Monday, 23 December 2013

Flipping the Classroom

Traditional models of education are instructor-lecturer centric. Although the style of each individual teacher as well as other factors such as the available resources, learning environment, and student motivation may affect the experience of students, the model remains broadly the same – i.e. students come to school, receive theoretical or factual knowledge and are subsequently assigned practice questions or projects for homework, after which there is some form of testing to monitor comprehension levels and students then move on to the next topic  - often times without proficiency in many concepts.

Flowing from this, there are many challenges faced: lack of time to complete portions; lack of time to incorporate activity based learning; helping absent students catch up to the rest of the class; dealing with students who learn at different paces.

Most innovations, interventions, and efforts to ‘improve education’ work within the aforementioned paradigm. A model, newly gaining support, seeks to improve the system by changing the paradigm altogether - this model is called “Flip Teaching”.

What is Flip Teaching?
At its very core Flip Teaching or a Flipped classroom involves inverting the traditional classroom teaching and homework structure. The lecture, where students learn new content, is delivered through videos which students are assigned to watch at home. Subsequently, the in-class time is spent working on what was traditionally thought of as ‘homework’ – students actively work on problem sets, activities or projects.

Another important concept on which flip teaching is contingent is Mastery Learning. In Mastery Learning students only advance to the next concept once they have mastered the present one. Thus, each student learns at his/her own pace - individual students may be at different levels of advancements at any given time.

Careful monitoring of the progress of students is required to ensure mastery. The in-class time is then spent helping students in concepts with which they are having difficulty. The teacher thus focuses more on guiding, supporting and coaching rather than instructing.

What Role do ICTs play?
Technology plays a very important role in the Flipped-Mastery model of learning and is required at many different stages.

Teachers can either create their own videos or source videos from elsewhere. If videos are sourced then a computer and internet connection is required. If teachers create their own videos, more technology may be needed - such as a computer, microphone, video camera, virtual drawing software etc. The nature or the type of video impacts the technology required to create it (See the examples below).

Recorded Classroom Screen capture

Students then require the means to watch these videos – such as a computer, tablet or smartphone with an internet connection. Alternatively, access to a computer and internet would also suffice – such as at a community centre, public library, or a school computer lab or library which remains open after school hours.

Software like a digital dashboard, to properly track and monitor the progress of students, is also extremely beneficial for the efficient use of the model.

For example of a dashboard, see at 11:00

Thus we see that a flipped classroom relies heavily on the use of technology.


a.    Self Paced Learning
Traditional lectures naturally impose a “one size for all” where all students in the class have to follow a lecture at the same pace. In the flipped model, since students learn concepts at home and practice with the teacher, they can learn at their own natural pace with the teacher intervening when a student has difficulties or requires guidance. Thus students can spend more time on concepts they find difficult and less time on concepts they grasp faster – which is different for each learner.

b.    Removes Pressure of Expectations
The human element – although required to learn – can add pressure to learners when they are processing new concepts. Being asked “have you understood...?”, for example, especially in the presence of a group of one’s peers, can make it harder to learn. Students may be inhibited in some way from asking a teacher to explain a concept again and again – in turn remaining silent even if they have not understood. With videos, students can learn at their own pace, pausing or rewinding as many times as they need to until they have grasped the concept.

c.    Addresses problems of Schedule Conflicts and Absenteeism
In a traditional model of teaching, if students are absent - for whatever reason - they miss the conceptual learning component. Either this remains unaddressed, or teachers have to take extra classes with them – making it difficult for them to catch up.

In the flipped model the material is available remotely and can be watched at any time, from any location. Additionally, even if videos are missed, the self paced nature of the model means that students are not struggling to “catch up” to the rest of the class – the burden of the missed lessons is divided across the entire time frame of the class.

d.    Student-Teacher interaction
Salman Khan, of the Khan Academy, says “a lot of effort in humanising the classroom is focused on student to teacher ratio”, however the important metric for them when applying the flipped model is the “student to valuable human time with the teacher ratio”. In the traditional model, the most time is spent lecturing, with very little time spent working with students on their individual needs. Here, the teacher can circulate in the class and help students individually with the areas they find difficult. Thus the total time for valuable student-teacher interaction also increases.

e.    Diversified Teaching-Learning Activities
One of the biggest challenges for teachers is finishing their portions on time – thus the most is spent lecturing and explaining concepts. With concepts now being taught at home, this frees up the teacher to be able to conduct activities, projects, games etc in the classroom. This gives teachers the freedom to experiment and be creative with their teaching methods.

f.    Building Lasting Resources
Although creating resources would require time and energy – it is a one-time exercise. Once teachers have their videos they would not have to repeatedly teach the same class. Additionally, if teachers source videos from an organisation like the Khan Academy, or if a District or State authority creates the video resources for their schools, individual teachers would not have to create content. The resources created would be reusable.  The ability to source or create content at the high level also adds to the variety and quality of videos available.

g.    More Time to Focus on Weak Students
If an efficient digital monitoring system is in place it can be used to monitor the progress of each child on a dashboard. The teacher can then track the level at which the student is. If question sets are also linked to the monitoring system, then the system can be used to track not just at what level the student is, but also the competence of each student at that level – alerting teachers to which students are progressing well and which students are struggling.

In essence this can lead to an increase in the efficient use of the teacher’s time. Teachers specifically intervene with students who are weaker at a given level in a one-to-one format, while allowing students who are comfortable with a concept to continue at their own pace.

h.    Avoids Gaps in Learning
In traditional teaching models, after instruction and practice, students are evaluated. This system has a pre-disposition to allow gaps in learning. To illustrate this, let us take the example of a 100 mark examination at the end of the year. A student scores 80 marks in the exam and passes the class. However the 20 marks he failed to score indicate that the student passed without understanding something. If subsequent concepts rely on concepts they have failed to master previously then these gaps may increase. Eventually a student who started out well may eventual struggle with a subject over time, due to these gaps.

With Mastery learning however, student only advance to the next concept once they are proficient in the current concept. Thus after watching a video, student has to demonstrate sustained proficiency in the concept in the classroom. If they have trouble, they can re-watch the videos, or the teacher can help them.

i.    Constant Support at Home and Increased Involvement of Parents
In the traditional model of education, practicing the concept was done at home. If parents are not familiar with the concept then they can do little to help their children at home – this is especially a concern in low-income families where the parents themselves have little formal education. In this kind of situation students do not have any access to conceptual explanations at home.

In the flipped model students can watch and re-watch videos. Also, parents can watch the videos with their children. They not only can be abreast with what their children are working on, but also understand the concepts themselves and assist them if required. This can work to increase the involvement of parents in a student’s education

Criticisms and Challenges

a.    Will Students Watch the Videos?
The first criticism levelled against the flipped model is that students may not be regular with watching videos. It is already the case that students often do not complete homework. Thus, if they do not watch the assigned videos, they will lose out on conceptual learning.

Although this may occur, the nature of the model decreases the likelihood of this occurring. Since both the class work and advancing to the next topic is dependent on understanding the concept – students would be less likely to skip the videos. Additionally, students not able to address the work in class would immediately throw up red flags. Also, since learning is self paced, students can catch up by watching the videos in class in the event they fail to complete this at home. Another benefit is that watching a short 10-15 minute video is far less cumbersome than doing homework.

b.    Cost, Infrastructure and Maintenance
A very real problem is the technology intensive nature of the model. The cost of hardware, the internet connection, and related maintenance costs are a problem for low income schools, and low income families. In developed countries, students from low income backgrounds may still be able to access the content at places like public libraries community centres, and school labs. However, this poses a significant problem for developing countries where these resources are not yet available, and the digital divide is large.

c.    Technological Comfort and Knowhow
Even if the hardware and software is made available to teachers and students, another problem with technology based solutions involves the capacity of users. The students’ access of the content does not require significant technical skill. However, teachers are required to make or source content – which may be difficult for, or discourage, teachers.

Additionally, a robust monitoring and tracking dashboard would also require comfort with navigating such systems. In developing countries - where only a small fraction of teachers use computers regularly - this would be another significant problem in implementing the model.

d.    Dependent on Teachers Ability, Creativity and Involvement
The model is highly dependent on the teacher being active, creative and involved in the process. In terms of content creation – several teachers trying the model have voiced concern on their ability to convert their lectures into videos which are interesting.

Teacher involvement is also very important in the monitoring of students progress and the provision of proper guidance at the right time.

Additionally, the flipped model provides the teacher with more time for diversified teaching methods – however using this time creatively and effectively is solely dependent on the teacher

e.    Replacing Teachers
Another concern is that a reliance on videos for teaching concepts at home would render the job of teachers irrelevant. However, in fact, the role of teachers becomes increasingly important in the flipped model as a coach, mentor and guide to help students overcome difficulties understanding concepts.

f.    No Dynamic Student Feedback
In a traditional model of teaching the teacher receives instant feedback from their class while teaching. In this context, feedback refers to the teachers being able to adjust their lesson based on the response of students during the class.

In the flipped model where the videos are made – they are made without this student input. There is no way to instantly adjust the pace, style etc. of the lesson as in a live class.

g.    Excessive Time In Front of the TV/Computer
Individuals with TVs and computers already spend many hours a day in front of television and computer screens. Several critics of the flipped model have discussed the issue that asking students to watch videos will increase the amount of time they spend in front of screens – which can have negative health effects.


Flip Teaching is an interesting model, and despite its criticisms, seems to be have a great number of advantages when properly applied. However, it is still young, and is being experimented with. Although it addresses several contemporary issues in teaching, its technically intensive nature makes it still impractical for developing countries – especially is cases such as that of India, where electricity and internet permeation are low.

Despite this, we live in a time of rapid technological progress and innovation. The spread and permeation of mobile phone use across the country is phenomenal. Despite low rural permeation, mobile-internet connectivity is also spreading - by the end of 2013 mobile-internet is expected to be used by 130 million Indians. This, coupled with low-cost digital initiatives such as the Aakash tablet, could make Flip Teaching an exciting possibility to watch out for in the future.