A Flipped Learning Design For Foreign Language Learners

--Originally published at Benjamin L. Stewart, PhD


This semester I am teaching a third-semester composition class for English language teachers in training and the following three classes for university professors: Content and English Language Learning I (CELL I), Content and English Language Learning II (CELL II), and Academic Writing.  This is how I am flipping the learning design in terms of structure, readiness levels, and critical thinking.


Course content for all four courses are hosted publicly in Microsoft OneNote: Composition,  CELL I, CELL II, and Academic Writing.  The reason for using OneNote - as opposed to Moodle or any other learning or content management system - is because of its ease of use.  I can easily add and manipulate content using any device (Macbook Air, iPad, and iPhone), anytime from anywhere, and share this information either privately or publicly as well.  Sharing content and the learning experience publicly has particular relevance this semester as I am making a special effort to provide opportunities for learners to share their own learning experiences with those outside their given class.  As their instructor, I too am able to share openly what I am doing and reflect on my own teaching practice by creating affordances for collaboration and cooperation.

In addition to using OneNote, Microsoft Word Online is used in Composition and Academic Writing so that text revisions can be shared amongst the learners and me.  Links to learners' Word online document are included in OneNote so that everyone can not only see each others approach to the writing process and but also see how I provide feedback to everyone and how subsequent changes are then made.

Since OneNote serves mainly as a content management system, Facebook complements the learning experience by providing both synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication.  For example, the Composition facebook page, CELL facebook page, and Academic Writing facebook page allow learners to engage in the content mainly outside of class, but also face-to-face when such interactions promote course objectives.  More immediate content is shared in facebook (publicly) which can either come from the content in OneNote, or when it is new content, may be added simultaneously to OneNote.  Thus, content in OneNote is structured more chronologically or thematically while facebook is structured more to emphasize certain content or to engage learners around certain content through discussions and critical thinking.

In Composition, CELL I, and CELL II, e-portfolios are used for housing specific products learners complete in class.   Learners become recognized for how they demonstrate their understandings, knowledge, skill sets, and dispositions through the presentation of artifacts that positions themselves as professionals.  An e-portfolio becomes part of an online identity that illustrates where the professional has been, where the professional is currently, and what the professional wishes to become.

In summation, OneNote and Word is the "playground" the "laboratory", the "sandbox", etc. where initial learning occurs, primarily via private communications between learner-instructor and possibly learner-learner.  Facebook extends the learning experience more publicly by opening up the conversation more fluidly with others potentially beyond the classroom.  Finally, e-portfolios is the end result, the final objective of the learning process as everything within the learning structure leads to this final destination.

Readiness Levels

The mixed abilities classroom is the norm and not the exception.  Invariably, learners will enter the learning design at different levels of content knowledge and different levels of linguistic prowess.  So the structure mentioned above is designed to account for this reality.
All four courses above have a face-to-face component: Composition and Academic Writing are both face to face while CELL I and CELL II are blended learning courses.  But the approach to flipping the classroom for each of the courses is similar.  
Making content available publicly online for learners taking a face-to-face class takes into consideration the readiness levels from two main perspectives.  First, content made available before a face-to-face session affords the learner to interact with content much in the same way most view the flipped classroom when lectures are recorded and accessible outside of the classroom.  And second, content can be added or accessed to online spaces after learners meet face to face when such information warrants it.  For instance, followup tutorials might help fill in the gaps created during live classes, additional links to different kinds of content might result, and internal instruments like learner surveys might shed light on how learners perceive the overall educative experience.  More than likely, some combination of pre-/post-loading and accessing of content to an online environment will emerge depending on individual readiness levels that are revealed as personal learning preferences.  Understanding how and why students are accessing content is a constant goal of mine in order to better assess if the structure of the learning design is serving a purpose.

Critical Thinking

The structure of how content is arranged and understanding how learners are accessing course content based on readiness levels underpin how critical thinking emerges.  Learners access content by listening and reading and create by speaking and writing.  Critical thinking emerges by giving them certain freedoms in how and why they access content and where they end up creating their own content for specific purposes.  Critical thinking is creating content associated with the what, how, why, where, with whom etc. that goes beyond simply meeting course objectives.  Learners who become more aware of the what, how, why, etc. of their content creations are better positioned to solve and set problems, resolve cognitive conflict, make associations or connections between the abstract and concrete, and form logical arguments, to name a few.  At the end of the day, the way that I structure my learning design is based on the readiness levels of my learners which together with structure provide an overarching purpose to think critically given changing situations.  A flipped learning experience in my view has always been a more nuanced approach to content accessibility and learner interactions where interdependence grows through thoughtful instructor interventions primarily on an as-needed basis.
As intentional as all of this sounds, there is a larger incidental aspect to this entire learning design that would be best left for another post.  But these are a few thoughts that I have regarding the flipped classroom, and am always interested in learning how others approach similar learning designs under different contexts. 

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