The “Flipped” Classroom and Transforming Education

Recently, I wrote a post regarding some ideas that I did not believe that would transform school culture.  Although most agreed on two of the ideas that I shared, there was a large contingent of educators that argued regarding the “flip” and are very passionate about what it can do for the classroom (one even referred to me as a “nut” for even suggesting this!).

Also, Forbes magazine talked about the Khan Academy and the “flipped classroom” being one of the most important stories of 2012.  Whether it was inspired by Salman Khan or by educators, it has certainly stirred a movement:

Entire school districts are now reworking their curriculum, pedagogy, classroom structure and technology around Khan Academy videos. The net result of these changes is that students in Khan-centered schools don’t watch Khan videos in the classroom. They watch them at home. They use classroom time to do homework under the active supervision of their teacher (who serves as more of a learning lab tutor/coach) and fellow students (who, in technologically advanced classrooms, are digitally flagged when a classmate needs help). In perfectly melding with the collaborative learning ethos of the iGeneration, the Khan Academy has not only flipped the classroom, it’s flipped how we look at education.

As I see how passionate educators are regarding this idea, I can definitely see why it has merit.  I also believe that this is something for some of our students, not all.  I think back to hearing about the importance of “hands on” activities for learning, yet I know many students where that is not the best way that they learn.  Even the notion that all students have to have “collaborative” skills in our world, yet there are many careers now and in the future where someone can work outside of a “group” environment.  There is some important in students being able to have choice.  It seems that we are too often looking for a “standardardized” solution for a “personalized” problem.  Students need to have options and choice.

The Year of the Learner

Will Richardson wrote a powerful comment on my own blog talking about 2013 being the “year of the learner”, and it has deeply resonated with me:

My point is that if we keep seeing the point of school through the lens of “teaching,” nothing will be “transformed” in the sense that Papert talks about or in the sense that I think you mean it (though people’s bar for transformation is certainly varied.) Not saying we don’t need teachers…we need teachers who are masters at developing kids as learners who are adept at sense making around their own goals. Teachers who are focused on helping students develop the dispositions and literacies required to succeed regardless of subject or content or curriculum.

This moment is all about learners having an amazing new freedom to learn, not teachers having an amazing new freedom to teach. I’d love to see 2013 all about making that shift in our thinking around education.

As we continue to move forward, I agree that the “Flipped Classroom” and the use of Khan videos can be transformational for some students, but not all.  The focus there is not necessarily on the learner, but about the teacher.  Just like the idea that computers are great for many kids, but again, not all.  The opportunities afforded by a computer opens up many avenues for learning, but just handing a device to a kid does not change how they learn.

We need to do more.   

I agree with Will’s sentiments that as we move forward this year, we have to not get caught up on new ideas to implement in the classroom, but really connecting with our students, learning about them, and helping them to learn the way that works for them (the student), not us (the teacher).

Almost three year ago I wrote about the qualities that make a “master teacher”, and my first point was not about an idea, but about connecting with students:

“For all students to excel, teachers must learn about them and connectwith each child.  This is not just about finding out how they learn, but it is finding out who they are.  It is essential that we get to know our students, learn their passions, and help them find out how we can engage them in their own learning.  If you are not able to do this as a teacher, the (other) characteristics will be moot.”

Want to transform education?  We are going to have to do it one learner at a time because each and every kid we serve deserves that.

23 thoughts on “The “Flipped” Classroom and Transforming Education

  1. Jamen Langlois (@Jamen2)

    “It is essential that we get to know our students, learn their passions, and help them find out how we can engage them in their own learning. If you are not able to do this as a teacher, the (other) characteristics will be moot.”

    I think the beauty of implementing Khan Academy (K.A) in and outside of the classroom is that it opens up time for the learning facilitator to focus on the critical aspects of teaching; such as student autonomy, purpose/relevance, emotional intelligence etc. K.A is not simply a bank of videos of which your students can watch for homework. It’s so much more than that…

    The advancements in software open up a new door in the way classrooms are so called “managed” in the 21st century. Check out some of the videos on K.A to see how it is becoming, “a tool that can empower at least an approximate model of what the future of education should look like – a way of combining the art of teaching with the science of presenting information and analyzing data, of delivering the clearest, most comprehensive, and most relevant curriculum at the lowest possible cost.” (One World School House, Sal Khan)

    I am extremely excited to see students all over the world taking accountability for their own learning; and enjoying the journey along the way. In fact, many are joining the collaboration movement by helping develop new software for subjects other than math; as K.A now has computer science tutorials and “open source” program development. Soon enough K.A will have software applications for much of their video library and it’s users will have been a part of the process in getting there.

    Most of what your article addresses seems accurate and exciting…I just feel as though you’re going to see a lot more welcoming of K.A into the classroom than you might expect. ;)

    Sincerely,

    Jamen Langlois

  2. Jennifer Jane Hardes (@JenniferHardes)

    This is super interesting and I liked your gut reaction which is to not just soak it in as something new and positive but think about it critically. I hadn’t heard of the flipped classroom before but, from what you wrote, and when I looked into it some more, its strategies don’t seem overly surprising given the neoliberal climate which immediately made me look into that connection (i.e. a neoliberal push for ‘individual responsibility’ in learning — kids learning on their own time; the idea of an more ‘efficient’, standardized and streamlined school system rather than learner focused one (Khan seems to think the flipped classroom creates space for this because it opens up more ‘in class time for discussion’, but I think that what it actually does is turn kids into disciplined workhorses because it assumes an incorrect definition of a ‘learner focused environment’ where this is based on an assumption of ‘the more educational/work engagement the better’ rather than taking a holistic view of kids ‘being kids’- i.e letting them have fun outside of school and thinking about how to let them be awesome well-rounded human beings who have other interests…– to me that’s a better way of being learner focused, and therefore Khan’s ‘learner focused’ model is again perfectly neoliberal); and finally, and most obviously, the fact that this ‘free’ model that Khan purports is actually a more insidious attempt to privatize education rather than publicize it and could potentially draw the public teacher into a space where they have less creativity if the model were to become standardized and centralized).

  3. Tobey Steeves

    Hi Mr. Couros, I’m a secondary teacher in Vancouver and just defended my MA thesis in ed policy studies at the Centre for Cross Faculty Inquiry in Education, University of British Columbia.

    While I appreciate the emphasis given to improving kids’ experiences of public schooling, I think it worth mentioning a few unsettling connections with my thesis research – which focuses on teachers’ work and ’21st-century learning’ policy in BC (https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/43675).

    In brief, I found that BC’s ’21st-century learning’ policy agenda promotes a vision of schooling that is largely a neoliberal and managerialist enterprise that relegates teachers and teaching to subordinate roles within processes of policy development and policy implementation. As a point of contrast, I sketched an alternative vision of the role of teachers’ work that was grounded in democratic values and practices – not neoliberal ones.

    One of the key elements of my analysis was an extension of Gert Biesta’s ‘learnification’ – the translation of all there is to know and say about teachers and teaching into a discourse of learners and learning. Biesta is particularly interested in the relationships between education, democracy and citizenship (http://www.stir.ac.uk/education/staff-directory/academic/gert-biesta/). In his “Good education: What it is and why we need it” (http://www.ioe.stir.ac.uk/documents/GOODEDUCATION–WHATITISANDWHYWENEEDITInauguralLectureProfGertBiesta.pdf) he contrasts ‘learning’ with ‘education’. Biesta argues that an emphasis on ‘learners’ and ‘learning’ “makes it difficult to articulate the fact that education is about relationships, and more specifically about relationships between teachers and students. The language of learning makes it difficult to acknowledge the relational character of education and also makes it difficult to raise questions about the particular role and responsibility of the educator in such relationships. This is one reason why the words ‘education’ and ‘learning’ are not the same and are not interchangeable. This does not mean, of course, that they have nothing to do with each other. One could say that the general aim of educational activities is that people will learn from them. But that doesn’t make education into learning; it simply says that learning is the intended outcome of educational processes and practices. All this also doesn’t mean that people cannot learn without or outside of education. It simply highlights the fact that when we talk about education we refer to a specific setting in which learning takes place; a setting, moreover, with a specific set of relationships, roles and responsibilities.

    […]

    Despite the many teaching and learning strategies that are being developed in schools, colleges and universities, and despite the fact that many of such institutions make individuals responsible for ‘teaching & learning,’ it is only teaching – and related aspects such as curriculum and assessment – that can be the object of a strategy and thus can be the responsibility of individuals whose task it is to take care of what, with a simple word, we might perhaps best refer to as ‘education.’”

    Elsewhere Biesta links learnification with a ‘democratic deficit in education policy’. In my thesis I illustrate how this is accomplished via ’21st-century learning’ policy in BC. I worry that this tendency towards learnification is lurking within the above blog post, too.

    Aside from constructing 2013 as the “Year of the learner”, it’s also worthwhile to highlight how ‘student’ and ‘teacher’ are more or less obscured in the above post, and the post’s appeal is more or less entirely focused on ‘learners’ and ‘learning’. I think this strongly suggests that we’re falling into problematic understandings of teachers’ work and public schooling.

    The mention of Khan Academy is particularly intriguing – an ex-hedge fund manager with no background in epistemology or pedagogy seems like an unlikely source for a grounded approach to public schooling. As has been noted in several reviews of Khan’s Academy, the “flipped” model he uses actually /eschews/ critical thinking and creativity. More alarmingly, the “flipped” model helps naturalize a view of schooling as a product to be consumed – like soap or cheese. [It’s worth adding that this commodified view of schooling is one of Ken Saltman’s favorite topics of analysis e.g., “The failure of corporate school reform”, “Capitalizing on disaster”, “Collateral damage”.]

    While it is fair to say that “flipped” has grown more popular, that may not be for the best. Overwhelmingly, “flipped” has caught on in /richer/ districts – the haves, not the have nots. Moreover, “flipped” has been unevenly adopted within schools – math and science teachers lead the charge, English and social studies teachers have by and large been less enthusiastic adopters. I suspect there are important lessons to be gleaned here vis-a-vis differing disciplinarities and epistemologies, and I think you hint at some of these ambiguities in your post: “[T]he use of Khan videos can be transformational for some students, but not all.”

    With that said, I would like to express a note of solidarity in your quest for “transforming school culture”. I hope that – if you find the time for it – my thesis helps illustrate the importance of avoiding learnification while “transforming school culture” along an axis of democratic values and practices.

    1. Chiquita Toure

      Wow! You have articulated my thoughts so well . Your critique is timely and well thought out. Thank you for your insight and intellect.

    2. twitter_cordym

      Toby, Not only does the flipped model make concepts a commodity, which is a very dated view of knowledge, the flipped model suggests a technodeterminist view as well. It suggests that technology can make one act and think in certain ways. No? Agency seems to fade and perhaps that is why it is difficult to distinguish the teacher from the learner and the learning from the education. As you say, “I think this strongly suggests that we’re falling into problematic understandings of teachers’ work and public schooling.”

      Having an ex-hedge fund manager become an educational guru is a result of a system that is not deeply considering pedagogy. Only in education do we not value education. One of the most essential components of transforming education will be strengthening the link between research, theory of pedagogy and classroom practise.

      Blogs such as this and thoughtful responses such as yours are increasing the value of educational thought in education.

      I would be very interested in reading your thesis and learning more about Biesta,
      learnification and democracy. Link?

      Congratulations on your defense.

      Michelle

  4. Michelle Baldwin (@michellek107)

    I have many thoughts about Khan and “flipped classrooms,” but I continue to move back to the idea that, if my teaching is successful, my students won’t depend upon me to help them learn. If I’m helping them to become curious thinkers, good data “detectives,” and compassionate human beings, there isn’t a system out there that they won’t be able to navigate. They will know that they cannot obtain accurate information from one resource. They will know that they need to continually ask questions and discover possible answers and solutions. They will understand that learning means that sometimes you have to “unlearn” something you knew to be a fact, and relearn everything you can about that topic. As their teacher, I know “one size” doesn’t fit all my kids, so transforming their education depends upon the needs of each and every one of them.

  5. Greg W

    Are we actually talking about moving towards individualising learning for the teacher and the student? With the flipped classroom as one mechanism that might work for one group of students in working towards this goal

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  7. Sue OBrien

    I support that education should not be standardized and focused on the students. In Ontario, the government acknowleges that the Early Years are the most important years for development and learning. We have introduced full day Kindergarten and a play based approach(ELECT) curriculum which child focused and builds on the child’s experience.

  8. gordonfrohloff

    Thanks for sharing. I especially like your comment. “Want to transform education? We are going to have to do it one learner at a time because each and every kid we serve deserves that.” @gordonfrohloff

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  10. Steve Roy (@tangomanfromqc)

    Love this quote:
    “we need teachers who are masters at developing kids as learners who are adept at sense making around their own goals.”

    That’s my ultimate goal as a teacher! Definitly not there yet, but getting there slowly but surely!

    I’ve been trying for a few month to flip my math class, but I’m realizing that it doesn’t help me toward that goal… and it complicate my life…

    My big question with this is: How do we implement this when you teach mathematic or science, where you have specific content to cover? Do we have to change the actual curriculum or there is a way do to it within it?

    1. George Post author

      Thanks for the comment Steve :) I think that there are different ways that we can deliver the curriculum, but I heard someone say that it is better for kids to “unwrap” the curriculum, as opposed to delivering them. How do you find the balance of having them understand by discovering but also sharing with them some vital knowledge?

  11. twitter_cordym

    If you have a dirty shirt and you put in on inside out, you are still wearing a dirty shirt.

    I think we need to consider the merit of the lesson being flipped. If you flip something that lacks pedagogical integrity, you are simply turning around something that does not work. The pedagogy of the lesson, the ability to explain with clarity (even beauty/elegance), to use useful analogies and connect meaningfully to students’ schema is still at the heart of getting a message across. I suspect if you take a masterful teacher, record a lesson and have students watch it, you may have good outcomes. But, the content is not uniformly good.

    Also, the flipped classroom seems so binary to me. It provokes a vision of education that has two parts: teacher directed lesson & practice. It conjures a view that a lesson must involve direct teaching of a uniform concept to a large group followed by the large group practising at the same time. Which is why the sentence “It seems that we are too often looking for a “standardardized” solution for a “personalized” problem” strikes me as being so perfect. You and Will Richardson are looking for an emphasis on truly student centered and personalized education. The Flipped Classroom model parades as such, but the emperor has no clothes.

    The story of the flipped classroom is not all bad. There are surely some excellent applications. But, it is not a panacea for education. It is but one strategy and I think the question presented her is to ask about the validity of the approach, particularly in terms of responsive and personalized education.

    Thank you, once again, for a thought provoking blog post.

  12. Dan McGuire

    The Khan Academy model is actually a textbook publishing model not a teaching and learning model. One of the ‘products’ of implementing the K A approach, though, is that both students and teachers become more adept at using current literacy tools instead of the paper based literacy tools of the past. There is much work to be done, however, on actual pedagogy in our new age.

    1. Ιδέες Εκπαίδευσης και άλλα πολλά

      Flipped classroom is just a useful tool in teacher’s hand. It can’t be used for all lessons. I have tried it in history lesson. It provoked my students. They liked it a lot. They really felt that they are in the center of the educational procedure. Of course they liked the useful sources I gave them (videos, PowerPoint presentations etc) to accomplish the lesson. Many students liked being the coordinator of the discussion that followed the other day. The only thing that scared me a little was the quality of THEIR sources (they searched many other sites, different from the sites I gave them their address). So, I had to be well prepared to face a suspicious information during the lesson. Of course I am a 6th grade teacher and the danger of a wrong information is not big, but what about the higher classes? What about the other lessons?
      Nicholas Fragkias
      @nfragkias

  13. tess

    It will be rare in the future that specialists can work alone and still make a discovery that is beneficial to the world at large. It is through collaboration that the world shifts today; the level of expertise is just so singularly refined that working together with other specialists is a necessity.
    Have you spent anytime looking at the data on Expeditionary Learning Schools in which students explore issues in their community or in the global community and work together in close connection to their teachers to problem solve? They’re getting pretty good at test taking, not to mention community building.
    If learning is going to flip, it must be social and supportive of our humanity.

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  15. Dominic Spillane

    As we have known for many years, both from research and experience, it is the personal learniing relationship between pupil and teacher that is the key. Being open to this two way process promotes real, creative and wide ranging learning. It is profoundly liberating for pupil and teacher who now enjoy shared roles.

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