Flipped learning may create a flap

28th October 2011 at 01:00

No one likes asking a question out loud if they think it might make them look stupid. In the past a pupil might not have dared to stick their hand up in geography and ask: "What is the difference between Holland and the Netherlands?" The same is true today. But the world has changed: now the pupil can use Google or Wikipedia afterwards to find the answer quickly and without embarrassment.

Similarly, any adult who has needed to learn a new skill in recent years may have marvelled at the material available online for self-teaching. Whatever challenge you face - from editing a sound recording to re- stringing a ukulele - you can usually find dozens of answers and tips for your very specific problem, rated according to usefulness, plus even some how-to videos created for free by a friendly person on the other side of the globe.

If you can teach yourself from an online video, then why not let pupils learn about something the same way in their own free time? Lessons could then become an opportunity to consolidate and further explore what they have learnt. That, in essence, is the thinking behind "flipped learning" (pages 4-7). At a time when we are only just starting to grasp the impact the internet will have on education, it is easy to see why this approach is generating such excitement among teachers globally.

But let's not be afraid to flip the argument on flipped learning. A digital divide continues to exist in Britain, and the children in greatest need of good teaching often live in the most disrupted homes. To think they will find it easiest to learn outside school could seem naive.

Let's also not forget the role of the teacher. Flipped learning has the potential to actually make the job more interesting and productive than "delivering content" (both horrible words). But there is a risk that someone might get the wrong idea and think online videos could be a nice, cheap way of replacing staff altogether.

In an online history lesson in the future, the last question we want pupils to be Googling is: "What was a teacher?"

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro

michael.shaw@tes.co.uk @mrmichaelshaw.

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