What Flipped Learning is NOT: A Manifesto

--Originally published at CAROLINA R BUITRAGO

This post reveals my thoughts of what I feel flipped learning is and is not. I welcome (and encourage) discussion to move this topic forward.  

I have been flipping, flipping, for over four years now, and in my conversations with people, I frequently hear things like “Oh, but that is not new, I have been giving readings for my students to do at home and discuss in class for years?” Or, “Sure, I have been flipping for ten years because my students watch videos in a platform, do exercises and come to class to ask me questions”, or the very frequent “That’s just blended learning with a fancy name”. Well, being an avid and thorough reader about flipped learning, and having changed my entire teaching mindset thanks to it, I can tell you those things are NOT flipped learning and here are the reasons why:

  1. Oh, but that is not new, I have been giving readings for my students to do at home and discuss in class for years.

Teachers in higher-education have used the read at home/discuss in class technique for ages. That’s true. However, that is NOT flipped learning. Why?

Even though in flipped learning we do send some readings (or videos, or podcasts, or any other resources) home for students to tackle, and then we work with them in class, both of these “tasks” are carefully crafted as student-centered, active learning experiences.

The before-class activities students do in a truly flipped learning environment, the ones that happen in the individual learning space, are organized mostly around the low-order thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy (remembering and understanding). For that reason, consciously constructed accountability activities are necessarily built in within materials for teachers to ensure that students remember and understand the concepts presented.

On the other hand, not having done the individual learning space activities deeply affects students’ performance in class because of the nature of the group learning space activities. In my college classes, we “discussed” the readings in class, but what professors mostly did was to check for understanding and have us remember and regurgitate facts from the readings (low-order thinking). So, if you hadn’t read thoroughly, but you had the text and had good scanning abilities, you could still participate in class activities and appear as a knowledgeable  student. In a truly flipped environment, it is harder to hide if you haven’t done the work because first, the teacher has an effective mechanism to check you actually read – accountability; and second, because the group learning space activities put your knowledge to the test since you have to perform tasks that require high-order thinking skills.

When planning for a truly flipped environment, the teacher spends time thinking of activities that will take students to deeper levels of processing and that will help them develop higher-order thinking skills every class session by liberating class time from direct instruction. Teachers optimize time within the classroom since there is no need to teach any topic as such. In that way, while in the group learning space, students engage immediately with the content. Also, as the teacher becomes a “guide on the side”, an environment of support and camaraderie is built, generating opportunities for peer-instruction, creation, peer and self-assessment, and more student centered strategies to take place in the classroom.

I’m sorry, but just giving homework to students and checking it in class is not flipping.

  1. Sure, I have been flipping for ten years because my students watch videos in a platform, do exercises and come to class to ask me questions.

Honestly, I feel a little hesitant when people say they have been flipping for over 10 years (at least in my country) for a couple of reasons. First of all, the coinage of the term “flipped classroom” happened in 2012 (6 years ago) with Bergmann and Sams’ book and the whole model as it is currently understood is an innovative perspective. Secondly, I know many other teachers had been “flipping” their classrooms, or “inverting” instruction way back in 2000. However, most programs in Colombia have been pretty traditional for years. When people say they have been using blended learning for 10 years, I believe it instantly. But flipping, not really.

I think teachers who say that oversimplify flipped learning. I guess someone who says they have been flipping for 10 years refers to the basic practice of assigning videos or readings for students to watch at home and then to do the practice in class, kind of like the first claim. However, flipped learning as the widespread term proposed by the Flipped Learning Network (FLN) which includes the four pillars and all the instructional, mindset and structural changes in entails is not 10 years old. My response to the second claim is: Flipped learning is all about building autonomy, differentiating instruction, collaborating with others, modifying practices based on assessments, inquiry-based learning, student-centeredness, deeper and active learning, and amazing levels of student engagement, and honestly, I don’t think any institution in Colombia has been doing that for 10 years.

I want to share an anecdote to substantiate my claim. In Colombia, there is one institution in Cali, Universidad ICESI,  which has been doing active learning for years because one of their deans thought this should be the model for higher education to be effective. They have a whole model for active learning built in within the institution. A colleague and I did a teacher training session on flipped learning last year at that institution, and they told us they were doing active learning, but not flipped learning! They recognized their model could still be enhanced with the help of flipped learning.

I think it is important, and responsible, to clarify terms and models so we don’t call everything flipped learning. Teachers around the world have been doing an amazing work to professionalize the concept of flipped learning and to enhance this pedagogical approach so that we can all create the best learning opportunities and experiences for our students. And even though every teacher does it differently, the flipped learning community has agreed that flipped learning is way more than just assigning videos to students; the approach is really about what happens in the group learning space, not outside.

  1. That’s just blended learning with a fancy name.

In my opinion, this third misconception about flipped learning is rooted on the first two.  As people oversimplify flipped learning and tend to think it is only about the videos or working on a platform, they confuse flipped and blended learning. However, these two models are very different because of the following reasons (and many more, I’m sure):

  1. Blended learning (BL) entails the use of computers and flipped learning does not. Also, flipped learning is more about the pedagogical changes than the tools used. Let’s see the definition of blended learning provided by Charles Graham in 2005: “Blended learning systems combine face-to-face instruction with computer-mediated instruction.” (p. 5) On the other hand, let’s take a look at the definition of flipped learning as agreed by the FLN: Flipped learning is “a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.” (para 1) As you can see, in flipped learning there is no mention of the tools used (i.e. computers).
  2. In BL, the teacher can still teach a traditional, teacher-centered class by having students follow his instructions on a computer, or by uploading resources into a platform. I would go as far as to say that in our day and age, every class uses blended learning (or some form of it) since classrooms have computers, students have tablets and smartphones, teachers use projection devices, etc. However, we can’t say that everybody does flipped learning because of the same reasons.
  3. Blended learning environments don’t necessarily foster high-order thinking skills. Flipped learning environments do.
  4. Blended learning teachers don’t necessarily have the characteristics observed by professional educators according to the FLN pillars of F-L-I-P. A teacher in a given school can be forced to blend his class. However, a teacher can never be forced to flip, because flipped learning educators have to adopt a completely new mindset that can’t be imposed.

I invite you to add more reasons!

Mea culpa! I am aware that the tone in this post is different to the one I normally use, I’m writing it full of emotion. I might come across a bit too passionate in this post, but I feel it is important to clarify what we mean by flipping. It is not homework, it is not assigning videos to watch at home, it is not blended learning. Flipped learning is a mindset, it is a way of teaching, it is not a hat you wear and then take off; once you flip, your life as an educator changes and your mind opens in order to innovate every day. If you disagree, I invite you to debate these ideas, and if you agree, I beg you to add more!

 

References

Graham, C. R. (2006). Blended learning systems. The handbook of blended learning, 3-21.

Flipped Learning Network, (2014). Definition of flipped learning. Flipped Learning Network.

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