Friday, April 4, 2014

How to (and Why You Should) Take Baby Steps to Flipped Learning

Will Fisher // Flickr

When asked how long I've been flipping my class, I typically say since fourth quarter of the 2012-2013 academic school year. Upon further reflection, I now realize that I've adopted elements of the Flip for years. Perhaps unconsciously, I flirted with flipped learning. In sharing some of these prior flirtations, I hope readers weary of diving into flipped learning may use my words to help dip their toes into the flipped learning pool. 

Screencasts - Demonstrating how to use Technology: 

In the past, if I wanted students to use graphing software like Excel, TinkerPlots or Fathom, a technology integrator would visit my classes, lead a lesson or two and walk my students through the processes of inputting data, making graphs and performing calculations. This was helpful because I didn't have the proficiency to teach the software at the time. But it was difficult to schedule these lessons and ensure each section learned the same techniques, not to mention the difficulty of helping students who were absent for these guest lessons. 

As I learned more, I took over the lessons. This solved the problem of scheduling lessons but other issues remained. For example, it was still difficult to remember what I told each class. Some students missed parts of the instructions and repeating myself meant other groups were waiting for the next step. There were always groups who had technical issues, so troubleshooting also prevented other groups from moving on. Some groups already knew how to use the software and still had to wait for specific instructions from me. All of these issues meant I spent way too much time on teaching technology, rather than focusing on the course specific skills and content. 

I solved these problems by creating videos or screencasts showing how to use the technology. At first, students watched the videos during class. This instantly improved the student experience. Those who missed a step could rewind. Faster students or students previously experienced with the software no longer had to wait for the rest of the class. I was free to manage behavior without interrupting the lesson; more importantly, I helped students troubleshoot. 

Eventually, I asked students to preview the technology tutorial videos at home. Offloading direct instruction added so much time to the lesson. My students spent the majority of class time working on their projects, rather than watching a screen or waiting for their peers. Students had more time to discuss, collaborate, ask questions and revise their work. Anecdotally, I recall thinking the project quality improved after the switch.  I even notched up expectations. There were fewer noticeable breaches of academic integrity as well. I presume this was true for a few reasons. I was present for most of project completion; it would've been audacious for a student to cheat on a project despite the teacher lurking around the room and talking with students. Another reason, presumably, is students were able to ask me questions as soon as confusion arose. Previously, these confused students would turn to their peers outside of classtime for help- sometimes, inappropriate help. Instead, students turned to me during class time. 

Labcasts - Giving Directions on Video: 

After my successes with the screencasts, I realized that videos could be helpful so I decided to put ALL instructions in videos. Whenever there was a project, students viewed the video instructions before we began work. Students also jotted down questions for homework. 

I extended these videos to labs as well. This is probably when I fell in love with instructional videos. As a pre-lab assignment, students took notes and answered questions based on the labcast videos. Class time was maximized for set up, data collection,  clean up and reflection.  I no longer spent 10-15 minutes explaining the experiment and fielding questions. Even though class still began with Q & A, there were fewer questions. Presumably, students took advantage of the pause and rewind buttons. All students now had an closeup view of the lab setup. When I explained the experiment during class, only the first row of students had an unimpeded view. 

YouTube - Teaching Content:

After the successes of labcasts and screencasts, I appreciated the benefits of flipped learning. I started to use a few YouTube videos to teach content. I didn't do it often because my presentations were designed specifically for my course and most of the videos I found online were not. On the rare occasion when I found appropriate videos, I usually showed them in class, as part of my presentation. This strategy was limited and didn't offer all of the previously mentioned benefits. The videos were still part of synchronous presentations. Students did not have the luxury of rewinding or moving ahead. I also didn't have the luxury to roam, interact with students, give individualized feedback or manage behavior without interrupting the lesson. Class time wasn't saved. I could've assigned the videos for homework but was skeptical that all of my students would watch the videos. Even if they did, I didn't have a plan for reimagining the captured class time. 

Closing thoughts: 

I came to realize that if I desired the use of videos to teach content on a consistent basis, I would need to build new accountability structures and reorganize my class. The video was just a small element of this imagined course; I would have to rethink my class. 

This is where the baby steps stopped... eventually, I took large strides out of the wading pool and dove into the deep end of flipped learning. I haven't peeked over to the shallow end yet and don't expect to!