Flipped Learning

4 Ways Schools Are Overcoming Flipped Learning Equity Challenges

These workarounds are supporting the flipped learning movement off campus and even when digital equity is sparse or non-existent.

The race is on to improve digital equity off campus, but will it happen soon enough for teachers, schools and districts that are using flipped learning in the classroom? Maybe, but in the meantime some of them have found ways to work around the issue and successfully administer flipped learning in K-12.

Closing the 'Homework Gap'
Growing in popularity among K-12 teachers, flipped learning includes the use of both pre-made online videos and those made by the teachers themselves. While often defined simplistically as "school work at home and home work at school," flipped learning is an approach that allows teachers to implement a methodology (or various methodologies) in their classrooms, according to the Flipped Learning Network (FLN).

More specifically, FLN defines flipped learning as "a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter."

This pedagogical approach becomes more difficult to administer as students move away from their WiFi-enabled school campuses. According to CoSN's 2015 Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey, three out of four school systems do not have any off-campus strategies for providing connectivity to students at home and after school. Also, 88 percent said affordability was the biggest barrier for families lacking Internet access at home.

Limited service is another barrier, with 42 percent of districts surveyed by CoSN pointing to lack of available broadband service as a problem. "Students who lack Internet access service outside of the traditional school day cannot maximize learning opportunities in a digital environment," stated CoSN in the report, "the so called 'Homework Gap.'"

4 Ways To Overcome Digital Inequity
Here are four ways schools and flipped learning gurus are working around the homework gap and ensuring that digital inequity doesn't get in the way of learning. 

1) Use student-owned iPods or MP4 players. When Jon Bergmann, chief learning officer at FlippedClass.com, began experimenting with flipped learning 10 years ago, he quickly learned that 30 percent of his students lacked high-speed Internet access at home. To get around this challenge, Bermann started uploading videos to student-owned iPods and sending those devices home.

"I would hook them up to my computer and drag and drop my files onto them," said Bergmann, who added he sees this as a viable solution for teachers who are struggling with the equity issue.

And because these devices come with a lot of memory and operate without Internet connectivity, students can use them while in transit, on the bus to a sports activity or in a home where broadband isn't available.

"In some cases, even the students who had access at home used their iPods for their portability," said Bergmann. Today, a 32 GB MP4 player (Price:  $35 on Amazon) will do the trick — and for a lot less money than an iPad.

2) Give students time and a place to work. Chris Geocaris, assistant principal at Warren Township High School in Gurnee, IL, said his district's diverse student base, which ranges from those who are on free or reduced lunch programs to those who live in multimillion dollar homes, was brought to light during a recent Chromebook implementation. To help even out some of the digital equity issues that surfaced, the school extended its library hours, remodeled the space to include more tables, Wi-Fi access points and collaborative workspaces, and asked teachers to give students ample time (at least 48 hours, in most cases) to get their flipped learning assignments done.

"We make it very easy for our students to get to the library 30 minutes before school starts and during lunch periods and during study halls," said Geocaris. 

3) Train students and teachers on efficient usage. You can't always influence a family's willingness or ability to purchase high-speed Internet access for the home, but you can educate students on the fine points of working with the bandwidth that they do have, said Dan Blevins, instructional technology specialist for Killough Middle School/Alief Independent School District in Houston. You can also train teachers on how to create content that can be accessed and viewed in a very efficient manner.

Blevins said this two-pronged strategy works particularly well at the middle school level, where students are gaining independence but still lack the maturity to responsibly manage bandwidth usage. "We teach them the techniques, discipline and responsibility needed to operate under low-bandwidth conditions," said Blevins. Where a high school senior might have enough experience using technology to be able to knock out a quick video lesson in 15 minutes, for example, a seventh-grader could take an hour or more to do the same exercise. "To a middle school student, an hour is forever — particular if the Internet isn't fast enough," said Blevins, whose team trains teachers on how to look beyond just "creating wonderful lessons on video" and to keep efficiency in mind when developing content. "In some cases a teacher might feel great that she just created a 15-minute video without realizing how much time it's going to take for a student to view it in a low-bandwidth environment," said Blevins. "We help them work through these issues to come up with a plan that reaches a broader group of students, whether they have high-speed access or not."  

4) Put flipped learning materials in a central repository. Used by most Warren Township High School's math teachers and some of its foreign language classes, flipped learning has become an important teaching tool for many of its instructors. But nothing eats up time and bandwidth faster than having to view, download and interact across different online platforms to find the information that you need. To ensure students have a central repository to work from for their flipped learning lessons, the school asks all teachers to use its Canvas learning management system (LMS).

"We started seeing accessibility issues with teachers posting videos in different locations and on different platforms," Geocaris explained. "Students weren't finding what they needed and couldn't do their homework."

Those challenges eased once all teachers began putting their videos on the LMS. Now, students log into the system to watch the videos, take quizzes and work on new modules as they are unlocked. "By creating this centralized point of access," said Geocaris, "we've been able to streamline the process and help students more readily access their lessons."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].