Tom Starkey's world of ed tech

20th March 2015 at 00:00

If I were a lesser man, I'd open this column about "flipped learning" with a lame joke about a teacher getting the wrong idea and nailing all the classroom furniture to the ceiling.

Instead, I'll start by stating - for the uninitiated - that a flipped classroom involves students learning the key concepts of a subject outside school, through video content. They then apply this to classroom activities, in which the teacher guides and gauges learning, helping them to apply their knowledge rather than imparting it (hence "flipped").

This idea is increasingly gaining traction because of the wider availability of internet access and the ease with which you can find or create instructional videos on any given topic. The advantages seem to be greater personalisation, fostering independence, saving time and a shift in the teacher's role from transmitter of knowledge to co-learner and guide. So is this the bright future of learning - facilitation in the classroom and independent learning over the internet?

No, I don't think it is. Although there may be places where this approach flourishes (and if it works for you, drop me a line), I can't honestly see it being successful on a large scale for a number of reasons.

For a start, you lose immediate feedback, adaptation of resources to meet students' needs and instruction from the most important bit of kit in the classroom - the teacher. A teacher can correct misconceptions on the fly, adapt what they're doing, go back and consolidate.

And relying on another source of instruction is a route paved with problems, such as having to unpick incorrect assumptions and taking a gamble every day on whether the pupils have "got it" or not.

Then there are the students. Call me jaded, but getting homework out of kids is like, well, getting homework out of kids. It's ridiculously difficult. Also, if a large proportion of learning key concepts takes place outside school, then children's home life invariably comes into play - even more so than in the traditional classroom. Socio-economic factors will be more keenly felt and inequality will rear its ugly head.

Lastly, as a father, do I want more of my children's time at home being taken up by watching learning videos? I'd much rather be talking and playing with them. Unless they start beating me at Hungry Hungry Hippos - then they can watch all the videos they want.

I do think flipped learning has a place, but only as part of a mixed approach. Less a flipped classroom and more a flipped topic or project embedded within a larger scheme; something that will prepare pupils to learn independently.

Now I'm off to flip over the Hungry Hungry Hippos board because I'm losing. Catch you later.

Tom Starkey is a teacher based in Leeds. Email or find him on Twitter at @tstarkey1212

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