Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Great "Flipped Classroom" Debate

Flipped Classrooms
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Virtually ever since the term was coined in 2007 by a couple of secondary STEM teachers in Colorado, the “Flipped Classroom” has been a topic of buzz, hype, and contention in the education community, with that debate escalating exponentially in the early/mid 2010s. 

Just take a look at this chart that tracks the number of articles on Google Scholar with the phrase “flipped classroom” in the title since 2007:

From 2011 to 2015, this number jumped from almost nothing to over 500 published articles a year.  A search I made on on reveals 134 separate book titles related to the “Flipped Classroom,” with the majority of those being published in 2014 or later.  However, despite all this buzz -- or perhaps because of it -- not all of the opinions being published about the Flipped Classroom concept are positive ones. 

In fact, some of the more recent headlines are downright nasty:



Could it be that this wunderkind teaching method has totally fallen out of favor as quickly as it rose to fame and glory?

To try and get a “health check” of public opinion regarding the value of the flipped classroom, I did a rather unscientific study of current opinion in the educational blogosphere.  I did some neutral Google searches - for phrases like “does flipped classroom work,” “flipped classroom opinion” and “flipped classroom good or bad,” and catalogued the first 20 opinion-based articles and blog posts I found.

The overall tone of the 20 articles fell into 4 main categories:  For, Neutral, Moderately Against, and Strongly Against. (Though I suppose it is worth pointing out that together the 2 “Against” categories contain over twice as many articles as the “For” category.”)  In the rest of this post, I'll be letting these various articles have a friendly debate regarding the nature of the Flipped Classroom.


But what do we mean by "flipped classroom," exactly?


Before we go any further, it should probably be stated that personal definitions of the “flipped classroom” model vary.  The Flipped Learning Network provides a "definitive" definition that is quite open-ended:

However, most educators - and definitely those penning the articles I collected -- have a more specific view of how a flipped classroom functions. 

Generally, the consensus seems to be something like this: 

"Flipped Classroom" = students watch lecture or informational videos at home before class, and then come to class to interact with the material presented, their instructor, and their classmates in some way.

But the fact remains that if you were to ask 100 educators how they defined a "flipped classroom,"  you would probably get 100 different answers.  Perhaps this variety in definitions accounts for some of the vast variety in online opinion regarding the flipped classroom.

"All Those In Favor?"

Let’s start with those articles that landed in the “For” category.  When speaking in favor of the flipped classroom, these positive articles primarily discussed the way the flipped classroom helps to engage students with individualized and group-based learning.

”Most of the blog reflections I have read...point to the way that the flipped classroom has truly individualized learning for students.” (Hertz 2012)
”As the Millennial generation and those that follow work their way through K12, team-based approaches are likely to be even more important for higher education.” (Millard 2012) 
”Overall, I feel extremely positive. Students again stepped up to the challenge and amazed me with their ability to process difficult video lectures at home on their own.” (Roshan 2012)

Others praised the model for the way it forced conversations about pedagogy in general and made teaching more enjoyable:

“It is forcing teachers to reflect on their practice and rethink how they teach their kids.” (Hertz 2012)
“It makes teaching an absolute delight, in my opinion,” (Willis 2015)

"Those opposed?"

On the other side of the spectrum are those writers who are strongly opposed to the flipped classroom model.  However, many of these authors seemed to respond most strongly to the hype surrounding the flipped classroom, rather than the methodology itself:

“Flipping your classroom is not a silver bullet.” (Aviles 2014)
”The idea that the flipped classroom is the ABSOLUTE solution for EVERY classroom in America is false!” (Goble 2014)
”Flipping is not that innovative at all. (Schuman 2014)
“Schools should not mandate flipped classrooms, or any other educational trend, just to be on the cutting edge”. (Lape 2014)
“We’ve got to move away from video as the key thing...There has to be good teaching behind it still.” (Stokes 2012)
While this could at least partially be a case of educators not wanting to be told what to do, other writers cite student option as a reason they are speaking out against the flip:
”’Are we going to have the flipped class again? Because… I didn’t really like it.” (Schuman 2014) 
"Students dislike using time outside of school for instruction because they are taking time writing notes on their own at home...Over half of the students surveyed said that their grades have dropped due to the instructional method.” (Beck 2013)
Other reasons writers fall into the Anti-Flipping Camp included technological challenges and lack of resources, both on the part of students and instructors.

“Flipping a class with online accessible videos accessed can be a cumbersome and an expensive undertaking particularly in resource-poor- areas where some students cannot afford to own computers.” (ummy 2016)
”Without the right amount of teacher training, or without the proper methods to distribute technology and video information, the flipped model is doomed to fail.” (Goble 2014)
Some even argue that the Flipped Classroom will put traditional instructors out of business:

”When you outsource content provision to the Internet, you put yourself in competition with it....After all, if you aren’t the best lecturer in the world, why shouldn’t your boss replace you with whoever is?” (Rees 2015)
More theoretical concerns revolve around the fact that, traditionally, a flipped classroom is just a mirror image of the traditional “lecture class” model, and that perhaps an altogether new model should be implemented:

“If flipping is just reversing what happens inside and outside of class, then it’s a short-sighted strategy.”  (Weimer 2014)
“A kid who does not do their homework normally will not watch the lectures at home even if you hold them accountable.” (Aviles 2014)
“Flipping instruction might end up just meaning we can provide time to do more of the same type of memorization and regurgitation teaching that just doesn't work.” (Nielsen 2011)
And, my personal favorite:

“The flipped classroom is decadent and depraved… If lecturing is so awful how come the Flipped Classroom Messiah Squad wants most class content to be transmitted that way on tape, the least interactive way possible” (Rees 2014)

A Balanced Look

Finally, let's look at those whose overall opinion of the flipped model was more neutral.

Out of those presenting a neutral or balanced opinion of the Flipped Classroom, the consensus seems to be that, while there are many positives to the flipped classroom approach, and while the technique may work well in some cases, it should not be considered a one-size-fits-all solution.

“Please don’t paint flipped teaching ideas and techniques with a ‘black and white’ brush – they are clearly more nuanced than that...It saddens me to see how often people are seeing the idea of flipped instruction techniques as an all-or-none approach, or even worse, as anything remotely akin to replacing the teacher.” (Walsh 2013)
“Just as no flavor of yoga will suit everyone, no universal solution will improve learning for all students in every situation.” (Lape 2014)

The Trends Over Time

I deliberately included the dates of the quotes in each section, because one thing I was very curious about was if a change could be documented over time in the published public opinion of the flipped classroom.  And I have to say, at least according to my very small study, it can!

As you can see in the image above, while the number of neutral or balanced articles stayed relatively constant between 2011 and 2015, there is a definite shift in 2013 between the pros and the cons, with "Yay, Flipped Classroom" articles peaking in roughly 2012 and the overall "Boo Hiss Flipped Stinks" articles cresting in 2014.

So, who do you think wins this Flipped Classroom debate?  Ultimately, I think only time will tell. 

But personally, I think that any concept that gets people talking about new and research-based educational techniques -- even trendy, over-hyped, or controversial concepts -- is positive force for change in the educational landscape. 

What is it they say about publicity?  Oh yeah...


And, even though it may be drifting slowly out of fashion, in the wake of new and "better" technological models, I still think it's safe to say that the Flipped Classroom is still alive and kicking and will be for quite some time.

Articles Referenced by Year of Publication:











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