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.

Resistance is futile… or at least, annoying.

Not All Are As Excited As I

I am, at this moment, gearing up to start an exciting new project at work:  I get to develop an LMS and train* two other instructors who are in the same SLT group as I.  I am super excited about this because I know that learners need these skills, and not only that, these are skills that effectively are transferable to the workplace.

There are some details to sort out before we dive into this project for January, but I was interested in feedback from the two other instructors with whom I’d be working.  One is similarly excited, and keen to learn about how to use an LMS with her program.  In the lunchroom, we talked briefly about how she’d use it, and how my role would be to help her develop and support her in the smooth functioning of her platform.  The other, not so much.  She believes that her course is fine the way it is, and that she can’t see how an LMS could be worked into her schedule.

That got me thinking.  Now, I know that learning a new tool can be daunting.  I also know that instructors are wary of the next best thing.  This instructor has said it would be a challenge to make the time to learn and to use this tool.  Her 5.6 hours per day are solidly booked. She asked “Are they paying me extra to learn this? Are they giving me more hours?”.  No.  They’re not.  And she’s an employee, not a volunteer.

She’s got a point. But it’s disheartening all the same.  At this point in time, I believe it would be doing our learners a disservice not to include an element of technology in a workplace SLT program.

An LMS is a  REAL WORLD Tool – Why not Introduce it?

If any of our learners are moving onward and upward in their education, there is a good chance that they will encounter a Virtual Learning Environment.  In fact, last I checked, 90% of colleges and universities in the US have some kind of LMS. (Jon Mott, 2010 http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/envisioning-post-lms-era-open-learning-network).  I’d hazard a guess that Canada is up there too.

I’ve read before that one of the biggest obstacles facing the development of a LMS is instructor resistance.  Why?  Really, why? I’ve got some thoughts on this:

  1. An LMS makes you accountable, both to the learners and to your employer.  Your program becomes transparent to everyone enrolled. Your program, then, is much more open to feedback for development and improvement.  Transparency does not appeal to everyone; in fact, it makes some nervous.  I can understand this.
  2. Time and effort:  anything worth doing takes time to sculpt, create and maintain.  If you don’t have the time, you don’t have the time.
  3. People in general can be creatures of habits.  If you’ve been doing the same thing for many years, why change?  Opting for something new can often mean dropping something that has worked effectively for the instructor.
  4. Technology can be intimidating.

If You Force it, You Will Fail…

I’m not about to try to force anything on anybody who has already decided against using advanced technology in the classroom (by “advanced”, I mean more than just PowerPoint).  If you want to find a surefire way to fail at a project, impose it on someone.  Give them no choice.  Then watch them dig in their heals and all your efforts go up in smoke.

How to Get Instructor Buy-In

Idea: I’ve got to sell this.  I’ve got to use what I have been doing in Moodle & D2L, show examples, and sell it to my colleagues.  I can’t just stand at the front of a meeting room, blathering on about engaging learners with technology – I’ve got to take pieces of my platform, throw it up there on a screen or whiteboard, and show them how it can be used.  I need them to recognize the benefits, and want to develop this in their CALL times.  I need to show them that it’s not rocket science.  Well, maybe the grader tool is a little rockety, but most of it isn’t.

You’ve heard the expression “if you build it, they will come.”  In my case, I very well could build an LMS, and the instructor will choose not to use it.  The thing is, if you want an LMS to fail, you can find a way to do so.

On the flip side, if you want an LMS to be successful, you can make it happen.

* Note: I can’t actually “train” my colleagues.  This would be in violation of our Collective Agreement.  What I do is part of something called “PD Partner Model” which calls the action “sharing” and claims no expertise on the part of the sharer. Am I training or sharing?  That’s the rub.  Resistance comes in many forms, and a skilled Resistor employs whatever resources she can.  In this case, that’s the Union.  Big sigh.