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Flipping for a Change in Educational Models

We’ve talked previously about evolving, adapting, adjusting to the changes in the educational landscape. An article this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education has prompted me once gain to raise the issue of flipped classrooms and the great value this model can bring to all levels of education.

In “When a Flipped-Classroom Pioneer Hands Off His Video Lectures, This Is What Happens” Jeffrey Young reports on the popularity of the videotaped lectures that Norman Nemrow, a former accountant with a passion for teaching, produced, and the challenges the videos presented to the traditional lecture-based teaching model.

The Nemrow lectures became very popular at Brigham Young, where Nemrow taught and originally developed the videos “because he became tired of repeating himself and answering the same questions.” But he soon found that “93 percent of his students reporting learning more effectively from the flipped format than from a traditional one.”

A couple of things fascinate me about the “Video Norm” phenomenon. One is that Norm went into teaching after retiring quite early from successful consulting and real estate businesses. He donated his salary to Brigham Young and has subsequently donated proceeds of sales of the videos to charity. The second thing that interests me is the challenge that other instructors at BYU and other institutions had in adopting his materials.

The resistance in part was due to other instructors’ discomfort with a new model of teaching, in particular with giving up that lecture part of the experience. Having taught in a highly creating and productive teaching department at the university level for 15-plus years, I am more than familiar with the “not invented here” syndrome that affects many in the field of teaching. This is another part of the challenge to adopting “Video Norm.” The material was not the teacher’s own.

The best advantage of the flipped classroom approach is that it allows for more effective use of class time for teachers to do what they do best, which should not be all about lecturing but should be more about working directly on problem-solving activities with both individuals and groups and dealing with questions about material that students have been given enough time to absorb and test drive on their own.

Whether the material for those at-home lectures comes from “Video Norm,” “Sal Khan,” or “Sheri Handel” shouldn’t make so much difference to the classroom teacher as long as the quality of the material is the best it can be.

In an earlier debate over community college use of existing MOOCs produced by elite schools as a means of outsourcing lectures, Bill Gates stated that “The quality of those lectures, as they go through the competitive process, will be extremely good,” he said. “No individual performance is likely to come up to that level.”

This obviously offended a large portion of very dedicated and well-spoken community college faculty, but once again, we should not let ourselves forget the other part of the “flipped classroom” equation: the use of class time for more targeted and individualized instruction.

Once again, we need to bring the conversation back to the topic of our students and how to best reach them in today’s paradigm.

The MOOC: If You Can’t Beat It, Leverage It

Without spending too much time lamenting that many newcomers to online learning believe that there was no online learning until Coursera released its first MOOC, and that there are obviously many different ways to leverage technology to extend an institution’s reach, suffice it to say with so much money being spent and so much attention being paid in the exploration of this model, it makes sense to see how institutions of all sizes and budgets can leverage the model to their advantage. And again, this should be one model of online learning amongst many that you explore.

When Flipping or MOOCing, Consider Your Resources Wisely

No doubt there are thousands of community college instructors whose lecturing skills compare well to or surpass those of some of the MOOC lecture content we have seen out there. But it takes not only someone well-versed and well-spoken in his or her subject matter to produce a good quality course. It takes dollars and skills to produce that lecture and the surrounding content in a well-designed offering. That’s what Video Norm provides and what a lot of the very spiffy existing MOOCs offer as well.

Do Flip the Classroom to Make the Most of Your Teaching Talent

Flipping the classroom is not only something that higher education can benefit from. In PK-12, less presenting of the content in the classroom can free up time for teachers to work should-to-shoulder with students on those specific problem-solving activities after the students have review the content at home.

For institutions of higher learning, if this is a space you want to compete in, and you have the dollars and resources to produce quality content, then any institution can and should consider some means of leveraging the technology to extend not only your institution’s reach, but also the benefits of your great teaching talent.

Less time repeating that (great) lecture every semester will free your faculty to do what they do best, working with individual students to improve their mastery and application of challenging course content.

If you are resource constrained, then you might take Bill Gates’ advice, or you might consider collaborations with other institutions or companies to leverage their expertise in areas like instructional design, technology-enabled instruction, etc. Even if you do not have the internal resources, there is still an opportunity to engage in this approach.

NB: In the Chronicle article on the Nemrow lectures, we learn that Melissa Larson, one of the BYU instructors teaching an introductory accounting course using the Video Norm content is already producing her own “pencast” videos to help her students work through specific homework problems. Kudos to Ms. Larson for her ingenuity and initiative at taking the material one step further.

What do you think about flipped classrooms? Are you doing this already? How’s it going?

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn to learn about partnering to become part of the change in education.


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As of January 2024, Rewriting Paradigms is back and I'm writing about today's  issues, those that most test us and our humanity.

Designs2Learn blogs were originally published on a separate site devoted solely to educational issues. 

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