When the flipped classroom flops

Picking up where Glenn McGarry and Laura Hollinshead left off in their previous posts, I feel compelled to add my two penneth on the subject of so-called flipped classrooms. The whole notion is too good to be true: every student diligently preparing for class, engaging with pre-session materials.

…the practice of pre-recording lectures for students to watch at home, so that the timetabled contact with the lecturer or teacher may be used for Q&A or seminars, supposedly to reinforce deeper learning.

Based on my own recent and past experiences of providing students with pre-session materials in a range of formats, I believe the likelihood of getting each and every student to buy into the notion of the flipped classroom difficult. In fact, when considering my own experiences, renaming the concept the flopped classroom would seem more appropriate. This leads me to wonder why there is so much fervent eulogising about the perceived merits of the flipped classroom in certain quarters.

Flipped classrooms are nothing new, nor particularly ground breaking. Providing students with pre-session materials in order to give more time over to discussion during lectures is something that has been going on in education for a long time. Compared with past methods, the only discernible differences I can see concern the immediacy with which materials can be delivered and the range of media that can be used to create them. While this is certainly a leap forward in terms of delivery, it does not guarantee that the materials will be any good nor that students will engage with them. In fact, in many instances the digitalisation of materials can make them worse. Potentially, it can also leave those students who don’t particularly want everything digitised feeling frustrated that they are being asked to engage with resources they may not perceive to provide any benefits. In addition, we mustn’t forget that for some students no matter how pre-session materials are packaged, a whole raft of reasons – too many to go into here – exist for why they won’t engage with them.

As I’ve already mentioned, I have no problem with the concept of the flipped classroom per se. Nor do I have issues with using technologies to create materials that free up more time in class for discussion, debate and reflection. On the contrary, I’m all for it as my livelihood depends on it and I feel when used appropriately, technology can provide countless opportunities to support learning. My main concern is the way in which the ideas of a few, who see themselves to be in the vanguard of eLearning, are disseminated within wider social contexts until they reach the point of being considered incontrovertible truths. Often couched in roll-off-the-tongue metaphors, they create an illusion of generalizability; giving the impression of a one-size-fits-all solution. The problem with metaphors is that they only make sense to those that share the same vision of the world as those that create them. For me, notions such as the flipped classroom paint an unrealistic picture of learning as something which is neat, tidy and easy to manage. Learning is messy, unpredictable and no two situations are the same, which is how it should be.

I believe a happy medium can be arrived at as long as we continue to question and critically evaluate the perceived affordances that technologies are believed to provide. We need to question those individuals that subject us to hyperbolic rants about the efficacies of technology and the inefficacies of ‘old’ methods and approaches. Care needs to be taken that in our desire to find scalable eLearning solutions we don’t buy into methods of delivery which end up being expensive white elephants. This means meeting students’ expectations, where they are realistic, and giving them options with regards to modes of delivery so that they can tailor learning experiences which best suit their needs. We also need to be mindful that zealous attempts to promote models such as the flipped classroom don’t lead to the demonization of dissenting academic voices. Dissention can be healthy when it leads us to question viewpoints which are exalted as being unquestionably true. This is particularly important when assumptions about the efficacies of particular technology-supported approaches are being made without any acknowledgement of alternative points of view.

5 thoughts on “When the flipped classroom flops

  1. Well said Charlie.

    Some people are too willing to accept unproven mantras, without first seeing the evidence. It’s important to understand whether a claim is true; and, if it is, under what circumstances it remains true.

  2. Yes recent written anonymous student feedback evidences to me diverse needs – many highly rating traditional lecture approaches but with others craving something different whether in the UK or Botswana. Blended learning but interactivty in sessions and the wish to put the theoretical knowledge into real world delivery within modules. Rather more face to face than technology but Dr Bev Carter (Buxton) recently gave an excellent session around participative learning.

  3. The expectation of a flipped classroom reminds me of that moment at the beginning of a meeting where the chairperson says ‘has every read the minutes of the last meeting and the agenda for this one’. Most of us go to meetings unprepared. Why should we expect students to behave any differently when attending class.
    I will return to something of a mantra of mine. In most classrooms the only thing that is actually produced is text on a page which could be produced anywhere. Compare this with the education of artists and craftsmen who by necessity have to gather in one place and as a result benefit from collaborative learning. Can we learn from them?

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