Thursday, August 2, 2012

Could the Flipped Classroom Work for Developmental Education?

Many people would be quick to answer "yes" to this question. The concept of a flipped classroom is where class lectures are recorded and watched as homework and then the hands-on activities that used to be homework are done in class.

One of the benefits of a flipped classroom is that it can make better use of classroom time. Instead of the professor standing in front of the room lecturing, time is spent on hands-on and small-group learning, and the professor can spend more time working with individual students. The lecturer becomes facilitator. This, in turn, can create stronger relationships between students and teachers, and students and students.

It also "meets the students where they are," a buzz phrase that's going around. The idea is that our students are tech savvy and tech focused, so we can get their attention by using technology to teach. This isn't new--education technology has been employed for decades, although the technology itself is always changing.

It can also greatly help struggling students, something that will make developmental educators sit up and take notice. Almost all of our students are struggling in one way or another, and we don't always have the ability or resources to help them effectively. The flipped classroom helps with many of those problems. Students can listen to and review lectures as many times as they need. They (or better yet, the professors) can break lectures up into shorter segments that can be digested one at a time. Many recording systems also offer closed captioning of the videos, sometimes even in multiple languages. And studying has never been easier--students no longer have to take notes on the lectures (although it's still a good idea); they can watch them over and over.

That last point, however, leads to a couple of the possible drawbacks of a flipped classroom. It can reinforce the idea of memorization and regurgitation, which most would agree is not really learning. This issue can be combated by what goes on in the classroom, but it will take awareness and careful attention by the professor.

Flipped classrooms also reinforce the old "sage on the stage" model--except now the sage is on TV. This method of teaching tells students that the professor has all of the knowledge, which s/he will impart to them. Not only does it devalue the experiences and curiosity of the students, but it also reinforces the idea that there is always a right answer, and that the professor knows what it is. This is something that many are trying to get away from, especially in higher education.

This doesn't mean that there's no place for lecture in education. It will always be necessary to impart new information to students, and sometimes there is a right answer. Again, the professor has to be careful to follow up on the lectures in class and make sure the students are learning what they're supposed to, and as deeply.

When we come to the concept of meeting students where they are, we have to stop and ask, "Are they really there?" In community colleges, the answer is often "no." Students don't necessarily have access to computers and/or the Internet when not on campus. Further, many of our students are not as tech savvy as we think, or not in the way we think. Even the youngest, most plugged in students have serious limitations in what tools they know how to use. And if we are overestimating some students, how many professors will be able or even want to use technology in this way?

Finally, there is the problem of money. Lecture capture systems are not cheap, and they have to be managed (to varying degrees) by a college's IT department. There are certainly ways of getting funding to get started with lecture capture, but colleges do have to make plans to maintain the system in the future, and they have to be willing to dedicate money that may have gone elsewhere.

So the long and short of it is, a flipped classroom can be a great idea for developmental (or any) education, but it needs planning and the right people to make it successful.