Tuesday, 16 July 2013

4 things to know before flipping your classroom

Flipped learning is gaining momentum in more and more learning institutions around the world. Our e-learning consultant, @Chris_Hendon, a specialist coach in alternative pedagogies, has been advising on just how far schools have progressed in recent years.

Yet column inches and advice blogs tend to concentrate on the pros and cons, and advantages and disadvantages of the flipped classroom approach, and few have documented any real empirical evidence from UK contexts and case studies.

This seemed like a challenge to us and so, with the help of our flipped learning coach, we followed a school in Kent to assess their experiences, reactions and findings as they set about integrating flipped learning.

The school and sixth form centre has always placed a strong emphasis on creating a personalised learning agenda through the use of mobile technologies and in 2011 embarked on a change programme that would see students gain greater responsibility over their own learning. Two years on, and today the school has maintained its vision of becoming a digital first learning environment, embedding whiteboard technologies and iPad devices into its teaching and learning practices.

To ensure the change initiative was manageable, Chris Foreman, Vice-Principal at Homewood, initially focused on GCSE, introducing LearnersCloud, an online tutor video resource tailored to their school’s examination boards (AQA, Edexcel and OCR).

According to Chris, the immediate benefit presented by the new teaching practices was the extra instructional time, enabling teachers to concentrate on individual learners as a coach or mentor rather than being stuck at the front of the class lecturing for the entire lesson. Students also reacted positively, displaying a higher level of engagement and enthusiasm towards the resource and the prospect of being able to share the knowledge they had gained prior to the lesson. Clearly, they had reached an accelerated point of learning, ready to participate in higher-order tasks and group discussions from the outset.

Following the study, both Homewood School’s teaching staff and heads of departments soon became fervent proponents of the flipped classroom. However, the majority of those questioned highlighted four key considerations that educators would need to be aware of before using this model of teaching and learning.

1. Students adapt at different speeds


Teachers should be aware that some students will adapt more quickly than others; it’s important to provide a short grace period for those that take longer. In Homewood’s case, some students admitted to  forgetting homework. However, once they realised that the video was essential to the lesson objectives – completing in-class activities and contributing to class discussion – the following week saw a significant reduction in students failing to complete their homework.

2. ‘Homemade’ videos must engage learners


Creating your own video resources is one of the most commonly used components of the flipped classroom, in the USA at least. The teacher uses a recording device, either a camera on a tripod or a sophisticated screen-capture and screencast software tool. Yet many of those same teachers raise concerns for the level of engagement and motivation their students demonstrate towards the tutorials. The reason for this is that a PowerPoint display and voiceover, or a teacher standing in front of a whiteboard reading from a structured script does little to excite the audience. The use of low quality recording equipment and the lack of time to rehearse content have also not helped this outcome. Instead of simply issuing a lesson recording, flipped classroom resources need to be visually stimulating and combine interactive elements to encourage active participation.

In the case of Homewood, they used an external resource that combines animation and illustrations, placing

the presenter within a real-life scenario and setting for the topic. The students are then asked to pause the video at points to answer questions or to complete a short activity. This diversifies the learning experience: they are not passively digesting content but instead understanding new topics and concepts, and how they relate to real world examples and applying their knowledge. Techniques such as this, which encourage students to actively participate with the learning resource, are more likely to empower them to take control of their own learning.

3. Producing videos may take longer than you think


Discussions with faculty heads and subject leaders at other schools who have implemented a flipped classroom show that a common misconception is about the time it takes to produce video tutorials and lessons. A 10-minute clip, for example, would often take much longer to prepare, rehearse, tweak and record.

Collecting suitable resources, preparing material and collating supporting images, maps and activities takes time, and teachers are by no means proficient in screencasting − why would they? However, if your school decides to take a teacher-made approach, it’s likely that you will need to record your lesson video several times in order to reach the standard you desire and which will appeal to your students.

In most instances, teachers found that a 10-minute clip would take on average 40-45 minutes to complete. Of course, this can be frustrating and something you feel is outside of your expertise, and, for many, it has been the reason why they haven’t pursued the flipped classroom model.

However, it’s important to note that it does become easier. Individuals establish a process for sourcing and developing content and become more confident in front of camera, which significantly improves the time it takes to create each lesson resource.

4. What video format should I use?


Educators need to ensure that all students can access the videos outside of the classroom. In most cases I have found that MP4 has been used to good effect but it’s important to be aware that students with older computers may not have the relevant software to play this file type.

YouTube, Vimeo and Daily Motion, etc are useful cloud-based alternatives as they enable individuals to stream content online rather than downloading and playing through a media player. Again, it is important to be aware that some students may not have access to the internet from home. And while libraries and internet cafes are an option, saving each lesson in multiple formats might be the most effective solution.

I hope we haven’t tainted your view of flipped learning but, as I’ve mentioned, it’s important to consider the implications for both you and your learners before embarking on a change programme like this. If, however, you would like to find out more about LearnersCloud and the use of other external resources the final section below will be of particular interest.

What are the alternatives?


Digital technology is growing exponentially, both in our domestic consumption and wider applications within the education sector. As it does, its goal is to simplify processes, improve quality and enhance some aspect of our life. Yet for many teaching professionals the prospect of flipped learning (planning, preparing, filming, screencasting and editing video resources) does quite the opposite. They fear it will increases their workload and take up valuable time that could otherwise be used to improve their teaching and learning practices in other ways.

There are, however, alternatives: the cheapest but riskiest is to embed YouTube clips. As a one-off instructional, how-to guide these can offer you exactly what you need but teachers should be cautious of the quality and relevance of the video to the course content. In addition, if you are creating a lesson plan built around a free resource, it could be removed at any time so will not offer a sustainable solution. This could lead to even more work having to repurpose material to fit an alternative clip.

Homewood School chose an external resource, one that had been quality assured, developed to comply with their examining boards and  featured charismatic presenters who  were real UK teachers. Their use of the resource was not only based on quality and time saving but also because they were taking a digital first approach and LearnersCloud had already been released onto iOS, Android and most other mobile devices, which meant that teachers did not have to create several file formats. Students could quickly and simply access their account to all of their lesson videos on a desktop, iPad or other device that they had to hand.

The LearnersCloud resource is only currently available for GCSE and iGCSE. However, there are other external resources available for lower key stages and post-16 education offering similar advantages.