The Classroom of the 21st Century

distance-learning-recording_600x400_aIn recent years, non-traditional approaches to teaching have become more and more — well, traditional. In a thousand different ways, educators are shaking up the standard pedagogical approach to lecturing that dates back to ancient Greece, rewriting the rules with a mix of strategy, technology, and creativity to connect with students in ways unimaginable even just a decade ago.

Conspicuous in many of these new instructional methodologies is the presence of technology — indeed, today’s teachers are experimenting with digital initiatives across almost every aspect of the classroom, with dozens of variations for almost any given new approach.

In practice, these “blended learning” programs still vary quite a bit from school to school. A look at the bigger picture, however, reveals some clear trends developing — and right now, there may be none with more promise than the flipped classroom.

What is the Flipped Classroom?

Conceptually, a “flipped classroom” turns the traditional learning experience on its head. Lectures are shared outside of class time for individual review as homework, and classroom time is reserved for students to complete assignments and activities. The principal goals of flipping are:

  • To make the classroom an active learning environment
  • To enable students to learn at their own pace, and
  • To help the instructor to teach each student individually, rather than the class as a whole.

The traditional classroom format requires teachers to spend a significant amount of class time presenting information, typically simply standing in front of a room delivering a lecture. Students sit and (to one degree or another) scribble down notes, passively receiving information at whatever speed the instructor presented. Later, after students have left the classroom and lost easy access to their teacher and peers, they are then challenged to attempt to apply the day’s lesson as an individual homework assignment.

Good teachers, of course, work read their classes’ levels of comprehension in real time during lectures, and make adjustments to find the right speed at which to teach for the average student. Likewise, attentive professors monitor students’ understanding of the subject as demonstrated in homework, and curve the classroom to cover what will be most valuable for most students. However, many educators (and parents) today have begun voicing concerns that this “teaching to the middle” can only ever be a one-size-fits-all approach, and will nearly always fail students at the top and the bottom.

And that’s what makes a flipped classroom so promising.

By shifting passive lecture material to the at-home setting, students are given the chance to review those materials in the time and place that works best for their own needs, and to go back over important or unclear details as often as needed until they’re well understood. This, in turn, helps students to ensure they have all the foundational information they need in order to participate in interactive learning discussions and activities that push them to apply what they have learned.

Then, with in-class time reserved interactive discussion and learning, teacher-guided activities push students to put the lecture materials into practice. This classroom time may be dedicated to group work, comprehension tests, in-depth application of the subject matter, or just open time for individual assignments, all with the added benefit of having a teacher and fellow students nearby to respond when questions come up.

Stemming from that basic definition, there are dozens — if not hundreds — of ways to go about flipping a classroom. We’ll look into several of the most popular options in the following chapters.

Why Flip? Going Beyond the Hype

While breakthroughs in technology may have made the flipped classroom possible, what has made it popular is something far more fundamental: flipping enhances the learning experience. Through student-led learning, coupled with peer-to-peer collaboration and individualized guidance, flipping a classroom enables educators to adapt each lesson to the individual needs of their students like never before.

While educators’ collective understanding of the flipped classroom continues to expand, instructors (and entire institutions) at the forefront of the trend have flipped their classrooms on the basis on a handful of key benefits:

Flipping allows students to learn at their own pace

Under the traditional lecture model, students are bound to the pace that the instructor sets for each class session and the course as a whole. Instructors are under pressure to teach their entire curriculum within the classroom time allocated, based on the rate at which the “average” student can absorb the material. Should a student have trouble with a concept, they are forced to either interrupt and ask for the material to be repeated, thereby slowing down the session for the rest of the class, or do their best to keep up and ask for another explanation at the end or outside of normal class time.

In contrast, students in flipped classrooms can go back over any part of the lecture that they are having trouble with, as many times as necessary. If they continue to have issues, they are able to come to class prepared with specific questions for their instructor.

Flipped learning is customized, active, and engaging

With the foundational material covered before class, instructors craft learning activities that engage students through active learning. Before class even begins, the instructor has new information at their disposal to be able to gauge the class’s level of comprehension with the lesson material. Armed with data from video analytics and online quizzes, instructors can not only insure that students have engaged with the pre-class content, but are also able to guide the classroom experience based on what the students have learned and what remains to be learned. Gone are the days where classroom instructors had to guess at an arbitrary average.

Instructors in the flipped classroom are able to devote more time to forms of learning that put students in an active role, testing and applying the knowledge presented in the lecture. Group problem solving, student presentations, and whole group discussion shifts the focus of learning to the students themselves, to learn through experience and critical discourse. It is through these exercises that students can solidify what they have heard, test their comprehension and master the content.

Flipped lecture materials help student review for exams

For years, many universities have been recording traditional classroom-based lectures. Many are often surprised to see not only how much video students are consuming each semester, but also when in the semester the most video is consumed. In retrospect, the answer feels rather obvious: students go back to recorded lectures as a study aid during midterm and final exam periods.

Flipped classroom materials can offer the same benefit as recorded classroom lectures. When pre-class materials are made available, students can go back and review those resources  to better prepare for tests and exams. Based on the experience of schools that use lecture capture technology, those materials may be one of the most valuable study guides students can have.

Flipped content can be richer through curation and continuous improvement

While teachers have always curated many different resources in order to compliment their own lectures, the flipped classroom makes that process even more rich and effective and accessible. Since students are consuming lesson material at home, it need not be confined to the form of a lecture. Teachers can assign films, games, and readings, using short videos they record to tie it altogether. Gone are the days of taking two class periods to watch a single film!

And as time goes on, flipped instruction can enable teachers to make better use of their own resources and do progressively more each year. By flipping, teachers can:

  • Save time by creating basic lecture content once and share it with multiple class segments for subsequent years
  • Continually improve specific parts of lecture content by reviewing analytics, video comments, and discussions in class
  • Allow themselves to invest time in learning and sharing new and more detailed content, either as future lectures or in classroom discussions
  • Ensure their own missed classes don’t mean missed learning, by providing reliable and consistent lecture materials for substitutes to use

All in all, instructors report a high level of interest in the flipped classroom. According to a 2012 report from Classroom Window, 99% of teachers who flipped one year plan to do so again and 88% said that their overall job satisfaction had improved.

Students in flipped classrooms do better

Every instructor is looking for a more rewarding teaching experience; one that is engaging and effective for their students. As with any change, the tendencies of administrators and other stakeholders to be conservative means that for the flipped classroom to succeed, it also needs to show results where they count — at test time.

While research is still young, a 2012 survey showed that 67% of primary and secondary school teachers reported that their students’ test scores had improved. A 2014 survey by the Flipped Learning network reported that 71% of teachers reported an improvement in students’ grades in the flipped classroom. And early anecdotal data abounds, with the flipped classroom garnering enthusiastic support in helping improve student performances in classrooms ranging from middle school to master’s programs.

A Brief History of the Flipped Classroom

The first well-documented flipped classroom rang into session back in 2007, when a pair of chemistry teachers at Woodland Park High School, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams began looking for a way to provide lecture materials for students who had to miss class. Using simple screen recording software to capture their PowerPoint slides, the two then uploaded the recordings to YouTube and shared them with their students.  

Right away the two teachers noticed the tenor of the classroom shifted. Students came to class prepared with a better understanding of the day’s material. Class time began to shift away from students passively receiving lectures. Instead, they found increased student interaction and greater discussion of the details of the individual lesson and how the subject of the day related to other lessons in the course.

In short order a new pedagogy was born and its adoption throughout the world of education has been nothing short of astonishing.

While the flipped classroom has incorporated technology from the beginning, digital elements aren’t a requirement of the pedagogy. Some classes, especially at the university level, have relied on a “readings at home, discussion in class” adaptation of the flipped philosophy for years. Rather, today’s teachers have added technology to the flipped model not out of need but in recognizing an opportunity to better reach, engage, and inform their students.

A Modern Kind of Student

The majority of students in school today were born into a world where the internet and personal computers were commonplace and information has never been more than a quick visit to Google away. They’ve carried mobile phones in their pockets since childhood and regularly communicate with each other not only through phone calls and text messages, but also through a myriad array of apps that enable communication in a thousand different ways.

One of the most transformative technologies shaping millennials came with the rise of the home camcorder. Starting with the release of the first personal camcorders in 1982, Millennials grew up in an age when video moved out of the realm of professional specialists and into a world where anyone could record and share anything. Today video is a standard feature of every smartphone, tablet, laptop, and digital camera available, and a host of new websites, social networks, and mobile apps have emerged to support video for sharing moments and expressing ideas. In the US, three quarters of the student population visits YouTube at least monthly, watching the latest music videos and viral hits no doubt, but also spending an increasing amount of time on informational, how-to, ‘edutainment’, and other content geared for self-led learning.

And while video has proven to be one of the most powerful forms for capturing and sharing information, it is not just video that has opened up learning outside the classroom: eBooks, journal databases, interactive games and apps have all leveraged the internet and personal computing to bring newer forms of learning to greater and greater populations.

A Modern Kind of Lesson

With students eager to learn in this new, on-demand format, educators both inside and outside of the classroom have taken a more direct approach to spreading education via the internet. One dominant example has been experimentation with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered by university professors in collaboration with companies like Coursera, EdX and Udacity.

In this always-connected world, the flipped classroom represents an opportunity for teachers at all levels to advance education by leveraging students’ own expectations. Students should have the same access and convenience in school that they do in their personal lives. Technology can offer instructors an opportunity to engage with students on their own terms, in a “language” that is more familiar to this new generation of learners.

Smarter Teaching. Smarter Learning. Smarter Classrooms.

As all teachers know, technology is only one part of the equation when it comes to learning. While many may focus their attention on what’s different about the flipped classroom — the digital component — it’s important to remember that by delivering lecture material in the at-home setting, instructors strengthen the in-class learning experience, instead of diluting it.

Free from the constraints of the classroom-based lecture, the flipped classroom asks students to drive the pace of learning at an individual level, offering them an expanded opportunity to think critically and collaborate with their classmates, all while their instructors are close at hand. By most accounts, students love it, with teachers in one survey reporting at 88% that their students had shown attitude improvements through the flipped classroom.

In this way, the flipped classroom combines the best of the internet with the best of the classroom. Through the process of active learning in the classroom combined with the flexibility and personalized nature of the internet that the flipped classroom truly shines as a sustainable way forward for education, benefiting students and instructors alike.

ICON - CTA - Practical Guide to Flipping Your Classroom eBookInterested in joining teachers from around the country at the forefront of the flipped classroom pedagogy? We’ve prepared a comprehensive guide to preparing, delivering, and evaluating your flipped classroom, from ideas for interactive classroom activities to the tech needed to produce recorded lessons. Download your free copy today.



Published: August 24, 2015