flipping through the Flipped Classroom Buzz – Part 1, Preliminary … | Gymnastics Facts - 13 November 2012

    […] See the original post: Flipping through the Flipped Classroom Buzz – Part 1, Preliminary … […]

  2. Flipping through the Flipped Classroom Buzz – Part 1, Preliminary Considerations by Ilene Dawn | PGCAP News Blog - 17 November 2012

    […] Flipping through the Flipped Classroom Buzz – Part 1, Preliminary Considerations. […]

  3. Flipping through the Flipped Classroom Buzz – Part 1, Preliminary Considerations | Flipping Uni | - 30 November 2012

    […] From "Techniques in Learning and Teaching".  The start of an overview of the flipped or inverted classroom approach to teaching.  […]

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