Flipping the classroom: What does it mean?

Flipping has become a fashionable term describing what seems like a new approach to teaching. In fact, many instructors have been doing this for some time but had not thought to give it a nice, catchy name. Basically, instead of lecturing in class and giving practical work in the form of homework, a flipped classroom requires students to access instruction online and collaboratively do in the classroom the practical work they might have done for homework. The interactive work in class is intended to deepen the students’ understanding of content and their ability to apply what they learned online. The instructor goes from being a presenter of information to a facilitator for the interactive exercises.

There are several important considerations before making a change like this:

Is the flip an actual improvement in the learning experience? Or are you just doing the exact same thing in a different way? Or are you creating more work for students without any clear benefit?

Flipping the classroom should be done as a process to improve the educational experience. It is not simply a case of learning a new technology (like Camtasia) to enable the creation of online instruction. It requires careful planning and thought and provides an opportunity to reflect on your whole educational approach.

Some pointers when flipping:

  • Do not try to flip a whole course at once. Select only a couple of units first and perfect your redesign method before extending it to other areas of the course.
  • Do break up what you want to do into small learning units (5-20 minutes of student time).
  • Do not just record what you already do in lectures.
  • Do not feel you need to create all the instructional aids yourself. Instead, include material from other sources. Look for free, professionally produced, online resources such as videos (see, for example, the Kahn Academy, www.khanacademy.org), animations and interactive lessons that will give students a varied experience.  More importantly, this will free you to spend more time planning the interactive exercises in class, which are what make the real difference in the flipped method.
  • Do use this as an opportunity to consider your course content. Are you trying to teach too much material? What are the nice-to-know and the need-to-know parts of what you teach? Can you eliminate some nice-to-know to free up time to reinforce the need-to-know? Make sure you are not adding more things for the students to do on top of what they already do.

If you are recording your own instructional material:

  • Do a few 10-20-minute recordings rather than a 50-minute lecture
  • Try not to make just a “talking head” video. Use graphics and animations and intersperse self-tests
  • Script it before you record it.

Always keep students informed of any change. Tell them in advance what you are going to do and why before they experience your flipped classroom. Seek their views as to what worked and what did not from their perspective.

Finally, it is most important to understand that planning and design are what make the flipping effective, not the technology used. It helps to have expert advice from a professional instructional designer, who can review your design thinking or provide direction if you are new to this concept.