New Day, New Model, New Backlash, New Shoes…

A couple of things have prompted me to write this post: the sudden but not entirely unexpected backlash against two reasonably new educational models: the Flipped Classroom and MOOCs (I wrote a post about MOOCs a while ago, so if you aren’t sure what they are, take a look at this), and the ‘faddish’ nature of educational models.  There may be a link here, be it supposed or otherwise, and this post may help me to draw some conclusions.

The Flipped Classroom model of Technology Enhanced Learning has been around for many years, though it has only recently become an established part of the educational zeitgeist.  This, one assumes, is because beforehand it was a method without nonclementure: something teachers, trainers and lecturers were doing independently of one another and in solitude. The flipped classroom is a form of blended learning which encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing. This is most commonly done using teacher-created videos that students view outside of class time.

The traditional pattern of teaching has been to assign students to read a section of a textbook after school, which will then be discussed the next day in class. Students are then assigned an assessment for homework to demonstrate their mastery of the topic. In the flipped classroom, the student first studies the topic by him or herself, typically using video lessons created by the instructor or shared by another educator or company, such as those provided by the Khan Academy, TED or even YouTube. In the classroom, the pupil then tries to apply the knowledge by solving problems and doing practical work. The role of the classroom teacher is then to tutor the student when they become stuck, rather than to impart the initial lesson. This allows time inside the class to be used for additional learning-based activities, including use of differentiated instruction and project-based learning, another educational model that I’ll be referring to (but only in passing) later.

Flip teaching allows more hands-on time with the instructor guiding the students, allowing them to assist the students when they are assimilating information and creating new ideas, thereby adhering to the upper end of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Some of the earliest work in this field was done by Eric Mazur at Harvard, who developed Peer Instruction in the 1990s. Professor Mazur found that computer aided instruction allowed him to coach instead of lecture, he wrote: “As a result, my teaching assistants and I can address several common misconceptions that would otherwise go undetected.” He concludes, “I believe that we are just seeing the beginning of the process and the computer will soon become an integral part of education. Computers will not replace teachers, but they will certainly provide them with an important dynamic tool for improving the quality of education.”

Many of the educators I have spoken to in recent months see the flipped classroom as the next big thing in education, and as it has been very much in the forefront of the educational zeitgeist for a couple of years now, I certainly think that there may be something in this model – yet that backlash I mentioned at the start of this post has certainly begun, as you’ll see if you refer to the articles and posts below:


Don’t flip for the flipped classroom

Why I flip flopped in the flipped classroom

There is no such thing as the flipped classroom:

If the flipped classroom is already being chastised as a failure (and I’m not saying that it is – there are still more articles championing this model than there are pillorying it) then what about the current Next Big Thing – the MOOC?

Very much seen as a Marmite model – users either love it or they hate it – there are thousands of articles, reviews and opinions out there about Massively Open Online Courses.  They’re free!  There can be 1000s of students enrolled on any one course!  Students can learn in their own time, at their own pace! They aren’t accredited!  The dropout rate is phenomenal!  But they’re free (though rumour has it that this may not be the case for very much longer)!

Reading a variety of articles and blog posts deriding the Flipped Classroom and MOOCs prompted me to ask the following:

  • Is this just another case of an educational ‘new black’ or the emperor’s new clothes?
  • Why do new models of education come and go so quickly?   

Since my induction into the world of education way back in the last millennium, there have been so many new models, buzzwords and fads in education; it’s genuinely difficult to remember most of them.  Problem Based Learning, Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise in Education, Embedding and Teaching Employability Skills, Enquiry Based Learning, Student – Centred Learning…the list goes on.  Each of these models were introduced at local level by enthusiastic colleagues as bold new ways of teaching, with money thrown at consultants, training companies, teacher educators and in-house specialists to deliver workshops, residential events, CPD courses and the like to staff with the notion that each was going to save time, change the way lecturers taught and the way students learned.  Within eighteen months, one model would be replaced by another: again, with money thrown at consultants, training companies, teacher educators and in-house specialists to deliver workshops, residential events, CPD courses and the like to staff with the notion that this was going to save time, change the way lecturers taught and the way students learned.  Within eighteen months…you see where I’m going with this?

So, putting current back lash towards MOOCs and flipped classrooms aside for a moment, why does this happen?  I have a few theories:

The digital world moves at approximately 97, 000 times the speed of the ‘normal’ world.  That’s why people become frustratd whrn they buy the latest ‘must have’ gadget, only to find their shiny, new version 4 has been replaced by version 5 two weeks later.    In education (though I mean specifically in post compulsory education, as I have no experience of working in the compulsory sector) models are trotted out so quickly that by the time people start to get to grips with them and think about how they can be used, something else comes along.  Of course, they could make their lessons all about flipped learning, peer learning, Problem Based Learning, innovation and creativity and all the other models that have come and gone in the past few years…but would they end up delivering a complicated, confusing and probably fruitless lesson?  And how long would it take to plan a lesson that ticked all of the new models of learning boxes?  Of course, no one lesson should contain a range of many models – like any other tool, these are just more strings to the teacher’s bow; more sweeties in their bag of pick ‘n’ mix.

Linked to this,  how much time do teachers, trainers and lecturers actually have to film and edit a lecture, put it on the institution’s media server, plan a Problem Based, peer assessed, enquiry based, flipped lesson that embeds elements of creativity, employability, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all?

Lack of time is one of the greatest enemies educators have to do battle with.  Confidence in one’s ability to use one or more models could be another issue. 

When Ofsted come to visit, will they mark a lesson that uses one or more of these models successfully with a glowing grade?  More importantly, if a teacher decides to run with a PBL – based session, something that is innovative but by its nature risky, or one that flips the classroom but ultimately doesn’t work according to the lesson plan, will they receive a low grade, and thereby run the risk of being placed on an improvement plan, or labelled as a ‘bad’ teacher?

Will MOOCs cheapen a student’s experience?  Will they replace teachers?  Probably not, but many teachers do still feel threatened by technology – worried that their classroom or lecture theatre-based lessons will be replaced by online content, thereby saving their institution money.  Will an institution’s servers be able to handle 30 or 300 people watching a film at the same time without falling over?  Will its firewalls mean that content can only be viewed in the institution itself?  Will teachers get egg on their face?  Isn’t this all too much to remember?  Is it worth learning another way of delivery if last year’s Next Big Thing didn’t take off the way those consultants and trainers said it would? And if the methods that have been used for years that have proven to get results – why learn more methods?

Finally – remember how I mentioned the irritation we have when the new piece of kit we bought yesterday is replaced with an even newer one a few days later?  Because technology moves at such a swift pace, does this mean new, technology-based methods of teaching and learning will always be superseded by something else before it’s had a chance to bed in? 

And what of the backlashes against some of these newer models of education? Maybe they are caused by fear, lack of time to gather any real understanding or a collective groan of “Oh no…here we go again…”

Have I answered my questions? Nope. I’m not that clever.  But I think I have laid out some of the possible reasons why some of these models seem to vanish as quickly as they appear, and why people sometimes just want to say “Look!  The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”