The future is flipped

Having made inroads into the UK’s universities, schools are now adopting the ‘flipped learning’ trend, as Damon Jones reports
Flipped learning’ is a trend which continues to gain traction in higher education institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. According to the US-based Flipped Learning Network, it can be defined as “a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”

Technology is facilitating this change in emphasis, with online content shared via PCs, tablets and mobile devices enabling students to access material such as lectures outside the classroom. Results from a 2014 survey supported by the organisation, which interviewed over 520,000 members of the US educational community, found that the number of teachers creating their own video content had increased from 19% to 29%, and that 40% of student respondents found this type of content useful. Back in the UK, moves are also underway to help understand the benefits of this new approach. Innovation charity Nesta has, as part of its Digital Education Programme, recently announced that it will sponsor a study at 12 schools to examine the impact of flipped learning on lower secondary maths tuition. But what flipped learning actually is, and how it can best be employed, is still a matter of debate.

Different meanings to different teachers

“Flipped learning is a broad term, and in many cases means different things to different teachers,” explains Adam Seldow, Head of Sales and Customer Success at Edmodo, a global education network that provides resources for shareholders in the educational process to communicate, collaborate and coach students. “At its core, flipped learning is the use of technology in innovative ways that inspires a deeper and richer learning experience for students when face-to-face collaboration is possible… Many classroom activities that involve technology are considered flipped learning, therefore, I don’t see many differences in the way it is employed across geographic borders … the accessibility of devices and plethora of education technology tools is changing the game for teachers globally, and flipped learning is becoming more ubiquitous.”

ABOVE: Teachers can share content using the recently-launched Edmodo Spotlight

Edmodo allows teachers to create and schedule online assignments through media which include videos, interactive apps, teacher-generated content and other activities, including quizzes. Discussion tools offered by the platform can help to prime students before classes, and also encourage teachers to share best practice at global level through online communities. Based on the web, the system requires no on-site installation, and utilises applications compatible with iOS, Android and Windows systems, which can be located using Edmodo Spotlight, a recently launched content repository.

Using this service, teachers can share and, if they wish, even monetise their own unique content by offering it to others. The system is consistently upgraded and, says Seldow: “New to Edmodo this school year, teachers can share Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents with students and open them directly in Microsoft’s online Office suite. This means that teachers and students need only access to a browser to utilise Microsoft’s rich viewing and editing experience.” 

Stimulate critical thinking

Flipped learning methods may prove particularly suitable for particular types of courses which aim to stimulate independent critical thinking. Pamoja education, a social enterprise which works with the International Baccalaureate [IB] to provide online Diploma Programme courses to a worldwide audience using flipped learning, is helping to propagate these values.

Online learning as conducted by Pamoja Education in many ways models both the attributes of The Learner profile and the methodology of ATL [Approaches To Learning] that the International Baccalaureate sees as promoting, comments Dr Andrew Flory, Head of Academic Services at Pamoja.

“These are thinking skills, communication skills, self-management skills, social skills and research skills.”

ABOVE: Pamojo Education provides online Diploma Programme courses to a worldwide audience using flipped learning

The offering is experiencing significant growth, at a rate of almost 50% year-on-year, and allows students to pursue various subjects, including Maths, Philosophy and Mandarin. Through flipped learning, Flory suggests, Pamoja has created an environment which is ‘learner centred’, in which the teacher acts to facilitate rather than dominate learning. Students can access course content in their own time, thus re-positioning teachers, who are able to intervene whenever learning needs should emerge. This encourages the emergence of valuable transferable skills such as collaboration and a reflective approach to learning, which are important in non-academic contexts.

Research undertaken by the Institute of Education in London suggests that students who have undertaken Online DP courses are both more autonomous and more critical’

A particular strength of the online IB classes, which consist of between 15 to 25 students, and are managed by a teacher, who organises discussion forums, wikis and journals and works directly with learners, is their internationalism. Content is developed which does not exhibit any cultural bias and, to maximise access, is vetted to ensure optimum connectivity in different territories. Classes can be composed of students from across the globe, which enriches their experiences and makes them more internationally aware, according to Flory. Research undertaken by the Institute of Education in London suggests that students who have undertaken Online DP courses are both more autonomous and more critical, better able to evaluate and select material available online for their studies, he relates. Also, he explains, since much learning at university level is becoming hosted online, students following the IB pathway will already be familiar with this model of learning, and its associated tools.

Invest in the best

Amongst some of the flipping technologies currently gaining in popularity, according to Simon Shenton, Head of Education Sales at Daisy Corporate Services, are those which facilitate interactive environments, including interactive whiteboards, tablets and voting devices and the versatile Skype for Business tool. When deciding which types of equipment to invest in, he advises educators to veer away from novel gimmicks, and “look at the teaching and learning strategy first and foremost – then the technology which can enhance and enable it.” Before making purchases, he also counsels that they should make certain they aren’t purchasing technology they already own, and choose systems which are fully compatible and permit the sharing of different types of media. If these functions are limited, he warns, they could result in costly additional expenditure. “Less is more in the classroom,” he argues. Limiting flipped learning tech to interactive whiteboards and personal devices such as laptops and tablets, he suggests, means that there is less room for potential IT errors and maintenance, and more time is spent learning. On the rather divisive subject of allowing phones in class, he says that “I think there is a space for smartphones: however, due to the restraints of keyboard size and screen size, they have more use in reviewing than originating.”

“Look at the teaching and learning strategy first and foremost – then the technology which can enhance and enable it”

The age of students, and their preferred content platforms, will also be important considerations for potential flippers, suggests Jeff Howson, a Consultant from ICT specialists Moxton Education. In addition to the ever-popular YouTube, there are several alternatives, including Dropbox, Skole Tube, One Drive, Google Drive, Vimeo and Boxx. To reduce costs, he counsels, educators may wish to explore the use of open source, free or cheap software and apps. “Explain Everything app for iOS and android devices allows users to record audio and now video, write, and move objects, all while recording in real time,” he says. “Similar apps include Show Me, Doceri or ScreenR. Screen-Cast-O-Matic is a free online screencast recorder, and Snagit allows you to create and edit screen recordings (with a free seven-day trial).”

Utilising the technology

Contending that “the main purpose of using flipped learning should focus on using videos to introduce new concepts and skills and where the approach is adopted most of the time,” Howson recommends that educators not only offer flipped content, but also utilise tools which help them to monitor how the content is accessed and used, to ensure its effectiveness. Tools such as Blenspace and Educanon require students to sign in before they access videos, and can also be set up so that questions are posed to them at certain points in the video, to assess their understanding.

“Careful consideration should be taken right at the beginning of the process, to make sure that everything is in place to make flipped learning a success’

“Sometimes it is a good idea to hand over the responsibility of creating flipped learning resources to the students themselves,” proposes Howson. “Many of them have the ability to do it, supported by you, which will further reinforce their knowledge and understanding of the topic.”

But despite their reduced costs and apparent proliferation, another factor which may limit the roll-out of flipped learning is its cost – something which, to ensure its effectiveness, must be mitigated. “Flipped Learning strategies can disadvantage students who don’t have access to mobile devices and tablets,” cautions Moxton Education’s Jeff Howson. “Careful consideration should be taken right at the beginning of the process, to make sure that everything is in place to make flipped learning a success. Where there is a lack of suitable devices for students to access, the school can be creative in providing suitable devices for student loan and provide access to the technology, before and after the traditional school day. This means that all stakeholders have buy in (students, management, other teachers within school) and that the suitable resources, both in and outside school, are in place to support it.”

These new technologies have the potential to provide educators with significant freedoms to explore bespoke methodologies. We’ve already seen the success of flipped learning in the HE space, but time will tell if younger students can benefit from the teaching technique.

Thinking about flipping the classroom?

Moxton Education’s Jeff Howson suggests five key steps to take before implementing flipped learning in your school:

1. Get stakeholders on board: It is imperative to get the students, parents and senior management on board if you are to introduce flipped learning as a main vehicle for teaching and learning in a particular subject. You have to explain how it is going to help them and make the subject more enjoyable, where more learning happens.

2. Make sure the technology is in place to support flipped learning: can you make videos, which are easy to make and share, as well as monitor their progress of students as they access them? It is also important to make sure all students can access the videos/resources outside the classroom environment.

3. Plan, plan, plan. Make sure that you understand the process and outcomes of flipped learning and have done some research into it so that you can confidently provision it and assess its effectiveness on teaching and learning at your school.

4. Make sure that you support the students as they move from one learning style to another. Remind them for example to pause the video, make notes, write down discussion points and reflect what they have learned and mastered.

5. Be prepared to facilitate learning in the classroom, when the students come back to review their notes, discuss points that they didn’t understand and set up activities to consolidate their learning. Provide them with lots of opportunities to help each other and improve.