Author: Jovi Nazareno, EdM Candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education
A few years ago, I registered for an online course that held many surprises for me. Prior to the start of the course, we were given access to videos that explained what to expect from the course and how to come prepared for each session. My first surprise was being told that the course used the flipped classroom, which I hadn’t heard of before. I was expected to select readings from a curated list, watch pre-recorded lecture videos, and come prepared to discuss or ask questions. I’ll be honest, I was unconvinced about the utility of such a method—it sounded to me like I’d be “teaching” myself the content instead of being taught during class time.
I thought of learning as a gift from the teacher to me. If the teacher told me exactly everything I needed to know, I would learn. If I was given the information before class, then what was class for? How will I get the most time from my teachers if we do the work on our own? Am I paying tuition to teach myself?
I know such questions aren’t unique to me. Recently, in an entirely different course and in a different program, my fellow students have expressed the same concerns.
The abrupt shift from the standard in-person class to the online modality has in some ways forced change upon everyone in education, from teachers to students. One of the many discomforts results from the decision to leverage the flipped classroom (i.e., pre-recorded lectures). From a logistical point-of-view, pre-recorded lectures allow for students to log-in from any place at any time. If the goal is to solve logistical problems, then simply requiring pre-recorded lectures might be a good start to moving online. However, the flipped classroom model does so much more than solve a time zone problem.
In my first experience of the flipped classroom model, I began with preconceived ideas of what learning looks like. I presumed that learning was given to me, instead of constructed by me. I presumed that watching videos before class meant I was going to be alone in my learning journey. I was wrong. I will share my experiences in deriving the most value out of the flipped model. Let’s start with a definition.
What is the flipped classroom?
The flipped classroom is a model wherein content information is presented to students before the scheduled live (i.e., synchronous) class session.<sup>1</sup> The presentation of information, in my experience, has been primarily in the form of pre-recorded video lecture(s). However, other strategies of the flipped classroom include gathering relevant readings, leveraging videos already available (e.g., on YouTube), or completing activities/worksheets/quizzes.<sup>2</sup> The big idea is to expose learners to the content for the first time, ahead of class time. In terms of Bloom’s taxonomy, the flipped model focuses pre-class time on lower order thinking, in other words, the basic knowledge and understanding.<sup>3</sup>
The flipped classroom is, therefore, a fundamental shift in how to structure class time. It is not simply a matter of solving logistical problems of a dispersed group of learners, though it does help with this issue too.
What are the deeper benefits of the flipped classroom?
My favorite aspect of the flipped classroom is that I don’t feel rushed or pressured to keep pace with the teacher and other learners. Oftentimes in class, I find my mind wandering, I feel tired, or I miss key points in my lecture notes. Further, in a classroom full of students with differing levels of exposure to and experience in the subject of study, I find it easy to fall into a comparison trap. I wonder if I’m grasping the concepts fast enough, or I question if I’ve missed something if others are struggling. Instead of focusing on my own mastery, in a traditional class I’m wondering about where I stand amongst others.
The flexibility built into the flipped model allows for students to learn at their own pace.<sup>4</sup> I could give myself the repeated exposure needed to be confident that I would recall the information and could understand it. Videos, for example, allow for many options that benefit learning. One can pause, rewind, fast-forward, change the playback speed, re-watch, display closed captions, and in some instances, even show translations across languages.
The most surprising aspect of the flipped classroom, however, is how much it deepened my learning. I found my knowledge and understanding growing in ways I didn’t think possible. Discussions can sometimes feel intimidating when you’re new to a topic. Because I entered the class sessions prepared and with the same vocabulary as everyone else, I could participate with more confidence and make connections with everyone’s ideas.
The key strategy of the flipped model is a re-look at how time is used. By front-loading the lower order thinking to pre-class time, live (synchronous) class time is freed up for the higher order thinking of Bloom’s taxonomy (apply, analyze, evaluate, create<sup>3</sup>). The time that students and teachers spend together then focus on deeper learning such that learning is better consolidated and strengthened.<sup>4</sup> Additionally, the class time is spent in active discussion, engaging interactions, and providing and learning from feedback.<sup>5</sup>
How should teachers and students approach the flipped classroom for the first time?
An initial feeling of shock and confusion can stem from abrupt change, especially if the change fails to be accompanied by any explanation. Knowing what to expect and understanding why were very important to making my first experience of a flipped classroom feel more approachable. Even though I was at first uncertain about the choice in course design, I had a clear idea of what I needed to do to succeed in class and at least understood why this model was worth trying.
From a student perspective, pre-recorded videos can feel like additional work if they were unable to plan for it. For example, some of my current classmates expressed spending double the time for class (they thought they would have readings + 2-hour class, but now they have readings + 2-hour pre-lecture + 2-hour class). Further, these students did not see a value in attending a live class if they already watched a lecture. Such reactions are avoidable, if students are given insight into the course design, tips for managing their time, and a clear idea of the different goals of the asynchronous vs. synchronous spaces.
From a teacher perspective, pre-recorded videos can also feel like additional work on top of the planning that happens behind-the-scenes. Such effort will result in long-term benefits, but only with careful consideration of how to best leverage the flipped model. The most important question for teachers is “what is your weekly objective?”. This then enables a clearer approach to what content is best delivered before class via videos or other material, versus what is best delivered in the live class session.
Ultimately, through careful planning and objectives-based decision-making, the deeper benefits of the flipped classroom model can be felt by both students and teachers. This requires an understanding of the model, why it works, and how to implement it. Learning in a flipped model is not at all a lonely process as I once thought; in fact, it has offered rich classroom experiences characterized by increased social interactions and deepened knowledge.