Some good questions about flipping…

I was contacted by a graduate student this week concerning some questions she had on the flipped classroom. Her questions were fair and thought-provoking. Here are the questions and my responses:

Audrey Misirua:

I am wondering about the common criticism of flipping that not all students have access to technology and Internet outside of the classroom. Is that a concern for Princeton students? Do our students have devices provided by the school?

In my experience, there is indeed a percentage with limited or zero access at home to the internet, either due to financial restraints, or the literal lack of services in rural areas. Nationwide, the students most likely to be impacted by lack of reliable internet are from the inner-city and rural areas, both for the same reason: providers simply do not offer high-speed internet in some areas. I have some research on this if you are really interested, but there it is. Some kids won’t have access.

The majority, however, do. We need to offer the richest learning experience possible for as many students as possible, and then see who needs help getting access. In Minnesota, with the exception of dense urban areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul and some rural communities, most school students have reliable access, at least 85% and usually closer to 95% in most cases. So, what do we do with the 10% or so who do not? Well, we need to treat that as an inequity. The school and teachers need to commit to making that learning experience available with no extra work, anxiety, or shame on the students who need the help.  Some schools have checkout machines and even mobile hotspots available for use by students. Some schools make labs open for morning, lunchtime, and after school as a casual access point. Some simply have hard-copy and analog materials available to any student who needs them. The point is, there are equitable arrangements that can be made to include students in this learning. The burden of making it work, however, needs to fall completely on the school and teachers.

Also, I wonder what you recommend regarding the frequency of the flipped lessons. Once a week? More often, less often? Do you use Khan Academy or other ready-made presentations or do you recommend that teachers produce their own content videos? Have you found that teachers, students and parents are generally favorable to the flipped classroom concept?

This is a question I don’t hear asked enough. Frequency matters a lot! Some teachers are having lousy success doing a daily flipped lesson. They find the shine wears off very quickly and students get burned out on watching videos. It is also difficult for some students to get access on busy nights, so flexibility is key. My preference, and one that seems to work well, is no more than two per week, and no more than 6 minutes of video each. The University of Minnesota recently completed some really interesting research on the flipped classroom in Stillwater Schools, and found that most flipped classrooms led to lower engagement over time, even if initial engagement was high. Students surveyed listed video length (some were 20 minutes+) and frequency (most teachers were assigning one per day) as reason they didn’t care for it. Regardless, overall achievement did increase, but enjoyment and morale suffered severely. The study recommended short videos and long due dates, which compliments my own experiences.

As far as content, I really don’t care where a video comes from. If it’s accurate and effective, it shouldn’t matter. However, students in the U of M study indicated that they preferred the videos their classroom teacher produced more than the Khan ones. The students frequently cited that they missed the personal interactions that happened when they worked with their own teacher, even if it was on video. Statistically, I am not aware that there are any major differences between well made teacher videos or those that are pre-made. Some teachers do not have the confidence to make their own videos, so the pre-made ones are the only options.

The time bomb in the middle of the flipped concept is the critical mass. If a seventh grade student has one teacher who flips lessons, and has 5 minutes of video and follow-up at home, that tends to be pretty manageable. However, if that poor student gets five teachers each assigning 15 minutes of video each, each with follow-up work, that student will be buried in schoolwork at the time they are to be spending time with family, doing extra-curricular activities, and having personal time. I think the threshold is not monitored in most schools, and it can be a detriment to students as teachers embrace this instructional strategy more over time. There needs to be some limits and coordination set up by building leaders or within instructional teams in order to make it manageable and effective for all students.

Finally, does flipping work for elementary students as well?

Flipping in the true sense is not really a good fit for elementary students, but I do see many teachers extending the classroom with offerings of online practice and enrichment tools such as IXL, a math facts practice site. I see sites such as this used down to the lower grades. I cannot speak for the success of these. My own children did not respond well to these sites in the lower grades, but have no major complaint in the intermediate grades (4-6).


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