Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Lecture By Any Other Name...

I started hearing buzz about the flipped classroom via Twitter a few weeks ago and wondered what this new educational practice was all about.  When I read a few sources, my first thought was this scene from The Wire about the Barksdale crew rebranding their drug supply to bring back customers because it had turned into a bad product.

 (*Clip contains strong language)

Flipping the classroom is a buzzword with little substance because it rearranges the same bad product:  the lecture.  It is still a lecture whether it is in video format or not.  Lecture has its place and can be a good pedagogical tool, especially when laced with thoughtful questioning and opportunities for processing with peers.  One of the premises of the flipped classroom is that the traditional classroom lecture is watched at home via computer-embedded video like Khan Academy instead of at school. So in a science classroom, a student watches a video about titration before conducting a titration lab in school. 

In theory, the model is promising in that the activities in a classroom are dedicated to student inquiry instead of passive reception of information.  I don’t believe that is revolutionary teaching.  It is good pedagogy that has been espoused for years.  Dewey. Freire. Whitehead.  My critique is not that we shouldn’t be dedicating our time to classroom inquiry but that we need to flip traditional in class activities like lectures to out of class activities.  

Why is a didactic lecture necessary before engaging in classroom inquiry?  This model reinforces the belief that students have zero prior knowledge or that meaning cannot be made without being first told by the teacher.  The lecture possesses all of the answers.  While activities are being “flipped” from classwork to homework, the epistemology of learning via transmission remains intact. 

           Flipping the classroom by having students learn a concept at home does not address scaffolded teaching.  I have yet to see how students are taught to make meaning from video like they might with written text.  It assumes that these so-called digital natives possess strategies for meaning creation with video.  It is unclear to me how students are equipped to process the information in the video without any teacher or peer interactions.    

Without instruction about the text itself, "flipping" also reifies the epistemology of “text as truth”.  I fail to see the difference between these videos and a textbook.  Flipping is not transforming; it is edifying dominant narratives.  The teacher is still defining what knowledge counts and what knowledge does not count.  And many of the video lectures contain no author.  Are students being taught to critique the source of the video and the information being delivered?  

The biggest affront may be the videos themselves.  Watch this “video” from Khan Academy.  It is hardly a video that utilizes any of the affordances of even rudimentary flash animation.  Why would a 15 year old be motivated to watch this?  Because it is online?  It is cool?  I know my students would have had my head, and rightfully so, if I shilled these videos as required text.  They may be a useful resource for some students, in some instances, but there are far better online texts and tools to utilize for instruction.  Flipping the classroom as conceptualized right now by the educational twitterati is just rearranging the status quo to make it look different but it doesn’t transform or empower student learning.  It is replicating an overused practice in class to outside of class with little to no student support for meaning making.  Until deeper thought is put into the uses of technology like online video,  it is just more of the flipping same.