Monday, May 6, 2013


You know how, if you keep repeating the same word long enough it will eventually start to become meaningless? Over at Unqualified Offerings, Thoreau has a post up that shows that the education buzzword 'flipping' has apparently reached that stage.
Today a literature professor told me that her Dean had asked to consider “flipping” her class. Now, in a literature class the professor has to operate on the assumption that you’ve read the novel outside of class. Class time is devoted to discussion of the novel. Is that not the definition of “flipping”? Basic information is delivered outside of class, and class time is devoted to discussion, application, analysis, etc. Especially in a small class like hers. And, here’s the amazing thing: Back in 1994, before the internet was popular, before Khan Academy existed, I actually took a literature class like that. Can you believe it? A class that was “flipped” before the concept of “flipping” was a buzzword!

Now, some of you might be saying that online literature classes exist, but that’s different from flipping. Flipping means moving the lower-level information delivery to outside of class, and then spending class time on discussion and higher level analysis. Yes, my friend will sometimes introduce a bit of information in class, e.g. discuss an analytical framework, or fill in some background information not present in the readings, but by and large the time is spent on discussion, not the basic outline of “Who is Hamlet? What country is he Prince of? What has happened in his life to make him so melancholy?” We’re talking about allocation of time and effort in the class, not moving the class online. Also, moving a literature class online does not automatically mean it’s “flipped.” In a non-flipped online class they’d spoon-feed you information on the novel, via powerpoints, video lectures, chats, whatever. In the flipped online class, they’d assume you’ve read the novel and devote video chats, discussions, or whatever other presentations to analysis of the novel.
We should stop and note that while it is possible to have a flipped online class, the viability of a flipped MOOC is far more questionable. The activities reserved for a flipped classroom aren't readily scalable, particularly if you're using a simplistic Thomas-Friedman definition of a MOOC.

This is one of the most annoying part of the education debate (and it's a discussion rich in annoyances): there some solid and enormously promising ideas behind many proposals for flipped and online classes, but they are completely lost amongst the garbage coming pundits who don't know the history and haven't thought through the issues, partisans looking to advance non-educational agendas and con artists trying to turn a quick buck (or some combination of the three).

No comments:

Post a Comment