Category Archives: Flipped Classrooms

Balancing Learning Technology with the Human Touch

I guess that image of President Obama learning how to code as part of last year’s Hour of Code was not enough to convince everyone of the value of technology in education. Despite there being little agreement over the specifics of technology in learning, there is a growing trend that values a high degree of human touch when implementing technology in learning. And that can result in some unexpected challenges to the role of teacher in both face-to-face and online learning environments.

She Says, He Says: Arguments for and Against Technology in the Classroom

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Does Technology Belong in Classroom Instruction?” engaged Lisa Nielsen, Director of Digital Engagement for the New York City of Education; and Jose Antonio Bowen, President of Goucher College in a thumbs-up, thumbs-down war of words over the role that technology can or should play in the classroom.

Nielsen’s portion of the article, titled “YES: New Tools Let Students Learn More, and More Deeply,” highlights how technology not only provides access to more resources but also expands the classroom beyond the walls of the school building. Students, working with guidance from their teachers can learn how to sort through the information available online, appropriately cite their sources, and .share on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, for example. “There’s more deep thought happening here,” says Nielsen “than there is without technology.”

Bowen’s contribution, titled “NO: Classrooms Must Be a Place of Focus and Mental Stillness,” tells us that “Finding relevant and accurate currents in an ocean of often useless or misleading Internet content is a persistent problem” that technology in the classroom doesn’t solve. “In fact, it is a distraction from the real solution: teachers taking the time to help students learn to process and think.”

Both these educators value the role of the teacher in the classroom, but Bowen insists on a tired, teacher-centric model in which “Teachers demonstrate what smart people do.” Nielsen’s is more hands-on model in which teachers do share expertise but in which they are also expanding their skills and toolsets along with their students.

Designing Interactions to Facilitate Learning

Following the initial skepticism of MOOC-style learning, many in the academic and technology community have begun to push for more cohort-based learning and peer engagement in online courses. At a recent Open edX Meetup in New York, representatives from the McKinsey Academy and George Washington University spoke to the importance of building more of the human touch into the online learning experience.

A massive study of online learning “Preparing for the Digital University,” funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, included an investigation of the different types of interactions required for success in online learning: student-student, student-teacher, and student-content.” This section of the report emphasized that human interaction in online courses can help increase the efficacy of the learning experience. The report calls for “sound instructional design” to create these interactions and included amongst the criteria for instructors “a positive attitude towards technology” as well as their “facilitation and of the learning process and monitoring of learner progress.”

The research found that all three forms of interaction produced positive effect sizes on academic performance, with student-student and student-content interactions having higher effect sizes than student-teacher interactions.

According to the report, important course design characteristics that shape the learning experience are flexibility, personalization, forms of assessment, use of small group learning and designed interactions, and soundness of adopted mix of pedagogies, technologies, and media.

Unexpected Rewards of Failing with Technology in the Classroom

Keeping technology out of the classroom is not a reasonable expectation these days; neither is keeping the teacher out of the class, whether it’s a face-to-face situation or online.

Kids are comfortable and capable with many forms of technology, especially their own personal devices. So, we need to meet them where they are live. At the same time, the role of teacher becomes even more valuable in guiding students through activities that may sometimes challenge their own expertise.

Nick Provenzano, 2013 ISTE Teacher of the Year and author of The Nerdy Teacher blog has some advice for teachers incorporating new tech tools into their teaching: “Don’t be afraid to fail publicly. It’s OK! You’re trying new things.” “You can’t be perfect, and you don’t want kids to feel like they can’t make mistakes, either.”

The same sentiment is echoed in an article on “Computing in the Classroom,” in the latest Harvard Magazine. The article addresses some of the challenges and initiatives to incorporating coding instruction into the classroom. “Students are accustomed to feeling this uncertainty; teachers, less so. Implicitly, many regard expertise as their source of legitimacy: a store of knowledge, in the form of facts, to be transmitted to the children. They want all the solutions to all possible problems before they feel comfortable leading a lesson—and because computers are only beginning to return in the classroom in these new ways, few have that expertise.”

Karen Brennan, who used to head up the ScratchEd forum and is now an assistant professor of education at HGSE, noted that when issues arise to break down the day’s lesson, “teachers could model problem-solving for their students even if they didn’t have all the solutions. Indeed, a small degree of uncertainty might be preferable: making room for more spontaneous discovery, and more authentic and rewarding classroom interactions.”

Teaching Transformed

The challenge to expand one’s skillset is similar in higher education, where faculty are being encouraged to participate in the development and delivery of online courses, something that can take faculty out of their comfort zone. Whereas in K-12, schools are building out the role of technology coordinators to support teachers in their adoption of technology, institutions of higher learning are either building out their own instructional design teams or partnering with external resources to help with the design and building of their online courses. These resources help faculty transform their expertise into more engaging online experiences, ensuring a better blend of interactions within each course.

If the trend continues, they will also build in enough facilitation and tracking of student progress so that the experience is more high touch than that of early MOOCs.

In both instances, teachers are learning new methods of teaching while on the job. It’s about as hands-on as you can get.

Flipping for a Change in Educational Models

We’ve talked previously about evolving, adapting, adjusting to the changes in the educational landscape. An article this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education has prompted me once gain to raise the issue of flipped classrooms and the great value this model can bring to all levels of education.

In “When a Flipped-Classroom Pioneer Hands Off His Video Lectures, This Is What Happens” Jeffrey Young reports on the popularity of the videotaped lectures that Norman Nemrow, a former accountant with a passion for teaching, produced, and the challenges the videos presented to the traditional lecture-based teaching model.

The Nemrow lectures became very popular at Brigham Young, where Nemrow taught and originally developed the videos “because he became tired of repeating himself and answering the same questions.” But he soon found that “93 percent of his students reporting learning more effectively from the flipped format than from a traditional one.”

A couple of things fascinate me about the “Video Norm” phenomenon. One is that Norm went into teaching after retiring quite early from successful consulting and real estate businesses. He donated his salary to Brigham Young and has subsequently donated proceeds of sales of the videos to charity. The second thing that interests me is the challenge that other instructors at BYU and other institutions had in adopting his materials.

The resistance in part was due to other instructors’ discomfort with a new model of teaching, in particular with giving up that lecture part of the experience. Having taught in a highly creating and productive teaching department at the university level for 15-plus years, I am more than familiar with the “not invented here” syndrome that affects many in the field of teaching. This is another part of the challenge to adopting “Video Norm.” The material was not the teacher’s own.

The best advantage of the flipped classroom approach is that it allows for more effective use of class time for teachers to do what they do best, which should not be all about lecturing but should be more about working directly on problem-solving activities with both individuals and groups and dealing with questions about material that students have been given enough time to absorb and test drive on their own.

Whether the material for those at-home lectures comes from “Video Norm,” “Sal Khan,” or “Sheri Handel” shouldn’t make so much difference to the classroom teacher as long as the quality of the material is the best it can be.

In an earlier debate over community college use of existing MOOCs produced by elite schools as a means of outsourcing lectures, Bill Gates stated that “The quality of those lectures, as they go through the competitive process, will be extremely good,” he said. “No individual performance is likely to come up to that level.”

This obviously offended a large portion of very dedicated and well-spoken community college faculty, but once again, we should not let ourselves forget the other part of the “flipped classroom” equation: the use of class time for more targeted and individualized instruction.

Once again, we need to bring the conversation back to the topic of our students and how to best reach them in today’s paradigm.

The MOOC: If You Can’t Beat It, Leverage It

Without spending too much time lamenting that many newcomers to online learning believe that there was no online learning until Coursera released its first MOOC, and that there are obviously many different ways to leverage technology to extend an institution’s reach, suffice it to say with so much money being spent and so much attention being paid in the exploration of this model, it makes sense to see how institutions of all sizes and budgets can leverage the model to their advantage. And again, this should be one model of online learning amongst many that you explore.

When Flipping or MOOCing, Consider Your Resources Wisely

No doubt there are thousands of community college instructors whose lecturing skills compare well to or surpass those of some of the MOOC lecture content we have seen out there. But it takes not only someone well-versed and well-spoken in his or her subject matter to produce a good quality course. It takes dollars and skills to produce that lecture and the surrounding content in a well-designed offering. That’s what Video Norm provides and what a lot of the very spiffy existing MOOCs offer as well.

Do Flip the Classroom to Make the Most of Your Teaching Talent

Flipping the classroom is not only something that higher education can benefit from. In PK-12, less presenting of the content in the classroom can free up time for teachers to work should-to-shoulder with students on those specific problem-solving activities after the students have review the content at home.

For institutions of higher learning, if this is a space you want to compete in, and you have the dollars and resources to produce quality content, then any institution can and should consider some means of leveraging the technology to extend not only your institution’s reach, but also the benefits of your great teaching talent.

Less time repeating that (great) lecture every semester will free your faculty to do what they do best, working with individual students to improve their mastery and application of challenging course content.

If you are resource constrained, then you might take Bill Gates’ advice, or you might consider collaborations with other institutions or companies to leverage their expertise in areas like instructional design, technology-enabled instruction, etc. Even if you do not have the internal resources, there is still an opportunity to engage in this approach.

NB: In the Chronicle article on the Nemrow lectures, we learn that Melissa Larson, one of the BYU instructors teaching an introductory accounting course using the Video Norm content is already producing her own “pencast” videos to help her students work through specific homework problems. Kudos to Ms. Larson for her ingenuity and initiative at taking the material one step further.

What do you think about flipped classrooms? Are you doing this already? How’s it going?

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn to learn about partnering to become part of the change in education.