Flipping Out in the Classroom

I teach in the Photography Program and have been developing 5-week-long, blended, 1-credit, specialty courses.  The hours for these courses are split half in-class and half online.  My challenge: How do I get the students to go from learning content to mastering content given a short period of time in the classroom? The answer:  Applying some of the philosophies and techniques of “Flipping the Classroom”. 

If you are not familiar with this teaching strategy, I may have some information to offer.  The goal is to allow our students to master content by moving the introduction of content outside of the classroom walls and allowing class time to be used for extension activities.   In other words, we transform our classrooms from being content delivery to content mastery.

Gain knowledge at home; Master knowledge in the Classroom: Instead of the student coming to class to learn the introductory material, I provide resources, (some I make, some I find online), that the student uses to learn the content outside of class. Then when they come to class, they are prepared to participate in higher-level learning activities such as discussions, presentations, and applications.  We can work together in both problem-based learning and exploratory learning activities. For example, when they come to class, I present them a problem that they need to expand their knowledge in order to solve, or I provide them the opportunity to create their own questions and then move through the exploration of those questions.  These extension activities are where true mastery of content takes place.

Becoming Self-Learners: What I like best about using these techniques is that my students learn how to gain information; they learn how they learn, and where their strengths and weaknesses are in their learning process.  Being a proficient learner is so valuable for when they are no longer going to college and must be in charge of their own life-long learning activities.  But we must be involved in motivating and guiding them to be independent learners. At first, we can’t expect them to be able to go home and learn on their own without us providing a structure and direction for them to be successful.  For example, I may put together a guided worksheet with key points for their research or movie they are to watch, and so the activity is still somewhat passive, but it helps them understand how to pull out the important pieces of information as they watch videos, read articles, etc.  

Accountability:  Flipping the Classroom motivates my students to be accountable for their learning. They come to class more prepared when their homework is to gain knowledge versus when their homework is to apply knowledge learned in the class.  This surprised me.  I expected to have more students skip out of doing their homework when a grade wasn’t attached to it. But I realized, if they don’t do the “traditional” homework, they get a zero, no one knows about it and we move on.  With flipping the classroom, they learn quickly that they need to do the homework to be able to participate in the classroom activities.

Mastering content is motivating: The students see how these activities are useful to their learning. The activities connect the “what” they are learning to the “why”.  Being able to doing engaging activities is a lot more fun than passively gaining information.  Most importantly, the students like it when they master the content. Really understanding what they are learning is such a better feeling than “kind of getting it”.

Changing Teacher’s Role:  At first, Flipping the Classroom sounds like it is easier for the teacher, that we don’t really have to teach the students anymore.  But it is quite the contrary.  You need to be a sharper, more involved teacher than the teacher that does a traditional presentation. Sure, you don’t have to prepare ways to present the introductory material but you need to create and find resources and then deliver those to your students.  You need to expand your class time by offering more opportunities for your students to engage with the content.  You need to be dynamic and differentiate your class time; just like in a traditional classroom, you shouldn’t do the same routine week after week, you need to be creative to come up with new and different ways for them to learn the content and apply what they’ve learned.  The classroom becomes student-centric, challenging us to put our resources, our expertise, where it belongs=preparing for and working with students at the level they need us to master the content.

There is more to Flipping the Classroom than I’ve discussed here, but this is the majority of how I use it in my classroom and both my students and I really like the process and the results.  Give it a try; it may be just what you need to take the students from content knowledge to content mastery.

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