Flip Myth #5 – No Tech Needed (a.k.a. Mickey Mouse & Flipped Learning)

Myth #5 – “Technology and video are not needed for effective flipped learning.”

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Myth #5

There has been an ongoing discussion among practitioners of flipped learning about the necessity of including technology to qualify as flipped learning. Recently, flipped learning Pioneer Aaron Sams discussed how he firmly believes that technology is a key component of flipped learning. He made the point that if flipped learning in its generally accepted form existed prior to the availability of video, somebody would have identified it before 2004***. In fact, in the 1960’s the idea of inverted learning was floated in academia, but did not flourish due to lack of a means of dissemination. In other words, “flipped learning” would have been a thing prior to Bergmann and Sams who benefited from the general acceptance and availability of the internet and video instruction if the tech was not a necessary component. 

There is a caveat here. Using textual or auditory instruction prior to in-person direct instruction can result in a process that very much resembles the flipped learning model, but the central advantage of flipped learning is that it combines more than just textual, or more than just auditory components, and puts them together with the visual component making the preparatory learning more effective.  However, just because the video makes textual learning more effective, doesn’t mean that a good learning method hasn’t always been a good book.

*** 11/1/18 Update *** I need comment here that Eric Mazur worked in the area of peer learning in the early 1990’s and there were other attempts at the “inverted classroom” and the “classroom flip” in the early 2000’s so there is basis for claiming “flip” existed prior to 2004 so my redacted statement was too strong.  However, I do stand by the remaining statement that both video and dissemination method development were critical to broad acceptance. For another perspective on this part of flip history and another perspective on its definition see Dr. Robert Talbert’s book Flipped Learning: A Guide For Higher Education Faculty

Walt Disney and flipped learning.

To underscore my point, let’s take a look at Mickey Mouse.  Walt Disney did not rise to animated prominence based on a mouse, but a little girl and a rabbit.  While working out of Kansas City, Walt had begun making silent films with a live action little girl named Alice who interacted with animated characters either in her world or in theirs. The Alice comedies would lead him to California and the creation of his masterpiece of animation entertainment…Oswald the Rabbit.

Just prior to Walt’s Alice comedies and Oswald shorts, the movie theater system in the United States had become popular and from 1895-1920 the film industry took off. However, like the feature films of the day Walt’s partially, and fully, animated productions were made for the silent theater with music either played live during the showing or by phonograph/Vitaphone to add an auditory element to the visuals.  Movies were an almost exclusively visual medium. The early 1920’s also saw the rise of the amazing and world shrinking new invention the in-home radio, where stories of yesteryear, romance, and scallywags kept company with news from around the world. Radio by its’ nature is exclusively auditory yet families were riveted of the stories “brought to life” in their living room. Just about this time Walt Disney was dismissed from his own creations as it was clear to producers and executives that this Disney fella was not important to the success of Oswald and company.

Enter the mouse…

That brings us to Mortimer…err…Mickey Mouse.  Go ahead Mickey, say something…anytime…the world wants to hear from you… Cat got your tongue? (hehehehe)

Mickey was Walt’s new star and meal ticket, and so it was surprising that he was a big disappointment.  Mickey’s first outtings in “Plane Crazy” and “The Gallopin’ Goucho” flopped hard with test audiences and distributors.  Seen as a knock-off Oswald with similar lines (hehehe) and personality as Oswald he brought nothing of interest. It would take the genius of Walt Disney to take the magic of moving picture and the emotional connection of sound and synchronize the two in a cartoon, in the same way as Al Jolson had in “The Jazz Singer” just a year earlier. Variety magazine published a review of “Steamboat Willie” which read in part “Not the first animated cartoon to be synchronized with sound effects, but the first to attract favorable attention. [Steamboat Willie] represents a high order of cartoon ingenuity, cleverly combined with sound effects. The union brought laughs galore. Giggles came so fast at the Colony [Theater] they were stumbling over each other.”  The pairing of visual and auditory was so effective the two previous flops were re-tooled with synchronized sound to rave reviews.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Get on with the flipping

At this point you as a reader might be excused for being underwhelmed with my conclusion that video is better with audio, but I want to go just one step further.  Nearly every town in the United States of any self respect already had a theater when the movies and radio arrived. Live theater is among the oldest forms of entertainment and occupation (we will not be discussing the other forms…you know what they are).  In spite of its’ long and storied history, live theaters erected movie screens as fast as the theater could afford them. Live theaters were remodeled or replaced with “movie palaces”. The radio, movies, and later TV nearly killed the live theater in the popular consciousness.

It’s about access

Live theater has always combined the visual with the auditory while adding the element of smell and a 3-D experience.  So why did movies with synchronized sound nearly kill the theater, and TV in turn dominate the movies? Access. Access has always been the holy grail of entertainment.  The theater required money and social capital. The movies lowered this barrier, and added air conditioning. TV brought the moving pictures and sound into our living room.  Netflix and company bring it all on demand in high definition with surround sound. Flipped learning does not require video for the sake of video. Flipped learning requires video and technology because that is how we get immersive access when I want or need it.  

Live production theaters still exist because they provide an experience like no other and it is tremendous to go see a well done production. Unfortunately, it still costs money and the show only happens at certain times.  Movies are at the height of their technical, visual & auditory excellence, but man are they expensive and the floors are sticky. The podcast still tells stories of yesteryear, romance, and scallywags, but I use this less stimulating medium when I need to relax and go to sleep.  What about books? Amazon has created an empire on the power of books. However, like Walt Disney, Amazon provides entertainment based on both non-fiction and great literature but does so on-demand.

In education, do books have a place? Yes.

In education, do movies have a place? Yes, but less frequently and in strategic doses please.

In education, does radio have a place? Yes, see this blog post by Andrew Swan: 

In education, does live theater have a place. Yes, please increase access to this experience for students.

In education, does live lecture have a place? Yes, it just needs to be a more balanced and well deployed.

Flipped learning is about all of these things above, by providing access, flexibility, and framework to the classroom and learning activities.  Flipped learning that uses tech and video allow students the on-demand, high quality, and immersive experience we have come to expect in all of the other areas of our lives. So is flip able to be done without technology/video?  I don’t think so. I think the technology enhances and improves all of the other ways we can bring experiences and instruction to students, so technology is definitively a part of flip.

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