Instructional Strategies | Q&A

Honing the Flipped Classroom

Serving a large student body that's wired for the kind of learning that the flipped classroom provides, a Texas school district invests time, money, and energy into creating course content that students access on their own time.

An early adopter of advanced data center management tools and collaborative video technology, Denton Independent School District in Denton, TX, has taken an active approach to educational technology and innovative classroom strategies. Seeing a need to embrace the "flipped learning" phenomenon — which finds students watching video lectures at home and getting more personalized guidance from instructors in class (rather than listening to lectures) — the 28,000-student district recently implemented a webcasting and video-sharing platform, which it's using to develop secure video communities where ideas and expertise are shared among users.

Denton ISD students
"Kids are digital natives and they are using rich, multimedia video resources to learn outside of the classroom. Using those methods to reach students inside of the classroom just made sense." — Barry Fox, Denton ISD

Using the platform, Cisco Show and Share, a network-based application designed for private and highly secure video sharing, Denton ISD can create its own lesson content designed to meet student learning targets.

But creating an effective flipped classroom environment requires more than just state-of-the-art technology applications. Here, Barry Fox, the district's director of instructional technology, discusses the content creation behind Denton ISD's webcasting and video-sharing application, the challenges the district faced in setting up the program, and advice to other schools that want to follow a similar path.

Bridget McCrea: Why did Denton ISD decide to start flipping its classrooms?

Barry Fox: Flipping the classroom is such a hot topic right now and not just because it is a fad or the "next best thing." It's a way to engage students whose brains are wired in that manner.

Kids are digital natives and they are using rich, multimedia video resources to learn outside of the classroom. Using those methods to reach students inside of the classroom just made sense.

McCrea: How did you go about creating the learning materials for this initiative?

Fox: Using Show and Share, teachers started capturing their own course content using school-provided or personal mobile phones, tablets, webcams, and other devices. Once the content is captured, they upload it to the video platform — which is accessible to the students any time of the day or night. They can do their work on the school bus, on the way to the game, or from their own homes.

When they show up to class the students are already "pre-taught" on the specific subject matter that's going to be covered in class that day.

McCrea: What were some of your initial concerns about this new teaching method?

Fox: The "flipping the classroom" philosophy isn't a natural one for teachers. They are wired for more traditional models.

Many of the teachers were also worried about whether their students would be able to connect and engage with the content while away from school — particularly those kids who don't have Internet access and/or computers at home.

A final concern was that students wouldn't be able to slow down and/or pause the videos to a rate where they could, say, more closely examine complicated math problems. After doing a few student polls, we found that most pupils did have Internet access, computers, and the ability to pause and slow down the videos as needed.

McCrea: Are teachers creating all of their own original, flipped content?

Fox: We didn't want them to have to reinvent the wheel for every course. So while we implemented a tool for capturing and broadcasting content, we also encouraged teachers to find pre-made videos to use in their courses. In cases where those videos don't get the exact points across, our teachers can use our in-house option to develop their own content. This hybrid approach is working out pretty well.

McCrea: Can you explain how the original materials are produced?

Fox: Before they start using the Show and Share platform, teachers know what their lesson plans are and have already done the front-end work involved with getting the key points across. Then they have to switch gears and think about how they can capture those points in a digital format. To do that, we have a variety of equipment for teachers to use — including document cameras, webcams, and devices that transcode video files. From there, it's basically up to the teacher to use those tools to capture their course content in an engaging manner.

McCrea: What are the hard parts of doing this?

Fox: Making sure we have the equipment that teachers need to create the content, ensuring that our students have access to technology and devices, and just making sure that instructors have the time necessary to develop the flipped learning resources. Flipping classrooms takes time and it requires thought. You can't go into it without putting a lot of thought into how you want your students to learn.

McCrea: How are you addressing state educational standards?

Fox: Because we're using the platform as a tool — and not the entire solution — the flipped learning resources have simply become part of our district's overall educational package. Every one of our lessons meets or exceeds standards, and the flipped environment gives us the opportunity to make those standards even more engaging for our learners.

McCrea: What's next on Denton ISD's flipped classroom agenda?

Fox: One thing we'd like to do is help our teachers become publishers and not just authors. As an author, a teacher has to potentially wait on a principal or other authority to "approve" a video. Working under these constraints, teachers are less likely to actually use the tools that they create. We're looking at Cisco's licensing structure now and trying to come up with a way for teachers to be both authors and publishers. We're also looking at automation tools — like telepresence communication servers — to help address some of the logistical issues of having to always "turn something on" in order to start capturing content.

McCrea: Do you think your flipped classroom approach is replicable across other districts?

Fox: There definitely has to be a technology infrastructure in place to make the flipped classroom a reality.

You can use public platforms like YouTube, but such options don't always address the safety and security of your students. You don't want to be worried about inappropriate content for children, for example.

It's also important to talk to a solutions provider and/or a resource like Technology for Education, which has done a good job of helping us get our backend technology equipment purchased and installed. Overall, we've found that our students are really worth the investment in both time and money. They're coming to us wired for this kind of learning and ready to embrace it.

About the Author

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