Saturday, January 14, 2012

The flipped classroom

There has been considerable debate in the blogosphere recently about the pros and cons of the 'flipped' classroom. Working in a blended degree programme that leans more and more to the online as it progresses over the three years, I have (probably rather unthinkingly) always been in favour of flipping. It makes so much sense. Why waste time downloading concrete facts and content in the classroom if you can 'preheat' your students by providing them with this information online, before they come to class. Theoretically, when students then appear in your classroom, you can spend your time troubleshooting and engaged in critical thinking tasks based on the stuff they've already downloaded into their brains via your online content. There is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence to suggest the efficacy of the approach - lots of teachers post about improved pass rates and increased engagement, and the popularity of the Khan Academy must be coming from somewhere. (Although it is worth noting that slightly more rigorous research into flipping the classroom with Khan academy shows that the difference in grades, post-flip, is not very large.)

Those opposed to flipping the classroom frequently cite the unfairness of it; the fact that it increases the digital divide by favouring the students who have online access at home, and who have the home circumstances that favour study and online learning. Obviously many students don't have these luxuries, and in a flipped classroom, they are going to be left behind very quickly.

But is this a valid argument against the flipped classroom? If I were still teaching in schools, and I had students in my class who did not have access to the internet at home, I would be acting unfairly and incompetently if I designed my classes to be based on flipped learning. On the other hand, if I had a class full of 'wired' students (and let's face it, there are very few high school students who don't have a Facebook account) why wouldn't I flip, even if it does increase the gap between the haves and the have nots?

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