Flipped Classroom | Viewpoint

Is It Really Hip to Flip?

"Try it! You might like it!" is not a sufficient reason for initiating flipped instruction. What are the questions educators should be asking in order to ensure the best outcomes for students?

Hardly a week has gone by in the last year when educators have not been bombarded by news articles, blog posts, or invitations to attend webinars and conferences focused on the flipped classroom. Flipping has become a hot topic among both educators and school leaders. But there are some legitimate concerns. A major one is the rationale for selecting the flipped method in the first place, which might displace other valuable, technology-based instructional strategies.

A flipped lesson incorporates viewing instructional videos for homework. It's not the use of video that might make educators skeptical of this strategy, but how and where it is used in instruction and its effect on learners as homework.

Although an instructional video can be a valuable tool, is this current focus on the flip being made at the expense of other technologies that should play a role in instruction? Certainly, if educators are going to create videos for learning, they can't just "wing-it and post-it" and assume learners will be engaged. If you are skeptical and unsure about trying flipped instruction, particularly for mathematics, the following questions and considerations for the design of instruction involving video might help you decide and avoid a flip-flop.

Initial Questions
Over the last 30 years, many instructional strategies have been introduced aimed at increasing mathematics achievement. "Individualized instruction, cooperative learning, direct instruction, inquiry, scaffolding, computer-assisted instruction, and problem solving" are among those, according to NCTM's President Linda Gojak (2012, para. 1). Whenever a different strategy comes along, educators wonder about its potential, including for the latest addition--the flipped classroom.

How does flipping work?

A typical cycle might occur over two days. On the first day learners begin their exploration of concepts via an activity that builds on prior knowledge.  They would view instructional video that night for homework, which replaces the traditional in-class lecture.  The video may or may not involve interactivity.  Learners might complete a reflective activity as proof of viewing it.  On day 2, discussion ensues so that they get their additional questions answered.  Learners then engage in activities for applying their knowledge, working on problem sets from learning packets. They might complete those for day 2 homework and also prepare for an assessment the following day (Saltman, 2011).

An instructional video has advantages, such as the ability to pause and repeat; but but it has disadvantages as well: An instructional video is a lecture, just a different form of "sage on the stage." It is not by itself learner-centered. And unlike a face-to-face lecture, which might also inspire and be meaningful to learners, it has an additional disadvantage in that learners do not necessarily get their immediate questions answered by a pause and repeat. Learners need interactivity and engagement. Proponents know that. Indeed, Jon Bergmann (2012) views "flipped learning as a transitional pedagogy/technique. We are transitioning from the old industrial model of education to the learner centered, active class of the future" (para. 3). Actually, educators should have made that learner-centered transition well before flipping became the hot topic.

An initial question often surrounds access to appropriate technology for viewing video outside of class time. There's something to be said for needing one-to-one and BYOD initiatives in connection to success of a flipped class. Even with Internet access at home, what do you tell a family that has only one computer, more than one child, each of whom might have more than one video to view for homework, resulting in lack of time and frustration for each to complete it? Proponents say there are solutions, such as using school computers before or after school, or during the school day in a study hall. Even that has limitations considering that the only transportation to and from school for many is the scheduled school bus. Giving more time during a week to complete viewing the videos is not a complete solution, as without the video lecture there's a huge gap in learning to fill at day 2 in a flipped class cycle.

Would it be appropriate for all to use instructional video as homework?

The type and amount of homework to assign at each grade level and whether or not to grade it has also been problematic. Consider the extent of diversity among learners, including their varied learning and thinking styles. As they also vary in mathematical maturity (Morsund & Ricketts, 2012), math educators would be particularly interested in the potential for increase in math anxiety from digging into video content alone and the degree to which learners will accept the challenge.

How often and under what circumstances should the method be used? Not all educators have found success in their implementations. There have been learners themselves who rejected the flipped classroom, preferring a traditional approach. Bergmann (2012) indicated that for lower grades, the method might only be appropriate for selected lessons. Shouldn't this selectivity be considered for all grades?

Certainly, a video must convey more than what can be read in a traditional textbook. If all learners had Internet access outside of class time, why would educators want to focus on instructional video for homework? There is a wealth of digital content for teaching and learning mathematics. Types include tutorials, skill builders with drill and practice, comprehensive courseware, test prep, problem-solving challenges, simulations and visualization tools, and serious educational games (Schneiderman, 2006). Some of those offer global challenges with other learners. Add Web 2.0 tools for collaboration. This does not mean that those who flip would not use them, however.

Given limited time for professional development and so many technology options for instruction, educators might also ask where their technology integration priorities should lie. Two years ago, I commented on the need to ensure learners gain expertise using technologies that will be included in upcoming online Common Core assessments. Gray and colleagues found relatively low percentages for technology use in classrooms for such activities (Deubel, 2010). As math homework often involves using paper/pencil to complete problems independently, would this be the best use of time in a flipped class in light of this need to expand technology use? Or, would digital resources be available for such practice, which also track progress?

What evidence is there that the method is effective and leads to student achievement? An entire school has adopted the model owing to data from piloting it, which indicated fewer failures, better discipline, increase in homework completion, and more students reaching proficiency (Saltman, 2011). As everything educators do should lead to achievement, results from a 2010 national online survey by PBS & Grunwald Associates might make one wonder about the longevity of a method that features video. Over 1,400 preK-12 teachers participated. Although 82 percent believed video content is more effec­tive when it is integrated with other instructional resources or content, less than half believed video content directly increases student achievement (42 percent) and is more effective than other types of instructional resources or content (31 percent).

Instruction and Video Production Resources

Overview of UBD and the Design Template

Understanding by Design Exchange

CamStudio, free

Camtasia, 30-day free trial

Educreations, free

Jing, free

MediaCore, 30-day free trial

Screenr, free

Toufee, 14-day free trial

The Right Question
As Gojak (2012) pointed out, the right question is not, "Shall I flip my classroom?" Rather, educators should ask "how to apply the elements of effective instruction to teach students both deep conceptual understanding and procedural fluency. Flipped lessons that simply demonstrate how to do a procedure do not encourage understanding, do not ensure that students will remember the procedure, and do not promote adaptive reasoning. A single instructional approach is unlikely to have a major impact on student achievement once the novelty wears off" (para. 6). Indeed, "Any sufficiently important mathematics topic requires students to learn the topic in four dimensions: procedurally, conceptually, contextually, and investigatively" (Strong, Thomas, Perini, & Silver, 2004, p. 75).

Proponents of the flipped model have stated that it leaves more class time for using multiple instructional strategies and for taking advantage of the teacher's expertise. Yet, how much time is actually gained during a typical 45 to 50 minute class? Whether you flip instruction or not, an effective educator would not assume learners have posed all their questions. Sometimes learners do not ask questions in fear of appearing stupid in front of their peers. Any learner-centered educator would present concepts and worked examples during class to ensure learners are on the road to understanding. They would anticipate questions not asked. They would include activities that are, in Michael Gorman's (2012) words, "action based, authentic, connected and collaborative, innovative, high level, engaging, experience based, project based, inquiry based, and self actualizing."

Decision Time
"Try it! You might like it!" is not a sufficient reason for initiating flipped instruction. Before jumping on the bandwagon, don't overlook when instructional materials and strategies should be chosen in planning instruction. It would not be a wise decision for success, if you consider the three-stage Understanding by Design framework of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins (2005). The desired results of instruction should come first with goals linked to standards, "Big Ideas" to uncover in a unit, essential questions to hook and engage learners, and what students will know and be able to do. In the next stage, assessments and performance tasks are determined to provide evidence of learning and being able to transfer knowledge (p. 7). Performance tasks and other types of assessment evidence may be differentiated, thus appealing to all learners. The learning plan is developed during the last stage with well-sequenced activities that align with enduring understandings, essential questions, and standards. It, too, may be differentiated (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006).

A decision as to whether or not flipped instruction is appropriate should be made in the last stage, particularly if there are concerns about overuse of video for homework and its novelty wearing off.

You Decided To Flip: Now What?
Any technology implementation proceeds in stages. If video use is included in lesson plans, then decide if it is more appropriate to use video that is self-produced or developed by others. The decision might be influenced by your content expertise and production skills. In either case, multimedia principles for learning should be considered, including accessibility of the video content by all.

Multimedia has a strong role to play in support of learning, particularly for mathematics. However, if anyone believes that quality multimedia is easy to design, consider investigating some principles of behaviorist and cognitive approaches (Deubel, 2003). Among those are that students learn better from words and pictures, rather than words alone, but corresponding words and pictures should support each other and be presented at the same time, rather than in succession; any textual explanation should be integrated with its graphical illustration to avoid splitting attention. Being concise is important for maintaining attention. Redundancies, unnecessary sounds, and unsupportive graphic elements detract from learners' cognitive processing (Swisher, 2007).

There are several video repositories on the Web, which can benefit learners and also provide alternative perspectives in instruction in keeping with principles of Universal Design for Learning. Brightstorm, HippoCampus, Khan Academy, Knowmia, MathVids, PBS Learning Media, SchoolTube, SchoolWAX TV, Teacher Tube, and WatchKnowLearn are among those. Considering the recent controversy surrounding the quality of some math videos at Khan Academy, educators will probably need to use more than one repository and preview several videos for content and instructional accuracy and adherence to multimedia principles for learning. Save time by making this a collaborative activity. As with usability testing for software development, input from a team of learners themselves would be valuable.

Like-minded colleagues can also be an asset to tweak a video production. It might take an entire year to complete a database to enable flipping a whole class (Bergmann, 2012). In addition to considering multimedia principles, Jeremy Vest (2009) suggested that a video will be less than effective if you have not pre-planned its content including what you will say and any images you will include, and if you have not rehearsed, or do not connect with learners, or if video becomes too long. About three to seven minutes of chunked content is about right to maintain attention. The video must have good technical quality, including in the delivery of it. The download time should be minimal at the hosting site. Planning should also address how learners will engage with its content.

In a flipped class, attention to accessibility is particularly important. For example, hearing-impaired learners would benefit from a transcript of the audio, as would learners who prefer reading text to listening. A transcript of audio would be helpful to English language learners, if they need a translation. It would help all for skimming content prior to viewing, or for review or note-taking. On the technical side, video needs to be previewed for its accessibility on multiple devices and via multiple browsers. In one of my own experiences with video in an online course I've taught, learners were recommended to use a lower version of Firefox, as the videos were not viewable in Internet Explorer 9. Bugs needed to be worked out, owing to a change in the course management system.

Avoid the Flip-Flop
Educators have asked, "How do you know your students viewed the video and got anything out of it?" The answer lies in using advance organizers and a reflective activity. Prior to viewing, learners should at least be provided statements or guiding questions to help them focus on its relevance, as would be done in an online learning course. They might be provided keywords or a list of new vocabulary they will encounter and a source for where they might find elaborations of those, if needed. Learners should always have at hand questions for self-motivation, such as how viewing is going to affect them personally and how will they use the new information.

Comparable to reading with purpose (Tovani, 2005), when viewing a video the first time, even the best learners might not catch all that is important. Others might be frustrated in terms of comprehension, if they have been multitasking and lost focus. Encourage a second viewing, but with a new purpose. Learners might fill in details they missed or form new questions. They should always determine how the video extended prior learning.

Their reflective activity might include using a graphic organizer, such as a KWL chart or the ultimate KWHLAQ chart, or a thinking map, such as found at Designs for Thinking. It might take the form of completing a few related practice problems to check for understanding, or answering reflection questions related to the video's content, or writing a summary of notes taken. However, merely telling students to take notes as proof of viewing it is not sufficient. As Chris Tovani (2005) warned, without that advance organizer, learners will tend to write down everything they can because they might not know what is important.

Such activities help promote critical thinking and serve as a basis for a class discussion that follows. Depending on the nature of the activity, grade level, and learners themselves, reflections might be posted to a class blog.

Bottom Line
Let's return to the issue of using instructional video for homework. I admit to being skeptical of using video this way, which is not to say I discount its potential. Video use is on the rise. If not directly for achievement, perhaps the lasting benefits of flipped instruction will follow from other beliefs about video. As PBS & Grunwald Associates (2010) found, teachers believed video in instruction stimulates discussion (68 percent), increases student motivation (66 percent), and helps them be more effective (62 percent) and creative (55 percent). They indicated students prefer it over other types of instructional resources/content (61 percent) and that video also stimulates students' creativity (47 percent).

The flipped classroom is a different approach to instruction, but different does not equate to better. There are effective educators in F2F settings who would rather keep their traditional approach and present new content during class aided by technology, look at learners directly for their initial reactions, answer their immediate questions, and adjust instruction accordingly. They then include a blend of online and offline activities that personalize learning leading to understanding and achievement for all, and adjust time needed for mastery before introducing new content. These same educators might also prefer to make video available for reinforcement or review after a class session, or for learners who might have missed a class, or for parents who wish to help. That's ok.

We need pioneers in education reform. Only time will tell if it is "really hip to flip." For the moment, the bottom line is: Each educator must decide when and where best to include instructional video. It all depends on your learners, their needs, and the desired results of instruction. Ask the right question.


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