Over the past few years, the traditional lecture teaching model has been completely turned on its head in favor of a trendy — and potentially transformational — new teaching strategy. Enter: the flipped classroom. This pedagogical strategy is an inversion of the common “lecture in the classroom, assign homework and group work for outside of class” setup. Instead, in a flipped classroom, students engage in passive learning (i.e. lectures or assigned reading) at home, and class time is devoted to collaborative projects, answering questions, and engaging with the material on a deeper level.
While the flipped classroom concept is relatively new, many educational experts believe it’s the best way to teach students. The flipped classroom model has been adopted at some of the top universities around the world and has been the subject of numerous studies and pilot programs, with promising results. In a flipped classroom pilot program at Villanova University, for example, the new teaching model resulted in learning gains for many students. Most interestingly, however, is that the most significant learning gains were made by weaker students; the bottom third of students’ grades were more than 10% higher than the bottom third of students’ grades in traditional classrooms. That’s the difference between a “D” and a C+” — not a gain to scoff at.
With results like the above coming out of pilot programs across the country, the Flipped Classroom movement is gaining steam. Numerous membership organizations have sprung up to support educators looking for more flipped classroom resources, and many of these organizations now hold annual conferences. The Flipped Learning Network, for example, will be holding its ninth annual conference in the summer of 2016.
So what makes the flipped classroom such a groundbreaking idea worthy of yearly conferences, workshops, and a growing legion of fans? Let’s look to education researcher Benjamin Bloom’s famous “Bloom’s taxonomy” for an answer.
Bloom’s taxonomy classifies types of learning into three hierarchical models. In his hierarchical model for cognitive learning, he classifies more passive learning like gaining knowledge and comprehension as low-level cognitive work, while more engaged learning, like evaluation, application, and synthesis, requires high-level cognitive work. The flipped classroom model takes a more intuitive approach to Bloom’s taxonomy by providing students with a supportive classroom environment for them to tackle harder, higher level cognitive work, while letting them do the “easier” lower level cognitive work, like listening to a lecture, at home.
The main advantage of the Flipped Classroom model, then, is that when students are extending the most energy — trying to solve problems, answer questions, or work collaboratively as a group — the teacher is there in the classroom to assist with this more involved, more difficult kind of learning. As mathematics teacher Michelle Rinehart told The New York Times, the flipped classroom model is “about the powerful class time we regain for higher-order thinking activities. Students appreciate the increased assistance and collaboration they receive with this model.” Instead of sending students home with questions to grapple with on their own, students come to class with questions to ask that they developed themselves after watching the pre-recorded lecture. This also helps educators understand where student comprehension is actually faltering, instead of making comprehension assumptions.
Flipping your classroom provides other related advantages as well. For one, when students are watching pre-recorded lectures at home, they can learn at their own pace by pausing and rewinding the video lectures whenever they need to. This is especially helpful to vulnerable students who may feel left behind during a classroom lecture, like students whose first language is not English or students with learning disabilities. Plus, using class time to work on group projects enhances peer-to-peer learning. Many students dread group projects because a small number of group participants end up pulling all the weight, but when classroom time is devoted to group projects, that should ease the unfair burden on these students and enhance peer learning for all.
Educators thinking about adopting the flipped classroom model themselves should be aware that the model does have some drawbacks. For one, it’s a big ask of teachers to devote more time to pre-recording lectures, and making them high quality and entertaining enough to hold students’ attention at home. However, this could be worked around because working on homework-style worksheets during class may cut down on a teacher’s outside-of-class grading burden, possibly giving the teacher more time to devote to recording lectures.
On the students’ end, students must have the proper equipment — including a computer or mobile device and reliable internet connection — to watch lectures at home. This equipment is costly, so students from lower income areas especially may struggle with the flipped classroom model. Furthermore, students may feel that if they’ve absorbed the lessons at home, then they can go ahead and skip class since they’ve already “learned” the information. On the college level, EDUCAUSE reports that some students may feel that they’re not receiving their “money’s worth” from their college, since they may be “wondering what their tuition brings them that they could not have gotten by surfing the web.” Instructors can combat these student attitudes by explaining how working on higher level cognitive work in the classroom actually benefits students and by creating in-classroom activities that are engaging and inspiring.
But despite the aforementioned drawbacks, the flipped classroom model continues to gain in popularity. Many teachers have seen firsthand the power this pedagogical model has to transform their classrooms into spaces full of creativity, collaboration, and thoughtful inquiry. For educators that feel in a rut with the traditional lecture model, a flipped class just may be worth a try.