Analysing the Flipped Classroom Model

(This post was created for the course: Project Based Learning in the Flipped Classroom, University of Wisconsin-Stout)
What is flipping the classroom?
A fairly traditional 'classical' classroom setting involves students first receiving a certain amount of direct instruction in the classroom, often in a lecture format with some time for questions and answers, followed by some in-class time for practice and application with further practice and application set for homework.
Lecture - Image by George Serdechny
Flipping the classroom is the reversing of these processes. In the flipped classroom direct instruction is moved (flipped) from inside the classroom to outside the classroom (for homework before class) which then frees up time in the classroom for other kinds of more personalised and activity-based learning.
Flipped Classroom - Image from University of Texas at Austin
Bergmann and Sams (2012) describe the origin of this idea:
'"The time when the students really need me physically present is when they get stuck and need my individual help. They don't need me there in the room to yak at them and give them content; they can receive content on their own." He then asked this question: "What if we prerecorded all of our lectures, students viewed the videos as 'homework', and then we used the entire class period to help students with the concepts they don't understand?"'
Activity Based Learning Image by Derek Bruff
'Flipping the Classroom' is typically understood to mean that learners make use of online videos made by the teacher between lessons - but there are in fact many ways in which a class can be flipped. In his article 6 Myths About Flipped Learning, Shaffer (2015) explains that videos don't have to be online, they don't have to be made by the teacher, and any number of other non-video resources both on and offline can be used, such as textbooks, worksheets, audio clips, podcasts, websites and so on, in fact any number of 'traditional' resources can be used, dispelling one of the biggest myths about flipping the classroom.
Serial Podcast, Image by paulbreenbc
Why might Flipping the Classroom be beneficial?
There are a number of immediate benefits to flipping the classroom when viewed through the lens of improving the classical model:
- time - students and teachers gain time - time is no longer wasted in the classroom going through examples at the pace of the middle, frustratingly slow for those learners who have already grasped the concepts, and painfully quick for those who are even just a little bit behind.
- engagement - or rather - lack of disengagement due to both of the above scenarios - students tuning out either because they already know what the teacher is saying - or unable to follow it at the pace the teacher is going in class.
- information on demand - now learners (if using video) have the ability to pause, rewind, re-watch, skip ahead or watch at double speed - putting them in control of the pace and frequency with which they receive information
- project based / inquiry based / activity based / mastery learning - with the time that has been released in class - there is now time to engage in more effective pedagogies that are often set aside on the basis of 'not enough time'
- freedom "from the tyranny of the lecture" Shaffer (2015) - both for teachers and students; teachers are free from repeating the same information again and again and students are freed from only hearing information once or twice at a particular time.
- resources - you can use all of your existing resources by adding scaffolding to support learners engage with them offsite, you can learn to create your own videos - or you can just make use of others' resources - such as Khan Academy.
Salman Khan (2011) talks about the benefits of flipping the classroom in this video:
At 6.37 he says (in relation to flipping the classroom), "When those teachers are doing that, there's the obvious benefit... their students... can pause, repeat at their own pace, at their own time... but the more interesting thing, and this is the un-intuitive thing when you talk about technology in the classroom... by removing the one size fits all lecture from the classroom... letting the students have a self-paced lecture at home... and then when you go to the classroom, letting them do work... having the peers interact with each other... these teachers have used technology to humanise the classroom... and now its a human experience, now they're interacting with each other."
Viewed through the lens of improving the classical model and looked at simply in terms of efficiencies - it would seem as if there is no real justification for maintaining the traditional classical direct instruction model. Even if we only gained 20 mins per lesson - over a year that could be 40 hours worth of time that we could put to much better use!
So what are the drawbacks?
What problems or issues might occur?
The first 'problem' is a wonderful one to have: what will we do with all that extra class time! This is where the flipped model really becomes so powerful. We could do anything! We could set the learners on inquiries, we could have then engage in Project Based Learning (PBL) - we could even allow them to move through the videos at their own pace and engage in pedagogies of Mastery Learning; but we should acknowledge that all of this would require new and different practices and extra (or at least different) work and planning.
While there are some potential problems related to this particular model - many of the problems likely to be encountered would be the same regardless of the change in practice.
These might include:
- lack of engagement - learners not engaging in the process, in this case not completing work before class as they were supposed to
- parental expectations - that their child receives direct instruction in class
- pressure from others - for example from peers or learners not to change practice from the familiar and known
- exposure - the risk of changing practice alone can be isolating and the teacher may feel exposed
- access - learners may not have access to online materials outside of class
- time - required to create resources from scratch - or required to check quality of and create scaffolding required to use other people's resources
- quality assurance - are the resources that we are using from others up to scratch? do they do the job we need them to do?
- consistency - that perhaps we start out flipping lessons with the best of intentions, but lose momentum and eventually stop.
But none of these are insurmountable problems.
Problem Solving - Image by
We could consider looking at many of them through a change management lens, for example, the Prosci ADKAR approach:
Awareness: is everyone aware of the change, including teachers, leaders, parents and learners? Do they know exactly what it is that we are expecting them to do and why? How have we communicated this?
Desire: does everyone want to change ? Have we discussed with each stakeholder 'what's in it for them?' Have we considered and explained: What do the learners get out of it? What do the parents get out of it? What does the school get out of it?
Knowledge: do all the learners have the required knowledge to engage in this new process? Do they know where and when to access their materials outside of class? Do they know what the expectations are and what to do if they are unable to meet the requirements?
Ability: the learners might know that they have to access the video and where to find it - but can they engage meaningfully with it? Bergmann and Sams (2012) suggest teaching students to use the Cornell Method so that they have structure when watching and making notes.
Cornell Method - Image from University of Maine, Fort Kent
Reinforcement: is this something being done regularly (once a week, twice a week etc. so that they keep doing it until the change becomes second nature?)
By implementing a change management model (whether ADKAR or any other useful structured approach) we give ourselves a much greater chance of success.
Some of the other specific problems are again solvable:
- access - not all learners may have access to the internet at home or to devices, or have a quiet space to work - but personalised solutions could be found for those that don't (e.g. providing videos on a USB flashdrive, utilising school or public libraries and so on) - and flipping does not necessitate having online resources at all - and further does not necessitate a one-size-fits-all model. (Shaffer, 2015)
- quality assurance - Reich (2012) discusses finding Khan Academy videos containing mathematcial errors and urges all to exercise caution in using those (and in general others') videos - but I am reminded of a principle from Education Changemakers: "done is better than perfect" - perhaps we do find that there is a mistake in a Khan acadmey video - do we need to spend the next hour searching for a perfect one? No! Just make reference to the mistake when setting the video to watch - or better yet - tell the learners there's a mistake in the video and they have to find it!
A possible bigger problem identified in the article though is this:
Flipping direct instruction in the form of lectures out of the classroom still means that they are receiving direct instruction in the form of lectures.
The Direct Instruction Problem
Reich (2012) explains the issue with they type of direct instruction provided in the Khan Academy videos: "Khan Academy teaches only one part of mathematics - procedures - and that isn't the most important part. Writing about mathematics, developing a disposition for mathematical thinking, demonstrating a conceptual understanding of mathematical topics are all more important than procedures."
Direct Instruction - Image from the Aim Network
And herein lies perhaps the biggest critique of the flipped model. Despite providing time for other types of learning - it still swaps lecture for lecture.
Even in Bergmann and Sams' (2012) proposal for a mastery model - they are still swapping (now asynchronous) lecture for lecture.
This is also articulated by Kalantzis and Cope (2017) who argue that flipping the classroom on its own is a limited change of pedagogy. The risk, they argue, is that by simply flipping the lecture from inside to outside the classroom, we miss an opportunity to re-imagine the way in which knowledge is created. What we end up doing is maintaining a didactic relationship where learners remain knowledge consumers (just outside rather than inside the classroom) rather than knowledge creators:
"The idea behind the flipped classroom is not to waste valuable in-person time and to leave space there for interaction. Learners also have a modicum of control not possible in a live lecture - to play the recording when it suits them, to run the lecture at double speed when the pace of spoken language is slower than the speed of thought, or to go back over bits that they did not fully understand on the first hearing. However, these differences are minor compared to the effect of preserving the lecture medium." (Kalantzis and Cope, 2017)
And this is not a new problem!
In setting the scene for a constructivist vs direct-instruction approach, or reflexive vs didactic (an argument that goes on to this day) Kalantzis and Cope (2017) quote the 18th Century Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau as he "railed against didactic pedagogy. '...Put the problems before him (the learner) and let him solve them himself. Let him know nothing because you have told him, but because he has learnt if for himself. If ever you substitute authority for reason he will cease to reason, he will be a mere plaything of other people's thoughts.'"
Jean-Jacques Rousseau by Maurice Quentin de la Tour
To Flip or not to Flip?
In consideration of a Flipped Classroom vs a Classical Classroom, I would have to say that the efficiences gained alone - freeing up time to engage in for example, inquiry based learning would mean I would certainly embrace the practice and recommend that others do so too - in fact it is hard to justify not doing so if the alternative is retaining the classical classroom. But does it change the pedagogy sufficiently?
Sams argues that historically, over time, the technology had changed but the pedagogy had not.

In this video he argues (0:26) that we have gone from chalkboard, to whiteboard, to overhead projector, to interactive whiteboard (and you could add to the list digital LCD touchscreen and whatever is coming next!) and that we hadn't changed the underlying pedagogy in all that time, but by flipping the classroom, taking the lecture out of the physical and temporal space - that for the first time the pedagogy has changed significantly.
Perhaps, and Khan no doubt would agree - but Reich implicitly, and Kalantzis and Cope explicitly, argue that by not addressing the didactic nature of content delivery in the form of a lecture - these changes alone, in the form of flipping the lecture out of the classroom, while good, do not go far enough.

Bergmann, J. and Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day.
Cope, B. and Kalantzis, M. (2017) e-Learning Ecologies: Principles for New Learning and Assessment.
Edutopia (2014). The Flipped Class: Rethinking Space and Time. (accessed 23/06/17)
Khan, S (2011). Let's Use Video to Reinvent Education, (accessed 23/06/17)
Reich, J. (2012). Don't Use Khan Academy Without Watching This First. (accessed 23/06/17)
Shaffer, K. (2015) 6 Myths About The Flipped Classroom, (accessed 23/06/17)


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