The Flipped Classroom | Q&A

Flipped Learning Founders Set the Record Straight

Flipped learning's slogan, much like the concept itself, is simple enough: Turning learning on its head. While it may be a ways away from universally achieving that goal, it has certainly succeeded in turning more than a few educators' heads. The modern movement, with its emphasis on streaming video lectures in place of traditional homework, got its start five years ago at a small Colorado high school where science teachers Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams began collaborating on ways to use technology to improve their face-to-face time with students. Since then, it's developed a significant following of flipped devotees, with many more educators peering in, and has even evolved as teachers combine it with other models, like project-based learning.

T.H.E. Journal Associate Editor Stephen Noonoo recently spoke with Sams, Bergmann, and Kari Arfstrom, the executive director of the Flipped Learning Network, a nonprofit associated with the movement, about flipped learning's newest developments, the importance of at-home internet access, and how to flip your flipped learning professional development.

Stephen Noonoo: Let's start with a brief history of the flipped classroom. How did it all begin?

Jon Bergmann, flipped learning
Jon Bergmann

Jon Bergmann: In 2007, Aaron and I discovered some software that would record our lectures live. Then in the spring of that year we had an idea for what is now known as the flipped classroom, where we stopped giving the lectures. We committed the following year to prerecording all our lectures, as we now had a bigger vision for that. As a note, we didn't call it the flipped classroom--we called it pre-broadcasting--and eventually it became known as the flipped classroom.

I can say prior to us, in 2000, a couple of professors from the University of Miami wrote an article on what they called the inverted classroom. It didn't take off, because I think it wasn't the right time. YouTube wasn't around yet. Even though we came up with the idea in 2007, they probably had the idea, at least as far as I know, originally, but we've been calling ourselves pioneers in the movement since we've been the ones in the forefront, at least in terms of K-12 education.

It's not just about the videos. The videos are a vehicle to get to a deeper learning. There's so much misinformation in the press. They think it's the Khan Academy model where a kid sits in front of a computer and answers all the questions, and that's not at all what we're talking about.

Noonoo: For educators to support the model, they have to get on board with the expectation that students have the ability and the resources to watch these videos online at home, right?

Aaron Sams: That is always the No. 1 concern we get. What about the kid who doesn't have internet at home? When we started, we consulted our administrators and asked how many kids have access to the internet. They said 80 percent, according to a self-reported survey. We said, "Okay, we have 20 percent of kids we have to provide access to."

So we put the videos on flash drives to give them to the kids who had a computer at home but no internet and, for the kids that had no computer at home, we burned them on a DVD they could pop in their DVD player and watch on their television. We were able to reach all our students that way.

Now that's not to say that these methods will reach all students in all circumstances, but if you want to do this and you're committed to using this model of instruction, then you need to figure out which students need additional access and get creative. Find a class set of iPods that you can check out for the kids that don't have it at home. Lots of kids who don't have internet at home have a cell phone that you could put a video on. A little ingenuity and the ability to not let that be a roadblock go a long way.

Noonoo: You recently became associated with a new nonprofit, the Flipped Learning Network. What exactly is it?

Bergmann: Aaron's and my inboxes are filled with people wanting us to speak at their conferences. Obviously, there are more invitations than there are us and we realized that there is a huge need for professional development around the flipped classroom model. One of the huge purposes of this network is to build a network--and we already have, really--of trainers to turn learning on its head, to flip their class.

Kari Arfstrom, flipped learning network
Kari Arfstrom

Kari Arfstrom: That is one of the key components of what the Flipped Learning Network will do--create that professional development. There are two pieces to it. The first is creating a cadre of people who can go out and do informational sessions about what flipped learning is. Teachers are craving their own professional development, delivered either in a face-to-face format or an online format. We're in the process of seeking foundation funding or other philanthropic corporation foundation funding to build what this professional development site will look like.

If there is such a need amongst educators to know more about the flipped class and flipped learning, which are two distinct things, we need to make sure they're defined correctly and used correctly. Then we need to have some organization or association where teachers and educators can gather together to find information and exchange information to look for the latest in research to share videos with each other. That's when we created the 501(c)3--the nonprofit organization--of which Jon and Aaron are now part of the founding board of directors.

Noonoo: So what is the professional development you recommend educators undertake before a flipped model is introduced?

Arfstrom: That's a $100,000 question! If we could answer that, we would have all the foundations burning down our doors to get to us. But Jon and Aaron, as educators, can answer that best. I'm a licensed teacher myself and I know that for me it's a combination of some face-to-face and then online, which you can do at any time. Really, we try to practice what we preach when we deliver professional development, which we are doing through our annual conference and through one-day workshops.

Teachers do need to watch videos on what flipped learning is, both in their disciplinary area and in similarly situated grade level areas, so that they have an idea of what other fifth-grade math teachers are doing when it comes to flipping their classroom. They see that they aren't in this by themselves, and they can see their peers doing it.

However, professional development is being delivered by other techniques as well and there's no magic bullet. It's just finding what works for those adult learners.

Aaron Sams, flipped learning network
Aaron Sams

Sams: I think that's the one thing teachers are craving; they've heard of the concept, the idea, but if they're a second-grade reading teacher or they're a high school physics teacher, they just kind of want to bounce some ideas off people who have been doing this for a while to figure out what it's going to look like in their classroom. A second-grade teacher is not going to prerecord every bit of instruction that they would deliver in their class, whereas Jon and I did prerecord every bit of direct instruction. A lot of what they're going to want to do is to feel out how this is going to be appropriate in their classrooms.

Another component that a lot of teachers are looking for is that, if they chose to use video as an instructional tool, then how do they make these videos? There's a lot of hands-on training that goes into it, as well as learning how to manage a classroom where the teacher is letting control of the learning go back to the students.

Bergmann: The key question, and the one I'll start off every discussion about flipped learning with, is what is the best use of your face-to-face class time? I would argue, at least in my case, that it was not me standing in front of my students yakking. That was not the correct answer; the correct answer was hands-on activities, inquiry- and project-based learning, and all those things that we have known that research has borne out to be effective and meaningful and important. If you can move that direct instruction to a video or some other modality, then you've freed up that class time to do the important stuff that is really what good education is all about.

Noonoo: Tell us about the community that has sprung up around flipped learning.

Bergmann: We have the Flipped Class Network--a Ning--that has broken 5,000 users. We have small groups of people--third-grade teachers, primary teachers, history teacher groups, college professor groups, and research groups. Essentially it's a small community. One of my favorite groups is the First Time Flippers. They are people who came to our conference last summer, either online or live. They've been flipping this whole past year and it's become a support group.

Noonoo: Tell us a little about the new book, Flip Your Classroom. What's it about? What kind of readership will get the most out of it?

Bergmann: It's our story. It's the history of flipped learning. We kind of break it down into three parts. Part one is what we call the traditional flipped classroom, what we're now calling the traditional flipped classroom. The second half of the book deals with what we call the flipped mastery classroom and talks about how we brought mastery learning into the flipped class and what that looked like. Then there are lots of Q&A-type things. We don't go into the pieces of software they can use--more like here are the 10 rules on how to make a good education video that kids are going to love. Things like how you change your voice, because that matters. It's very conversational. You can read it in an afternoon.

Sams: We also address some of the misconceptions that are out there and some common criticisms. We sort of dabble a little bit in where we see this heading in coming years and some of the changes we've made in our classroom as a result of flipping and then using this mastery approach as well. I think it's going to be a good launching point for teachers that are interested in this model. We include some anecdotes from other teachers in other subject areas as well to inspire more than just science teachers. We're hoping that they explore, dabble, get their feet wet.

Bergmann: I also think it would be a great book for pre-service teachers. I really would like to see schools of education adopt this as reading material because it does present a different view. I had the privilege of speaking with a group of pre-service teachers at a university in Wisconsin this fall and they were the best audience I ever had, because they are the YouTube generation and they're very excited about teaching this way.

Noonoo: What are your thoughts on teachers creating their own content to flip the model versus using Khan Academy videos and other pre-made resources?

Bergmann: I have mixed feelings. I think it's best if the teacher makes their own videos, because the kids will connect better with their own teacher, and we've seen that over and over again. The kids prefer, frankly, a video that doesn't have the same production values as some of these other videos, but that is by their own teacher. There are also teachers that have a very difficult time making the videos and they need to use someone else's videos. If at all possible, make your own videos, but if you need to, feel free to use the OER videos or commercial ones or whatever's already out there.

Noonoo: I've heard the flipped model referred to as using a somewhat limited medium--namely, online videos--which can seem distant or un-engaging to some students since they're not interactive like a dynamic lecture. How does the model adapt to those students?

Sams: Two years ago I reevaluated how my students were engaging with my content and realized that there were some kids that this video thing wasn't working out for. But if you're assigning work out of a textbook there are some kids that just aren't going to learn, and there are kids that aren't going to learn from a worksheet. There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all education, so requiring all my kids to watch a video was a little shortsighted on my part.

A couple of years ago I decided to give students options, so Jon and I developed learning objectives for our classes. Here's the learning objective for this particular topic, here are the resources we're going to give you to help you learn it: The video, the section of the textbook, a set of problems, etc. You can do any, all, or none of those things--we don't care how you learn it. We just want you to learn the objective. We want you to learn, and we're going to assess you on that. For me, the videos are optional, because it's only one way a student can learn. It's not the only way.

Bergmann: We have kids who ask if they can just read the textbook instead of watching the video and we say, "Yeah, of course you can." Some kids ask to watch another video from another teacher. "Of course you can." We don't care how they learn, we care that they learn.

Noonoo: How does the model integrate into other models, like mobile learning, project-based learning, and personalized learning?

Sams: I see it overlapping with mobile very much--the fact that kids can access content 24/7 wherever they happen to be--that's a huge component of what we're promoting with the flipped classroom model. We want to give students a choice of when and how they're learning content. Then when they come to class, they're going to interact and get more context for the content they're learning. But the content itself, sort of the lower-end of Bloom's Taxonomy, that's great for a video. That's great for something you can give control to students on.

In terms of project-based learning, absolutely there's overlap. If you're working on a project, you're going to get to the point where you're going to need to know how to do a particular thing. So let's say my chemistry students are building a fuel cell. In order to figure out the chemistry of a fuel cell, you need to know how to balance a chemical equation, so if a student's working on a fuel cell and they get stuck, I can take a look at what they need to do and say, "Hey, you need to know how to balance a chemical equation. Why don't you access this short video and learn how to do that real fast and come back and you can move on?" Instead of using the video as a front-loading tool to teach content that you will then do something with, in a project-based approach, you're going to start with the project and you're going to access the content as you need it, just in time. You're just shifting direct instruction outside of a large group instructional time period.

Bergmann: I had a chance to sit down with one of the guys from the Buck Institute for Learning in San Francisco, the big project-based learning group. He and I had a wonderful conversation and he wanted to partner with the Flipped Learning Network because he says what we're doing is providing the framework to let teachers move toward what they do. They see this as a huge benefit because, for whatever reason, a lot of the project-based stuff hasn't been adopted by schools because they're stuck in the old way. I think we provide a structure so that project-based learning can occur.

Noonoo: Tell us about your annual conference on flipped learning.

Sams: We started doing this whole thing in Woodland Park, CO, where Jon and I met and taught together for a quite a few years. It started out with maybe 20 people who showed up the first time. We hit 300 this year. We actually had to cap it at 300 because of the building we're using. We probably could have had more. It's just grown every year.

Last year was the first time that we brought in other presenters. In the past, Jon and I conducted a small workshop. Last year it got big enough where we brought in other speakers to give presentations. That's happening again. We have 24 presenters from around the country coming in to share their ideas in different subject areas and how they're doing assessments and things like that.

Arfstrom: The concurrent sessions are noted [on the website]. And while we did have to cap the physical number of seats just because of space limitations, I think we have over 200 virtual attendees. We really think we'll have more people attending virtually than in a face-to-face environment. It will be streamed live, but then everything will be captured and archived. So you will be able to see everything. You won't be limited to just one thing at a time.