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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Flipped out

Reading Time: 4 minutesThe 21st century learning experience may be more flippant than fabulous

Teachers are faced with an increasingly diverse range of students as identified by an increasing number of tests and assessments as well as a rising number of teaching and learning strategies. In addition, new technologies have increased the number of options as well as presenting a challenge to the modes of delivery. Teachers can engage in the traditional form of direct instruction or can structure classrooms around student-centred learning that allows students to opt between alternatives and progress through content and the learning of key skills at a self-paced rate. There are online educational games, wikis and learning blogs, YouTube videos, enriched classrooms with the option of peer-to-peer learning, work teams and the like. In the context of the plethora of options, new and emerging understandings about cognition as well as the varying levels of technology use, changing curricula and rising teaching standards, teachers have to decide and re-decide how to teach.
 

The flipped classroom

One notable ‘new’ teaching strategy is called the flipped classroom. Here the teacher structures work around the need for students to teach themselves the content prior to the content being covered within the regular classroom. This requires the student complete an amount of prior work at home. This may involve the students reading articles or notes, watching videos, visiting various websites and thinking about a number of issues, ideas, key questions or perspectives.
The student is expected to view, and engage with, the material prior to coming to the classroom. The classroom in the flipped learning model is then used for application and, ideally, also for a focus on rigour and deep thinking.
Schools as well as universities are applying ‘flipped learning’ as a strategy in pedagogy. It can be considered one of a number of trendy new approaches to teaching and learning.
When flipped learning is applied in schools, students do the required pre-reading and a range of activities before coming to class. Within the class, the teacher assumes or presumes that all of the outside engagement with the content has been done. If so, then flipped learning can be a successful strategy within a wide range of other strategies that are applied.

Problems with flipped learning

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However, there are serious issues that arise with respect to flipped learning that must be articulated and addressed. As schools and universities increasingly utilise flipped learning, there are some warning signs that indicate this teaching style, whilst useful in some contexts, has serious limitations. This is true for both schools and universities. Consider each of the following aspects that are directly relevant and also necessary considerations for the successful application of the flipped classroom. These aspects include, but are not limited to, the use of technology, the time required, student engagement and individualisation and also, essentially, the accountability of educators.
Taking these aspects in order, the use of technology, a prerequisite for the success of the flipped learning strategy, rests on the presumption of access. Many students and families, however, do not have either the technology or the bandwidth necessary for the downloading of large files, viewing of videos or uploading of websites necessary for the strategy to work.

A second concern, relating to school particularly, is the inevitable extension to the school day that is implicit in a successful application of the strategy. Whilst at university it may be appropriate to expect a student to engage with material prior to covering the content more formally later, in schools it appears to do two things – both of which are inconsistent with present pedagogical trends: firstly, it is a form of homework, and secondly the nuances of flipped learning look rather like outsourcing. Numerous schools are currently reviewing homework as a concept as it has been shown to be useless at worst and mildly beneficial at best, but only when integrated as a part of well-balanced academic program.
In terms of outsourcing – this is the biggest concern. The flipped classroom requires engagement and initiative from students who are exposed in this model to the risk of being labelled as ‘lazy’, ‘recalcitrant’ or ‘dumb’ if they cannot understand the work set or do not find it interesting enough to complete. A teacher can use the fact a student did not do the work to then allege that the student is not interested in learning, that the student is immature or ‘dependent’. Yet the word ‘teach’ is a verb – not an escape from activity.
 

New ways of learning

At a notable Sydney university recently, a Vice Chancellor attempted to promote the use of flipped learning by asking academics to read some notes that had been sent out to them prior to a meeting. To the Vice Chancellor’s concern, less than 30 per cent of the attendees had bothered to do the prior reading. The Vice Chancellor later mused in a public address that there was little hope if even adults with time did not complete the set work. How much more will this be amplified in a context where there is less maturity in learning, such as in schools?
New ways of learning, teaching and understanding are on the whole improving the range of possibilities in classrooms. However, when teachers, schools and networks latch on to one form of pedagogy and use it exclusively there is a danger that educators are compromising for the sake of nuance. In education, singularity subverts learning.
 

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Mohan Dhall
Academic leader, M2K Education and Advisory and CEO of Australian Tutoring Association and Global Tutoring Association.

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