Thursday, July 23, 2015

Challenging Assumptions: A Post Flipcon15 Reflection

John Armato // Flickr
The last few years of teaching has forced me to challenge normal assumptions about teaching and learning. I’ve done a great deal to test these assumptions, whether through my work on flipped learning and standards based grading. This year’s FlipCon showed me that there is still much work to be done.

The great Paul Andersen of Bozeman Science gave a wonderful keynote and workshop on the first day. I must digress for an interesting observation; Paul Andersen’s Blended Learning Cycles are similar to my Mastery Learning Cycles. At first, I thought I may have unconsciously borrowed from something I read or watched about his course. But I soon realized that we had similar inspiration. We were both inspired by the mastery flip class movement, as well as Ramsey Musallam’s criticism of mastery. Ramsey, another flipped educators, argued that inquiry should play a large role in science instruction; therefore, exploration should happen before direct instruction from video - hence the creation of flipped learning cycles. A second similarity between our models is the mandated small group or one-on-one discussions with students after the first year of experimenting with our flipped learning cycles. Both Paul and I experienced a disconnect from the learning of our students when we incorporated asynchronous learning in our respective courses. We both saw the need to fix our courses by putting us back into our courses. 

This is where Paul’s insights have helped me going forward. He advocated the use of design thinking in education. He bluntly, and correctly, argued that teachers need to accept responsibility for fixing issues in our courses. If the class is not working, it is most likely the teacher who is the issue. Just as Paul and I identified and responded to a major issue after year one of our flipped learning cycle, teachers need to redesign their courses to address problems. Whenever something is not working in my course in the future, I will remember Paul’ challenge to use design thinking to fix it.

Kate Baker and Lindsay Cole led an engaging discussion about grading practices during their presentation. It dovetailed with my presentation with Amanda Meyer about standard based grading. Both sessions touched on assumptions about grading practices. I was pleased to see that there is an appetite in the flipped learning community to rethink what we grade, how we grade and the purpose of grading. In the polls conducted by Lindsay and Kate, a majority of the teachers were in favor of flexible due dates and allowing students to redo work. Even though I consider myself progressive about grading, I am still trying to figure out how to discourage students from taking advantage of my willingness to make accommodations. Specifically, Aaron Sams raised the question of making students feel the sting of procrastination without contaminating the grade, which should reflect learning.

The final workshop I attended was also led by Lindsay Cole. She discussed the use of student generated content. She advocated letting students teach other students through the creation of content. Lindsay made an important distinction between student projects and content. Projects typically cover content already covered and are typically made for the benefit of the teacher to evaluate the learning. On the other hand, student generated content is generated for the purpose of teaching other classmates. Of course, projects are typically shared with classmates during presentations but student generated content is intended to actually teach or cover the content of the course. This topic is of great interest to me. Some of my students who strive for level 4 on some learning targets create similar projects that I use for remediation for other students. Lindsay’s presentation showed me that I haven’t pushed the envelope enough. Rather than relegating the student mastery artifacts to the remediation library, these projects can be the main vehicle for teaching the content. I do wonder if students, especially middle school ones, will be able to internalize the content while creating the projects and whether the audience will effectively learn the content. The final obstacle is Lindsay's structure seems more consistent with synchronous rather than asynchronous courses. However, I am encouraged by Paul Andersen’s challenge, I’ll have to redesign the course such that student generated content is a viable option - moving to synchronous learning for certain units and having student groups initially learn from learning cycles before teaching to other students are ideas that come to mind.