We call it a ‘flipped classroom’ because of the initial idea, primarily aimed at younger students, where students would learn at home using videos and complete assignments in school where they have teacher support. Having learned more about the flipped classroom and adapted the model to older pupils, it emerges that the above approach could be improved, especially in an IBDP context. Thanks to extensive research, we can be confident that the flipped classroom is a promising way forward. However, we need to look back along the way to ensure we’re flipping in an appropriate way.
There is more to flipped classrooms than videos
Firstly, there has been a preoccupation with teaching videos or, more specifically, recorded lectures. Videos may be an accessible information source for younger students, but many DP teachers are faced with other problems.
Some claim this approach saves time, but since teaching videos have to be recorded anyway, little time will be saved by doing it. Although material could sometimes be used year after year between syllabus updates, teachers develop as professionals and will discover more clever ways of explaining concepts, which requires videos to be remade each year.
Secondly, the digital video format strips the physical lecture format of its advantages: a good lecturer will intuitively sense the responsiveness of the audience and constantly tailor the content accordingly, which is difficult in pre-recorded lectures. Contrary to the popular desire to digitalise education just for the sake of doing it, the question is whether there is any intrinsic value in videos. Of course, some concepts are suitably explained on video, but a video can’t really replace a live lecture.
The nature of DP teachers
Because of its academic recognition and depth of content, the IB attracts great teachers who want to teach curious and ambitious students on a high level, achieving a more intriguing professional role. In the IB, perhaps more than elsewhere, every second students can spend with a teacher is invaluable. An excellent teacher who spends lesson after lesson explaining trivial content is a teacher not being put to good use, since students could easily acquire basic knowledge elsewhere, whereas some unique insights are only acquired via the teacher.
Likewise, the initial flipped classroom model where students learn at home and complete assignments in class also results in a waste, since many students can work independently most of the time, and the expertise of the teacher isn’t for the benefit of the whole group. Given the academic rigour of the IB, students will need their teacher in order to fully grasp the material.
What is to be done?
What we end up with is a model where students learn the basics of a topic at home. Then, they come into class and explore the more challenging parts of the material, together with the teacher. This allows the school to make full use of the limited time that students and teachers have together, where they can rise above the material, draw conclusions and think critically about the material that they have learned. Having acquired such comprehensive understanding, students are sent home to complete their assignments.
The flipped classroom is a very promising model, but it can be tricky to implement. And perhaps it isn’t accurately described as a ‘flipped classroom’, but rather as a ‘focussed classroom’, where the teacher can concentrate on those areas where his or her effort is most valuable to the students.