Why the Flip?

In his presentation Confessions of a Converted Lecturer, Harvard physics professor, Eric Mazur caution’s that “the plural of anecdote is not data”. Mazur calls for real scientific research and data to guide changes to teaching practices. He also suggests that education shift the focus from teaching to a focus on learning. I am not presenting data on the success of the flipped class, I have none. However, I do have significant data to show that many students lack mastery and deep understanding of the key concepts in Biology (the subject I teach). This data informed my decision to try a new model which I hope will increase student mastery of the enduring understandings.

In a small nutshell there are 3 KEY trends that lead me to this exciting teaching model.

1. Learning patterns have changed
2. Trends in attendance have changed.
3. Parameters of courses have changed.

The details….if you want them.

1. Learning patterns have changed. Once upon a time students went with the flow of the teacher much like a small stick in a river does. Over last 4 years, students have demonstrated a marked change in their willingness to sit passively and be lectured to. Quite simply; they just don’t want to. Many students, if asked, will say they do in fact like this method of delivery (they are comfortable with the rules of school) but their behaviors increasingly suggest otherwise. Students have become savvy consumers of information, who like any good consumer shop around for their learning opportunities. Students want to find, justifiably so, the best deal in town; they want the best bang for their learning buck so to speak.

I do not see this “shopping learner” as a negative trend; it has empowered students to look for other resources besides their teacher. This trend though made it increasingly challenging to maintain the “sage on the stage” model.

Students want to be in charge of their learning, they want to decide when, where, how and what they learn.

Students want to learn asynchronously and be self-directed, ta da!…enter the flipped model. I did not turn to the flip as a last result or as a cop-out move. Rather I saw the flip as a viable way for my students to be in charge of their learning. The opportunity to increase and strengthen student learning was the most significant in deciding to try to this new model. The flip class allows me as the teacher to shift my focus away from my teaching and drive towards how students learn.

2. Attendance trends have changed.  Jobs, appointments, driving siblings, family holidays, there are a myriad of commitments taking students out of the classroom today. This trend has seen teachers spending hours providing make up work, activities and tests. This time was “non-productive”; draining the limited time and energy I had. Again the synchronous delivery of content has become increasingly challenging to maintain.

The flip class solves this problem as the content is now delivered asynchronously and is student controlled. Attendance and grading policies have also changed to reflect the more fluid nature of attendance.

3. Course expectations have changed. Just 3 years ago, the provincial exam (in BC, Canada) made up 40% of a student’s final grade. Over the past 2 years the exams have faded and this summer the provincial government removed these exams entirely. The removal of these standardized exams has opened the door for teachers to try something new rather than hold on to a method of delivery to improve content delivery efficiency.

I am excited and a bit scared for the year ahead. I am ready to change, shift my focus, drive my energies towards student learning and away from my teaching.


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