Flipping the classroom

I have often thought that I would have enjoyed a career in academia.
I loved being a student. For some classes it was the thrill of the material and learning. For other classes, where I wasn’t as connected to the material, I was drawn to the game of education and making the best possible grade. At Georgia Tech, some of the early core classes were graded on a curve, so the game was definitely “on” for top grades.

But as I reflect on it now, I enjoyed more than the subjects, topics, and grades of being a student. It was the whole system of life. In college I had some flexibility in designing a schedule (afternoon classes vs morning) and then chose how to break-up my day. I was pretty disciplined in college so I never had an issue of neglecting course load for social activities. But yet I had time for social activities with a fraternity and other organizations. I could change my study schedule around a little if needed to accommodate whatever I wanted to do on any particular day.

Good students don’t necessarily make good teachers. But I think I could have been a good one. I volunteered as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for eight years and found the classroom environment and student interaction to be energizing. I don’t pretend that teaching once a week for an hour is the same as rigors and challenges for teaching full time. But my teaching experience did fit within my overall enjoyment of the world of academia.

Getting technology into the classroom.
But I chose a different path. I’m a technology guy that keeps learning through reading, discussing, and experimenting. This past weekend I read an interesting article about a school that is flipping the classroom by using video in the out-of-school environment. The idea is to tape the base teaching lesson so that students view the lesson outside the classroom. Then during class time students go through what traditionally be homework exercises alongside the instructor(s).

The problem this solves is removing the frustration at home when the student needs help from the parents, but the material is too complex for the parents to help. In this model the student has direct access to the teacher for help while completing the exercises.

For the teacher, this type of system provides new ways to relay and teach information. They can use different techniques such as labs, lectures, or travel to record the course material. Taping the material ahead of time could allow them flexibility to capture additional items might not be able to in a classroom setting.

Whether or not you agree with this approach is not the point.
This type of frame work still requires discipline on the students part to watch the videos. I found myself asking would a student be more likely to watch a video or work problems at home? But then I realized the bigger picture. This group of teachers is searching for ways to improve education through technology. They are experimenting, as a marketer would do, to measure the success of new teaching techniques. What works for one class (small group of students), may not work as well for the next class. Much of the success and failure of a particular technique will be based on the personality of the class and the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals within it.

As a parent, I totally get the problem this solves. I’ve been in the situation with a high-school student asking me for help on homework. While I was confident I could research and find the answer, I wasn’t able to do it immediately. It’s frustrating for everyone involved. So I applaud the efforts of this teaching team to look for solutions. I like their use of technology and fitting it into a model the students will relate to.