E-Learning | Feature

Beyond the Basics of the Flipped Classroom

Flipped learning has been around long enough now for teachers to figure out their own variations. Here are seven tweaks to the flip worth trying in your classroom.

By now you know the basics of the flipped classroom. What used to be the "read at home/lecture in class/worksheet at home" model has "flipped" to become the "video lecture at home/worksheet in class" variation.

But teachers who have been practicing the flip have figured out new ways to tweak it to work for their students. During the recent Fall CUE conference, Paul Werner, a chemistry instructor from Rocklin High School in California, offered seven variations developed through trial and error in partnership with Rocklin Physics Teacher Geoffrey Clarion.

Although Werner and Clarion use their techniques in science classes, the tweaks are relevant to just about any topic. Their expectation is that students will be shown the basics of how to solve a problem, which they can practice in some form at home, and then come prepared with some level of understanding about the problem they'll be working through during class. The whole goal: to help keep students accountable for their learning, a fundamental aspect of the flipped model.

1. Making Your Own Videos: Personalization and Format

If you're using the mass of pre-recorded video content available through Teacher Tube, Khan Academy, or any of the other marvelous services, it's time to create your own. As Werner explains, "If you're not the teacher in front of students doing the video, they have less interest." In fact, students are highly entertained by videos that actually reference them by name or allude to little things that are unusual, such as "secret words" that will then crop up the next day in a quiz question (an idea covered in No. 5, below).

Werner keeps his videos to three to five minutes, which encourages students to watch it several times. He once tried serving them a 15-minute video; they didn't watch it much, and feedback wasn't positive.

2. Choose Your Option — High End or Low

Werner and Clarion offered two routes for creating videos, the inexpensive one (preferred by Werner) and the high-quality one (preferred by Clarion).

The inexpensive route relies on readily available equipment — a computer, a smartphone camera, and a simple inexpensive microphone — as well as free or low-cost online software and apps:

  • Camtasia Jing for capturing images of what shows up on the computer screen — video, still images, or animation;
  • Format Factory, an audio, video, image converter for Windows;
  • Miro Video Converter, a comparable converter for the Mac, as well as Windows and Linux;
  • YouTube, for hosting videos;
  • Google Docs, for posting content;
  • Microsoft Movie Maker, for creating movies;
  • CamStudio, an open source program for recording screen and audio activity on the computer;
  • Apple QuickTime, a media player; and
  • iMovie, for creating movies on Macs and iOS devices.
  • iPad apps that Werner relies on include:
  • Explain Everything for annotating, animating, and narrating explanations and presentations; he stores those recordings himself where he chooses; and
  • TechSmith ScreenChomp and educreations, recordable whiteboards strictly for iPads that capture voice and handwriting to create lessons that can be shared; these sites host the videos created through the tools.

The pricier route, which can produce higher quality content, uses a high definition camera or camcorder and a high quality microphone, such as a Snowball or MXL 990. The software consists of TechSmith Camtasia for screen recording and video editing, Telestream ScreenFlow for Mac screen recording, and Apple Final Cut or Adobe Premiere for video editing.

3. Create Storyboards

A simpe storyboard

"Even the most experienced flippers need to storyboard," said Werner.

These are quick sketches that lay out what the video will consist of, what kinds of screenshots will be needed, and angles to be used. Since he creates videos related to science experiments, he'll use several types of shots to show the equipment and how it's used.

Each image in the storyboard shows what the next shot will be.

4. Work Toward Equity and Access

Werner said he's lucky that his school allows for access to YouTube, which is where he hosts his own channel of videos. In districts where it's not enabled, he recommends teachers push for TeacherTube or SchoolTube as palatable alternatives. He also places the recordings on the school network for local access.

Where students don't have a computing device at home, Werner takes a couple of approaches. They're encouraged to go online in the library or computer lab or schedule time with him to access the videos on classroom computers before or after school. He has also put recordings on flash drives and DVDs for students who have computers at home but no Internet access.

5. Seek Accountability

Accountability is crucial for the success of flipped classroom; if the students aren't doing the work they need to at home, the flipped model won't work. Werner and Clarion have found three approaches for ensuring students are held accountable:

  • As a prerequisite to participation in class activities;
  • Giving quizzes; and
  • Via an incentive system.

The prerequisite technique says a student can't participate in a lab in the class until he or she completed whatever homework has been assigned during the video. This approach, said Werner, requires the class to be doing "something exciting enough that they're disappointed — "We're going to blow something up today!'" If it's something they deem as "fun," you're more likely to get them to participate, he explained.

The quiz method calls for the student to:

  1. Take a quiz on whatever was done at home the minute class begins; or
  2. Watch the video and take a quiz online the night before.

The advantage of that second approach is that the student can take a quiz "however many times they need to get to 100 percent." The quiz given the next day will often include a "gimme" question that asks for the secret word used in the previous night's video.

In the incentive system Werner gives a certain number of points for participation in the lab. If a student has a question that was already explained in the video, he or she loses points.

6. Use Simulations instead of Videos

 Flipped classroom, figure 2

How do you get students to do more at home? Werner suggests simulations.

"They're way more important than videos," he declared. These are activities that students can work with to gain a better understanding of the principles or concepts at play in the science. Werner suggests several sources of free activities:

Clarion has embedded quizzes with interactive activities culled from WebAssign, a non-free site, and delivered through "Thunder Physics," his own Moodle site. He calls this the "flipped inquiry." This approach allows him to check how long a student worked on a given activity before they actually took the quiz, since Moodle provides that kind of reporting. And he can program randomization into the quizzes so that each student has a custom version of the questions.

Werner's versions of the flipped inquiry don't go to the same extreme as Clarion's, but he's doing something comparable through Schoology, the school's latest learning management system: embedding an activity taken from one of the simulation sites and then asking questions about the results.

7. Exploit Online Forums

Clarion uses a Facebook group with his physics class, and Werner relies on a Schoology discussion forum. Both encourage students to post questions online. Clarion assigns "teaching assistants" or gives community service hours to advanced students to go online and answer those questions. Werner relies on his students to help each other; when he "likes" a response, they know it's the correct answer.

To mix that up, on occasion, Werner will also set a Google Hangout time. "I don't do them frequently," he said. But he'll post a note in the forums: "I'll have a review session at 9 p.m. from 9 to 10. Come and you can ask questions." Through the social video site, he can pull up and share documents, use his Wacom Bamboo digital drawing tablet to write things down, and allow the students to talk to each other. "That has been valuable," he said. Along the way he also records the session and uploads it to YouTube. "Then anybody who didn't make that session can watch it at some other time. I like that as a way to get students engaged."

Werner offers some final advice for anybody who isn't already trying flipped classes: "Don't try to flip your entire curriculum. Flip one lesson or one unit." And put some energy into the production values in order to "future-proof." "If you make something, you don't want to have to remake it. You're going to get better as time progresses. Try to make it pretty good quality."

For that reason, he added, use a tripod to hold whatever the recording device is — even if it's a camera; keep the lesson simple; and don't worry about what you look like or sound like. Your students already know, and they'll be jazzed that it's you visiting them at home after school.