Thursday, December 15, 2011

Flipped: Why It Has to Be A Conversation

by John T. Spencer

I know that "flipped" is a trendy idea right now. While I am intrigued by the idea of video tutorials to help guide students in learning, it is absurd to suggest that a video can replace a human in creating the ultimate customized learning experience. What this concept misses is the nature of human learning.

Teaching is a relational endeavor.

I'm a proponent of the flipped approach. But if we are pushing for flipped, we need to make sure that remains a conversation. Take the most objective part (an algorithm) of a subject (math) that is perceived to be more objective than the rest.

If it's a multiple choice test, I can hope the answer matches the student's idea (rather than a simple guess). If it's an assignment, I can apply a red checkmark and tell the student that it's wrong. Either way, how does that help clarify a misconception.  A simple glance at the problem suggests a few possibilities:
  1. The student guessed that it was greater than and doesn't understand the concept in the first place
  2. The student doesn't understand numerators and denominators
  3. The student saw the bigger number and jumped to that rather than thinking through it logically
  4. The student knows that one-third is less than one-half, but learned it wrong (a crocodile mouth or something like that) 
  5. The student doesn't care, because greater-than and less-than doesn't feel the least bit relevant to any context within his or her world. 
At this point, a graded paper doesn't make any difference. A new tutorial video is a shot in the dark. What is needed is a conversation where the student can reflect on his or her misconceptions and the teacher can re-teach and clarify.

Teachers can do this with small group pullouts and with student-teacher conferences. I'm a fan of both. However, here is where technology becomes exciting. See, with technology, the communication can be asynchronous. Here are some examples of technology as an interactive dialogue that helps push students toward deeper reflection:
  • Google Docs: I can highlight text, add comments and start a conversation that will last anytime anywhere. It started with the writer's workshops, but eventually morphed into spreadsheets and documents in math. Students kept documents of common mistakes, vocabulary, etc.
  • Blogs:  Students can take a snapshot of their work and describe the process in steps or in a paragraph. This allows me to start a conversation at any time and any place. This is also a great place to keep math vocabulary or engage in conceptual conversations about the math that students are using.
  • Multimedia: Students record videos and podcasts showing their math processes and other students have a chance to comment. This allows students to articulate their process and I have a chance to watch them at another time (prep period, early morning, for example)
  • Twitter: Last year, students used #mathmisconception as a place to post their questions, comments and mistakes in processes.
  • Forms: Though this is less conversational, sometimes it's as simple as crowd-sourcing the conversation with the use of a survey. Similar to an exit slip, students mark a series of questions and I can organize the data to help me figure out how to approach our one-on-one conversations. In the example above, I can use the five options and gauge how the class, in general, is doing with a particular skill set. 
So, when I think about the concept of "flipped," I wonder if the real flipping is allowing students to use the tools to demonstrate what they know, figure out what they don't know and engage in a process where they can fix their misconceptions. 


  1. You are right that it is absurd to think that a video can "replace" a human teacher. But as a proponent of the flipped classroom model myself (see my post here: ) I find that recording some explanations in videos or podcasts, frees up MORE time (not less) in class for "allowing students to use the tools to demonstrate what they know, figure out what they don't know and engage in a process where they can fix their misconceptions". That's precisely the point.

  2. I agree, as long as they are given a chance to have a conversation. My issue with a Khan-style approach is that it doesn't require or even allow for a checking of understanding.

  3. Right. It's probably a little unfortunate that Khan Academy has become the poster child of the flipped classroom approach. People hear "Flipped Classroom" and think "Kahn Academy".

    The Khan Acacemy is not really the flipped classroom model at all. It's a collection of videos. Period. The flipped model is arguably not even about videos. It is something that happens in the classroom with a teacher and students, made possible by video content viewed out of class time, whether these are produced by Sal Khan or by the teacher him/herself (which in my opinion, is a vastly superior scenario).

  4. I think John has missed the point with flipped classroom teaching, and Andrew is on target when he says that "Khan Academy is not really the flipped model..." It could, perhaps, be one element of a flipped approach, but the heart of a flipped classroom is the intensive small group and individual contact the teacher has during class, if done well. There can be bad flipped teaching as well as bad unflipped teaching, if the teacher seeks to minimize interacting with the students. Seems to me that the five strategies John lists above could work just as well in a flipped classroom.

  5. I really don't think I missed the point. It wasn't meant to be a slam on flipped, but rather saying "flipped needs to be relational."

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  7. The advantage of asynchronously viewing a video recording is that a student can rewind and replay if they find an explanation to be confusing. The disadvantage of a video recording is that if re-watching doesn't clarify, there's no opportunity to raise a hand to ask a question. I've put some thought into this recently, and just wrote a blog post today describing one concrete way that teachers can restore and support meaningful dialogue among peers who are learning with video at home: Weave a Question & Answer discussion into the fabric of the video itself. In addition to providing students with a venue for helping each other out, this could provide the teacher with insight into what parts of the video students found confusing, perhaps useful in deciding what to clarify or approach differently the following day. Feel free to check out this tool for creating Question&Answer discussions around web videos for your students here:

  8. John: You're right about the conversation being crucial, but that is the very thing that has changed the most since I started flipping. I have so much more to say/ask/follow up with my kids than I used to. The conversation was missing when I was lecturing, even though I was pretty good at getting them to participate and be active while I was the sage on the stage.
    Ari: I post my videos at voicethread so that my students do have the opportunity to ask questions if the rewinding/replaying doesn't do it for them. Their questions can be either private to me, or open to anyone to take a crack at. But the video idea I will definitely check out, thanks for sharing that.

  9. As a teacher who has had success flipping the classroom, I agree with other comments that a piece of the puzzle is missing from the original post.

    Flipping IS relational. Teaching does not end with the video. The video (or text, interactive tutorial, simulation, etc) is simply a differentiated way for students to gather the information. Students come back to class and get personalized help and practice with peers and the teacher. This process is more relational than a traditional classroom. Sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture is NOT relational, it is a teacher who likes to be on stage. Yet that is how most classrooms are run.

    Although "flipping" is trendy, as you say, it is really just a best practice in pedagogy gathering momentum.

  10. Like all extreme methodologies, "flipped" is making waves. I have flipped some aspects of my courses, but videos are not replacing my instruction; they are supplementing it. If I'm not available when my students choose to refresh what they learned/know, the video is in place. And that's my interpretation of the flipped classroom and how I use it. It needs clarification to new learners and educators considering adoption.

  11. I love your ideas about making the flipped classroom more student focused by allowing students to unpack the concepts of a video in a variety of ways. I will be integrating these ideas into my own flipped class sessions over the next few weeks.


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