One of the common criticisms of the Flipped Classroom is the issue of equity. The argument goes something like this: the flipped classroom disadvantages students who lack access to technology at home or who live in confined conditions where viewing a video might be difficult. The argument, like dandelions in spring, is plentiful and easy to find.
According to Wikipedia, educational “equity deals with accommodating and meeting the specific needs of specific individuals. Such needs-based accommodation will not result in equal treatment of all students.” Let’s take a look at examples of inequity in education and go deeper into the story. Note that for the purpose of accuracy I will stick to the specifics of senior secondary classes, as this is where I work and have extensive firsthand knowledge about that situation.
Currently students in senior secondary courses are assigned homework on a regular basis.
This is a fact. As an example, take my daughter who is in Grade 11. She has on average 1 to 2 hours of homework on a weeknight. On weekends she might have 5 to 6 hours if she has a major assignment or a test to study for. My daughter is lucky (she might disagree); she has 2 teachers at home who actively support her when she does school work at home. She usually sits at the kitchen table and if she hits a hurdle, needs help editing, or wants a hand studying, one of us is available to help. Often times she does homework with friends, both virtually and face to face, many times homework assignments are a collective effort.
She has support on 2 fronts, that as a classroom teacher, I cannot guarantee or provide to all my students; supportive parents and peers. The variable in this scenario is access to people; the resource that makes my daughter’s situation unequal to some other students is people and not technology.
The flipped classroom has afforded me the ability to be available and supportive to more students, in more ways and in more places than previously. Not all students watch the videos at home, but some do. Some students watch videos in class with a friend during ‘flex time’ (student directed time in class). Some students choose to come to class early and watch videos when class is quiet, some watch the videos on the way to school on the bus and some students decide they will not watch videos at all. The point is, they can choose to watch videos when and where appropriate or not all.
Students have different needs, schedules and preferences for learning modalities. There is not a one size fits all solution to providing equity.
The lack of access to technology or space at home is perhaps one variable that determines whether education is an equitable one. Equity is not about providing the exact same education for every student. Equity is about determining what each student needs to be successful and providing those conditions. Technology is a variable I can make up for, by offering alternative times and places, to access videos. But what I cannot provide alternatives for is the availability of a caring, invested and supportive adult who is committed to student’s success. I choose to make the most of my face to face time with my students, some who need significant support with the content, some who need someone to talk to, and some who need me very little.
I am not implying that I was not a caring teacher beforehand. But before, I did not have the ability or means to differentiate for each student, it WAS one size fits all. And if you do not understand this, I am sorry, but you need to get yourself to a high school ASAP and sit down with some students and teachers and find out what is actually going on.
The flipped classroom is more equitable to more students than the education I was able to provide previously. Equity comes in degrees. Finding one example of inequity, does not make the overall situation less equitable. Do situations of inequity still remain in the flipped classroom? Of course, some students show up without breakfast for goodness sake. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am able to tailor my support more specifically than I could before. AND I am able to meet the demands of my curriculum, ALL at the same time.
Can school compensate for parental support and involvement in school? Can school compensate for the social group that a student is part of?
How can we make school more equitable for more students more of the time? And what about other sources of inequity that student’s experience on a regular basis? What would make the examples below more equitable? Would access to teacher videos perhaps provide equity?
1. Students who are not able to physically be in class for extended periods due to health issues, where course materials are only made available in class.
2. Students who work after school out of financial necessity and struggle to keep up with sleep, let alone homework.
3. Students who are involved with high level athletic programs, train early every day, travel regularly for games or competitions and miss class on a regular basis.
4. Students who live in remote communities where the teacher for a senior academic course is not an expert in the subject matter and struggles to provide adequate materials for the course.
5. Students who live in remote communities where the course they need to enter university is not offered at their school, due to class size considerations.
6. Students who are taking a provincially examinable course (Science 10, Socials Studies 11) where the teacher does not provide review materials or cover the entire course.
Are classroom situations 100% equitable or not at all? Or are there degrees of equity along a spectrum?
There is inequity in school, of that I am certain.
What specific actions can we take today to make conditions equitable for more students?