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Flipping Easy?

Without user-friendly utilities, the flipped learning technique could prove an experimental turn-off for some

Posted by Hannah Oakman | October 30, 2015 | Higher education

Whilst it's easy to be wowed by dazzling demos, teachers are unlikely to widely adopt flipped learning platforms unless their features are so elementary that they become intuitive. Fortunately, the widespread availability of cloud-based utilities and high-speed internet architecture has banished the disk-shuffling installation rituals of the past, and a plethora of 'try before you buy' experiences are merely mouse clicks away.

“We recognise that technology is a tool that educators use to accomplish their instructional goals,” says Jared Stein, VP of Research and Education at Instructure, a technology start-up dedicated to the education sector. “As such, we don't credit it per se with improving results, but rather what instructors and students do with it.”

Instructure's cloud-based Canvas Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) now has over 18 million users globally, and incorporates flip-friendly features such as mobile apps, video recording, media transcoding and interactive grading. Since its European launch in 2014, more than 50 educational organisations across Europe have begun using Canvas as their platform for teaching and learning, according to Instructure.

“We recognise that technology is a tool that educators use to accomplish their instructional goals” 

Installing the system, Stein reports, is surprisingly rapid. As a cloud-hosted SaaS (Software as a Service) platform, Canvas can be established in a matter of minutes and, because of its open API interface, custom integrations with other third-party tools can also be realised. First-time users can easily trial the system, via a 'Free for Instructors portal', to ascertain its viability. “It's straightforward to set up a free account, instructors can invite their students, and the feature set is comparable to what is provided through a paid, institutional licence,” explains Stein. Some features of Canvas are familiar from classic operating systems – files can simply be dragged and dropped directly into the VLE – and 'help' links to comprehensive tutorials and discussions are offered on every page to aid users.

“Managing the system is easy for administrators, too,” explains Stein. “We handle all updates, bug fixes and security patches for administrators, usually with zero down time. Canvas's features are also enhanced regularly, in small, incremental releases, which makes managing change far less painful for users and administrators.”

GCSEPod, a subscription service which supplies focused learning content for secondary school students, has also been optimised to ensure compatibility – being the first education resource designed for use across any mobile or desktop device. “If I had to provide GCSEPod’s most innovatory feature, it would be its ability to adapt to the ever-changing teaching environment,” suggests Helen Newies, the firm's Director of Client Services. Launched in 2010, the service is currently used by over 700 schools, and offers bite-sized videos, or 'pods' of between three and four minutes, which can aid revision and provide insightful pre-lesson primers. In tandem with these features, it also offers a suite of teaching tools such as content filters and the software to devise online homework, to optimise learning experiences.

“On multiple occasions we’ve had a school subscribe in the morning, and be teaching a class with GCSEPod in the afternoon!”

“The technical set-up of GCSEPod takes between 10 and 15 minutes,” explains Newies. “From then on, it requires no management at all. GCSEPod integrates with the school management information system (SIMS, Facility CMIS, Progresso, Bromcom or iSAMS), which allows us to automatically register all staff and students and create all the class, form and year groups required for monitoring usage and setting homework. Alternatively, student and staff data can be manually uploaded, in which case a simple Excel spreadsheet will suffice.” Thereafter, GCSEPod synchronises every single day, keeping resources automatically up to date.

As a subscription service, once a school has signed-up all of its students, staff can simply log in to the platform's gcsepod.com homepage to use it for the first time. “In fact, on multiple occasions we’ve had a school subscribe in the morning, and be teaching a class with GCSEPod in the afternoon!” says Newies. “We’ve also made it easy for students to use the site – all they need to get started is their name, date of birth and school name,” she continues.

“Once logged in, they can change to a user name and password of their (or their teacher’s) choice.” Placing great importance on customer service provision, GCSEPod appoints a dedicated Project Manager to each of its subscribing schools, who can personally help teachers through the processes of setting-up, rolling-out and embedding flipped learning from inception.

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