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. 


  1. Yes, I agree. One of the assumptions about flipping that you did not address was the nature of homework itself. Homework sometimes has to be practice. Practice comprehension and practice solving are some of the types of tasks teachers ask with homework. Why do I need to watch that kind of practice? A sports analogy -- it's like showing a player how to do a dribbling move and then standing around for the next half hour watching him attempt to master it. That kind of practice I don't have to watch. I have to watch and instruct the practice when the player attempts to apply the move in a game situation. For flipped classes, has the homework changed? A student watches the lecture and then comes in to do the experiment? Were the experiments done at home previously? What exactly is the homework that needs to be done in class? I agree that better use of technology outside and inside the class has to be considered in order to make any type of classroom structure, flipped or not, work.

  2. Wow, get me going...any "new" vehicle suffers from a legacy of application pedagogy. Correct in questioning the efficacy of lecture online v. classroom, the only advantage to online is that it removes "place" from the equation if the presentation is the same. Unless the online environment creates the opportunity to respond to the discussion (probably the wrong choice of word in the context of a "lecture") than we've actually reduced the functionality of the presentation to the domain of a review. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but a dodge if the online lecture is relied upon for understanding. However, in the context of adding meaning to a "lecture" as a online resource; if done well the flipping of content presentation can be a benefit. Three criteria are critical for developing this tactic:
    1. push/granularity-the presentation must be specific,
    2. pull/response-the presentation must be tied to an inquiry mechanism or without that, must provide optional trajectories to allow for self discovery, and
    3. active v. passive/a presentation online is "flat" without interaction

  3. Once the opportunity for discourse is removed the activity is subject to misinterpretation and misconceptions, all incredibly difficult to correct.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this post, Mike!

    I agree that the lack of interaction and response is troubling and harmful for students at the very least.

    "Flipped" learning seems to be a simple opportunity for some schools/providers to fill voids online that the textbook companies have not already. I see bad pedagogy being used in the interest of making someone else's business plans successful, and that just makes me sad.

  5. You assume that the videos are either from Khan academy or just a recording of a lecture. In the examples of flipped classroom I have see this is not the case. Teachers do demos, use visuals, incorporate interactive models, etc.

  6. An alternative sequence might be, in class, have a demonstration of an effect/experiment followed by the raising of questions about what was seen. Then students are challenged to find explanations online out of school. Otherwise, the flipped classroom is destined to erase any form of surprise/curiosity from classroom life.

  7. Khan has its place. I think it is great for demonstration purposes, review, and even as an introduction. I think the best of use of videos is when teachers prepare specific content for their specific classes. Online content, or lectures, should contain a goal or overview, curriculum information, an activity of some sort and a tie in to the F2F learning. If done correctly, teachers can use this strategy to provide asynchronous learning opportunities for students. I have heard many students say how much they appreciate being able to pause and review the content that their teachers create for them. Teachers should make the most of the tools available to them and flipped instruction is one such tool. The flipping of content, if done correctly can be an asset for students and teachers alike! The key, of course, is doing it well.