In 'Flipped' Classroom, the Emphasis Must Be on Support, Not Video

Written by Ian Stewart | Apr 16, 2012 3:07:34 PM

Salman Khan, he of Khan Academy fame, has said that the "flipped classroom" model — in which students watch or listen to pre-recorded lectures over the Web, on their own time rather than during class — liberates instructors to finally make real connections with their students.

And certainly there's something to that. By focusing that valuable face-to-face classroom time on exercises that put the lessons learned during lectures into actual practice (doing the homework at school), instructors are supporting the part of the learning process (the "doing") that students really retain. That is, since students learn the most by implementing theories they've learned into real-life work, it makes sense to use as much of your 50-minute in-person session on that as possible.

But most of the hoopla over the "flipped" classroom has centered around the technology involved. The thought of sitting in your pajamas, watching a video recorded lecture on your iPad seems to have gripped many people's imaginations. But that's not the most important element of the new model. Indeed, it's hardly new: In college, you could pay something like five bucks to see notes (or sometimes a transcript) on any lecture you missed, recorded by an official note-taker. It wasn't uncommon for students to ask a friend to tape-record a lecture they had to miss so they could listen to it later.

Admittedly, the technology's come a long way in just a short time, and the tools being used now are a lot more sleek and sophisticated than a simple tape recorder. But the point is still the same. What's important about the emergence of these "flipped" curricula is that instructors have an opportunity to work more closely with learners than ever before. And that's the part that instructors should focus their energy on — not the video recording equipment.

Andrew Miller, an educational consultant, writes that a "flipped" classroom still requires instructors to demonstrate the value of their content, whether online or offline. "Just because I record something, or use a recorded material, does not mean that my students will want to watch, nor see the relevance in watching it," he writes. " … If the flipped classroom is truly to become innovative, then it must be paired with transparent and/or embedded reason[s] to know the content."

The things that matter most to fostering true learning — demonstrating the importance and relevance of new material, incorporating new ideas into real-world scenarios, getting students to build learning communities with their peers, etc. — don't change in a flipped setting. In fact they become magnified. And those have little if anything to do with a webcam. The technology is providing some great new tools, but it's still the ideas that count.