To Flip or not to Flip?

flippedThere is an article in USA Today that rains on the parade of the Flipped Classroom enthusiasts.  The article, written by Emily Atteberry, examines the premature delirium of the “flipped classroom” model by its proponents.

Harvard university professors are testing the claims that a flipped model increases learning retention and improves the overall learning experience; their findings are that, so far, there is no noticeable difference between the traditional classroom and the flipped model.  (cue the applause and told-you-so’s from the anti-techies out there…) (who then jump on their dinosaurs and ride off into the sunset…).

I have tried the flipped classroom model in ESL; in fact, this was the whole impetus behind starting my blog.  You know, the one you’re reading right now.  In case you don’t know exactly what is meant by “flipping”, here it is, essentially:

The idea is that the teacher will have created a Learning Management System.  The instructor would prepare lectures on either a PowerPoint or video, and the learners would view this material at home or on their devices somewhere other than the classroom.  Learners then, having done the work, come to class prepared to demonstrate and practice the skills, with the instructor there to guide them as they produce evidence of learning.

Flipped Classroom – Positive Outcomes

Sounds good in theory, yes?  In practice, having a flipped classroom was not ideal.  However, there were some definite positive outcomes:

1.  The flipped classroom experiment opened up the possibilities of using an LMS in an ESL environment for me.

2.  The learners recognized the importance of this type of communication, and even though many of them struggled with the demands of a flipped classroom, they learned a great deal, and not just about the subject matter.  They improved their WPMs, their website navigation skills, mouse manipulation, and general knowledge of computers.  For adult ESL learners, this is no small feat.

So the flipped classroom is flawed.  I could have told you that.  Is a flipped classroom right for all kinds of classes and all kinds of learners?  Who in their right mind would make that generalization?  Of course not.  There is no one-stop shopping for ESL learning.  There is no one model that is going to solve everyone’s problems.  There can’t be.  We don’t work that way.

What Can We Learn from the Flipped Experiment?

What the flipped classroom model did was introduce the concept of a Virtual Learning Environment and the possibilities that lie within this technology.  Atteberry isn’t suggesting that the flipped model is just another trend that will die out.  The Harvard professors who have so far found that it makes no difference, well, they don’t have to use the model.  I wonder about instructor bias in this particular study.  Relax – I said I wonder about a bias, I didn’t say they had one.

From the Flip to the LMS

As for me, I doubt that I would use a flipped model in an ESL setting again – not unless we are talking about a program that is seeking to be inclusive of rural communities and the “flipping” is more a necessity than something fun to try.

I will, however, continue to build on and use an LMS in whatever course or program that I am teaching.  There is a place for technology in the ESL classroom, even for literacy learners, as this quote from Bow Valley College demonstrates:

“Best practices in the ESL literacy classroom include encouraging learner motivation,maximizing progress, preparing learners for the real world, and bridging learners into life-long learning. The incorporation of technology into the classroom allows a multipronged approach to achieve all of these goals”
– Bow Valley College, 2009

Flipping a classroom may not work for my learners, but that’s okay.  The “traditional classroom” doesn’t work, either.

What works is a well planned, inclusive, interesting, and safe LMS that provides learners with the chance to experiment and explore language learning opportunities using technology coupled with classroom activities that engage students with experiential learning.  I could wax on about the social constructionist benefits of Moodle, but I’ll save that for another rant.

To flip or not to flip – you decide.  There is more to heaven and earth than the “traditional classroom” – whatever that means…

lecture with audience

Should you want to look further into the flipped classroom model, there are plenty of websites on this subject.  A good overview can be found at the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University.

Also – a good article critically examining the flipped concept by Ian Bogost in the Atlantic can be found here.

A lively discussion on flipped classrooms can be found here.

Great article from an educator who tried the flipped classroom and found that it didn’t work for her.  A must read written by Shelley Wright.


About jenniferartan

ESL instructor in London. Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Blended Learning. Learning Management Systems. TESL Ontario Webinar Manager. Edutech Conference Junkie. Smartboards. Reluctant Techie.
This entry was posted in Flipped Classroom, Learner Observations, Learning Management Systems, Reflections, Why the Resistance to Tech?. Bookmark the permalink.

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