Is professorial ego driving opposition to flipped learning?

Flipped classrooms have proved popular with college students.

The advantages to a flipped classroom are obvious to someone who has done it and difficult to conceive for those who have not. A flipped classroom—a model that has students watching lectures online, outside the classroom, and doing assignments during class time—works quite effectively if viewed from a pedagogical perspective.

It also puts the onus on the students to take responsibility for their learning and negatively impacts grade inflation, because students are much more likely to earn lower grades from an online course simply because they don’t log in regularly or bother completing assignments.

I have been running a flipped classroom for many years. It also gives me online documentation as to what is happening in class with attendance and participation, which I never had in the brick-and-mortar environment.

I began teaching online in 1997 before the days of course management systems.  I had to develop my own website to teach online and create the learning experiences for my students totally on my own. Not being a computer programmer or coder, it was difficult, but I learned by doing and by making plenty of mistakes along the way.

Technology has advanced to the point that we now have specialists doing the job I once did on my own: instructional technologists. In many instances, these specialists know a great deal about the tools and technology, but only a select few have experienced the actual classroom to know the human perspective of learning and how students actually learn. It is a rare individual indeed who has taught in the classroom, taught online for more than 10 years, and has honed their technical skills to develop contemporary online learning experiences.

Keeping in mind that I was once a student and that I once taught exclusively in the classroom, I have a better grasp of all perspectives involved, including that of the learner. From my first online course that I taught back in 1997 up until the present day, I feel strongly that the pedagogy/andragogy is the most crucial aspect in terms of providing an enriching and deep learning experience for students.

Reluctant faculty members may not see online learning as a viable approach to teaching or learning in higher education.

I heard one faculty colleague state rather emphatically: “Students cannot, and will never, learn unless they are with me in my classroom – period. They can’t learn without me prodding them and being there to get the information from me personally and without me deciding for them what it is that they learn.”

Talk about an egocentric viewpoint.

I’m afraid this faculty member is not alone. There are many like this person, who are well into the twilight of their teaching careers and do not feel compelled to learn new teaching techniques because of their crutch of tenure and not being “required” to do anything. Even if they were required, there would be no consequences if they did not do it. Thus, the problem continues to plague the academy.

The scenario is simple–those who have not experienced online teaching and learning will be skeptical until they are provided with an opportunity to do it first hand–at which point they will leave it and never come back because it is not for them, or praise the benefits of making the curriculum accessible for our students.

I, too, was once a skeptic, but have grown to love online learning for many reasons. I know where these reluctant educators are coming from and, at one point, shared their apprehension.

As to disadvantages of a flipped classroom, I would have said five years ago that I would miss the personal face-to-face interaction with students. After a sabbatical and sitting smack in the middle of a mid-life transition in my life, I no longer miss those students and their (lack of) interaction and participation.

So, as instructors and professors weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the flipped classroom, I would unequivocally say yes – flip it.  But, flip it good.

Be mindful of the up-front work and attention to detail. Think of the students and what they need.  Use your empathy skills and feel what it is that students feel today and what they have to battle to learn and succeed. Think like a student. Guide, lead, facilitate, and mentor them online, and we’ll all be better off in the end.

Dr. Rich Schultz is an Associate Professor of Geography and Geosciences at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., and holds a Ph.D. in environmental geochemistry from the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Schultz is the sole or senior author of more than 60 publications, book chapters, and abstracts, and serves on a number of national councils and committees in connection with online learning and geography education. His major areas of research are geoscience education, online/distance learning, spatial cognition, Web 2.0 applications, geospatial thinking, global climate change, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and professional development for online instruction.

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