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Ever since April 2010 when Karl Fisch first suggested what has eventually become known as ‘the flipped classroom’ I’ve been both attracted and repelled by the idea. For those who haven’t come across the concept, it’s a very simple one: the ‘transmission’ part of schooling happens at home through pre-recorded media (videos, podcasts, etc.) with the discussion element, the groupwork happening in the classroom.
Described as such, and with the present realities of the education system (especially in the USA) it’s difficult, prima facie, to argue against this suggestion. On further reflection, however, I think that the flipped classroom is only possible because we’ve commoditised learning to such an extent that it’s becoming indistinguishable from training.
Let’s just step back a moment and look at the western idea of an education system. There’s at least five unspoken assumptions common across most schools:
- Learning is primarily something that happens in, or under the auspices of, formal educational institutions.
- The time when schools should be open to educate young people is (roughly) between the hours of 9am and 3.30pm.
- High-stakes testing is a good (if not the best) way to demonstrate ‘talent’ to future employers.
- Learning can be done at scale, with up to (around) 35 young people in a classroom learning from one teacher.
- The answer to student disaffection is discipline.
I, along with most progressive educators I know around the world, disagree with these five unspoken assumptions. It is assumptions like these, I would argue, that lead to the flipped classroom looking like a good idea.
As far as I understand it, the flipped classroom concept is gaining traction (especially) in the USA because of a synergy with the Khan Academy, lauded by celebrity educational funders such as Bill Gates. Khan Academy, for those who don’t know, is a kind of YouTube for educational videos, but with exercises. It’s gamified drill-and-practice for the 21st century. Whilst I think Khan Academy does have a place within the educational landscape it is, undeniably training. Training is a (very small) part of learning but to mistake one for the other is an error seasoned educators should not be making.
John Hattie’s table of effect sizes is the result of a meta-analysis of many, many learning interventions in educational institutions. Feedback, the student’s prior cognitive ability, and instructional quality take the top three positions in Hattie’s table; in other words, the flipped classroom would look to have an evidence base. I think that such an approach would work very well in one school I used to work in, a high-achieving specialist school with a predominantly middle-class catchment. However, in the first and last schools I worked in, there would not only be huge digital divide issues, but the usual problems surrounding homework and classroom behaviour.
All of this reminds me of an important lesson from a Philosophy of Science module I took as an undergraduate. Until Copernicus came along and changed the way we understand our place in the universe, the Ptolemaic system was the dominant astronomical model. In order to explain the phenomena (i.e. the seeming speeding-up and slowing-down of planets in relation to the Earth), Ptolemy and his followers added ‘epicycles’. These were rotations around a particular point, over and above the (assumed) rotation of the planet around the Earth.The whole Ptolemaic system was, of course, spectacularly incorrect. Ptolemy had started with a faulty assumption that seemed ‘obvious’ (that the Sun goes around the Earth), modifying and refining his theory to fit the phenomena. It was an impressively-complicated system. But it was wrong.
I think we’ve gone about reforming the western education system in a Ptolemaic manner. I think we’re adding epicycles such as the ‘flipped classroom’ instead of challenging core assumptions about how we can and should be educating young people. I think there’s a debate to be had. I think we had better get on to having that debate in a grown-up way. Quickly.
This week I have been mostly…
Planning for planning
I was asked to help put together the agenda for our upcoming quarterly planning meeting. This will be my first experience of the two-day events. I’ve proposed session titles including really bad puns – e.g. ‘Getting JISC-y with it’ and ‘Plone Ranger’ (Plone powers our website…)
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. A friend of a friend, Ben Mawhinney, came to give us some training on Google Analytics at my invitation on Friday. It was really kind of him to share what he knows and help us to better focus on our core audience!
Making the most of my flexi-time
With the sunny weather and spending all week in the office, I’ve been leaving at 15.30 and using up some of my flexi-time. What. A. Great. System!
Getting the go-ahead
My proposal for a review of mobile and wireless technologies was accepted, so I’ll be spending from next week until about the end of October on a review which will inform an upcoming JISC publication.
Returning my Dell Streak
It would appear that for everyone who knows me (however slightly) my decision to return the Dell Streak on Friday after a week was entirely predictable. What can I say? I’m a sucker for well-designed tools that increase my productivity. Like the iPhone 4…
David Noble, a Scottish educator with a long track record of innovative and supportive blogging and podcasting, interviewed me last month. He too is doing an Ed.D. and has interviewed me as part of it. 🙂
(The response I hope not to get come September…)
I’ve mentioned this in passing in a couple of blog posts previous to this one: from next academic year I shall be E-Learning Tutor at my school. This new post (solicited by me, it has to be said) involves me spending 50% of my time (15 periods of 50 mins) per week teaching History and a bit of ICT. The other 50% will count towards the E-Learning Tutor role.
I’ve a meeting next week with my Head to flesh out my actual role. He mentioned today that I’ll have to do some “mundane” stuff, but that I will be free to push a few aspects of my choosing and accelerate perhaps one thing I’m really interested in. As you can imagine, with my Ed.D. thesis exploring the ‘Digital Literacy’, that’s the latter taken care of. 🙂
I’m expecting the mudane activities I shall have to undertake to be things like:
- Interactive Whiteboard training (the really basic aspects)
- How to use the new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment)
- Using the internal Microsoft Outlook web-based email system
- Ways to use Powerpoint and other presentation tools in the classroom
- How to transfer digital video from digital cameras/camcorders to staff laptops
Whereas what I really want to be pushing are things such as:
- Creating a blog to make resources available outside the classroom (I’ve already run a couple of staff workshops on this, with some success)
- Basic podcasting and digital storytelling for non-written assessment, leading to e-portfolios for students.
- Communicating with other educators worldwide (i.e. getting staff initiated in the edublogosphere – perhaps through the K12 Online Conference?)
- Giving staff the confidence to take students into the ICT suites more often to use the Internet as a publishing tool.
- Transferring schemes of work and programmes of study into an electronic format (perhaps in a wiki-like format using Google Sites within Google Apps Team Edition or the new VLE?)
Some context to help you understand where we’re at: my school has a plethora of RM One machines, Interactive Whiteboards in almost every classroom, and relatively unrestricted access (we can access Twitter, del.icio.us, Google Video, etc. but not YouTube, Facebook or games websites, for example). There’s a real mix of what I would call ‘digital literacy’ amongst staff. We range from those, like me, who use educational technology in some way in every lesson, to those who only use their laptop to help them write reports, and who certainly haven’t turned on their Interactive Whiteboard yet… 😮
What else should I be looking to include in my responsibilities? How should my success and impact be measured, given that it’s a 1-year trial role? Suggestions in the comments section please! :-p
Image credits: Hugh McLeod @ gapingvoid.com (top one censored by me…)
Jim Belshaw (no relation that we’ve figured so far) has been so kind as to post some links to help me with my Ed.D. thesis over at his blog. His aim is to bridge the education/training divide (he is a ‘strategic consultant’ for business looking to improve their performance):
1. Learning Circuits Blog. This e-learning blog sponsored by the American Society for Training and Development provides a useful entry point.
2. eLearning Technology. Tony Karrer’s blog provides a very useful intro to a variety of issues in the on-line training environment.
3. Stephen’s Web. Stephen Downes’ site contains a range of useful material.
4. Jay Cross has two main blogs – Informal Learning and the Internet Time blog.
5. I find Dave Lee’s eelearning because he often comes at issues from a different direction.
6. Brent Schlenker’s corporate e-learning often provides insights especially on technical issues associated with e-learning.
7. Dennis McDonald’s blog on Managing & Living with Technology remains a valuable source of information on developments in the on-line environment.
Thanks Jim! 🙂
There’s a report by BECTA from 2003 which reviews research looking at teachers’ uptake of ICT – Barriers and Enablers to Teachers’ Use of ICT
The key barriers are identified as:
- Confidence, time and access to quality resources are major factors in determining teachers’ engagement with ICT.
- Recurring technical faults, and the expectation of faults occurring during teaching sessions, are likely to reduce teacher confidence and cause teachers to avoid using the technology in future lessons.
- Resistance to change is a factor which prevents the full integration of ICT in the classroom. In particular, teachers who do not realise the advantages of using technology in their teaching are less likely to make use of ICT.
- There are close relationships between many of the identified barriers to ICT use; any factors influencing one barrier are likely also to influence several other barriers. For example teacher confidence is directly affected by levels of personal access to ICT, levels of technical support and the quality of training available.
The key enablers are identified a:
- leadership and planning
- sharing of resources
- reliable technical support
- schools working with each other and with the local community
- differentiated training and continuous professional development for teachers
- participation in national ICT initiatives and projects.