Defining the Flipped Classroom & Exploring Its History

Wikipedia defines the flipped classroom as a form of blended learning, in which content delivery—traditionally done during class in lecture form—is “flipped” so it happens outside of the classroom. In a flipped classroom, students typically learn new content by reading or watching lecture video online before class.

The true benefit of this approach is that it makes the instructor available when the student needs them most: for personalized guidance and interaction when they start to engage with the material.

Compare this to the traditional lecture model, where student engagement with the material often does not begin until the problem set is worked on, often at 2 a.m. the night before it is due, when the instructor is almost certainly not available to help resolve misconceptions.

Furthermore, instructors are looking for ways to improve student performance—both as traditionally defined and as part of so-called “twenty-first century skills,” including communication, collaboration, and the ability to solve novel problems.

The flipped classroom has the potential to achieve these objectives.

In the recent study National Faculty Perspectives on Flipped Classrooms, 81 percent of faculty surveyed said that improved mastery of information—including these “twenty-first century skills”—were the top student benefit of implementing the flipped classroom.

Although different forms of the flipped classroom have been around for quite some time, the model did not gain momentum until recently. But it is quickly gaining steam: a recent study found that of the educators surveyed, 50 percent of faculty said they were already flipping or are planning to flip their classroom by November 2014, and 57 percent of instructors that have already flipped their classroom said that their implementation has been successful.

A number of different instructors have pioneered approaches that contribute to today’s notion of a flipped classroom. In the early 1990s, Harvard University professor Eric Mazur developed Peer Instruction, an evidence-based, interactive teaching method that combines conceptual questions with peer discussions. He found that computer-aided instruction allowed him to coach students instead of lecture at them.

Sal Khan, previously a hedge fund analyst who began recording videos for his younger cousin as a means to tutor him remotely, popularized another piece of the puzzle in 2004. Based on his cousin’s enthusiastic response, Khan made his videos publicly available and they went viral, leading Khan to launch the Khan Academy, a website that supplies free online video lectures that have been viewed hundreds of millions of times.

But perhaps the first instructors to popularize a more formal notion of the flipped classroom were high school teachers Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams, both from Woodland Park High School in Colorado. They discovered software that could be used to record PowerPoint presentations and used it to record their live lectures for students who had missed class that day. Their videos gained popularity and the instructors were asked to speak to other teachers around the U.S. about their method.

(Next page: Tips for a successful flipped classroom integration)


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