Flipped teaching: narrow and wide definitions


Flipped teaching is sometimes presented narrowly, like this:

Traditional = teacher spends class time lecturing, then students do exercises at home.

Flipped = students watch video lectures at home, then do exercises in class.


You also see it presented more widely, like this:

Traditional = teacher spends class time on content coverage, then students apply this learning at home.

Flipped = Content coverage is done at home, then students apply this learning in class.

Critiques of flipped teaching which focus on video lectures are, I think, taking a narrow view of the idea. Video lectures are just one way of moving content coverage out of class time. If you don’t like hour-long video lectures, fine, but they’re not a weakness with flipped teaching; just a weakness with a particular way of implementing it.

Taking a wider view of flipped teaching, you might set a piece of reading as the preparatory work. This would reduce the amount of class time you have to spend on content coverage, and would allow the students to then apply what they’ve learned under the supervision of a teacher.

Preparatory reading before coming to class is clearly not a revolutionary idea. So why do people talk about flipped teaching as if it is?

Leaving aside the possibility that it’s just an old idea with a new name, here are two possible reasons:

(1) From what I’m told, STEM courses in HE frequently use large lectures for content coverage, and consequently lack time for students to apply the ideas under supervision. Changing this does require a (revolutionary) shift in thinking.

(2) Technology has opened up what’s possible in terms of how students might cover content prior to class. In the past, reading was pretty much the only option, whereas now, video and podcasts exist as equally viable alternatives. Technology often comes packaged with a rhetoric of revolution, hence flipped approaches being treated as something new.

Flipped teaching is not always appropriate. For one thing, it relies on a certain level of maturity among students, because you need to be sure they will do preparatory work before coming to class. I’ve heard of it being used in at secondary level, but certainly wouldn’t have used it there myself. HE is a different matter, and I think certain subjects could see some benefit from it.

It’s also worth pointing out that flipped teaching approaches are closely related to approaches where a teacher sets in-class activities for their students. This is commonplace in secondary classrooms, but less common in the university lecture theatres. This is another reason why I see this as an idea more suited to HE than secondary.

Further reading

Professor Simon Bates and Dr Ross Galloway (from whom I borrowed the phrase “content coverage”) – The inverted classroom in a large enrolment introductory physics course: a case study.

Image credit

Studying /Lecture both by Konrad Michalik

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