I’ve been pondering the concept of the “flipped classroom” for some time now. This article speaks to a lot of the things I’ve been thinking.
Historian Rachel Hope Cleaves recently identified a recurring meme in the history of food advertising: pigs slaughtering themselves. She first tweeted an image of pig leaping into a meat grinder. Others followed with different examples of suicide, some not requiring machines. Over and again, our porcine friends happily sacrifice themselves for our gustatory delectation. The irony of these pictures, if you know anything about pigs, is that they are among the smartest animals in the animal kingdom, and therefore unlikely to carve themselves up to be served on a platter. Yet there they are, happily chopping away.
As a part-time instructor, I am acutely aware of the tenuous nature of my employment. As a veteran teacher and instructional designer, I am always wary of educational fads. For some reason education seems to be particularly susceptible to fads. Now, most teachers are genuinely interested in doing right by their students, so their zeal for each “new” elixir should give us pause.
There seems to be a tendency for educational ‘leaders’ (and I use the term cautiously here) to acquire a cult of personality, so that the mere fact that these people have said something gives it a legitimacy it may not deserve. I have come across more than a few education professors who position themselves as sages when many of them really don’t have much real experience at all. Let me explain:
A great many of the educator-academics I have met have degrees ONLY in education. Sure, they may have taught in a ‘real’ school for a little while (often not long though), but I can tell you from personal experience that one or two, or maybe even five years of actually doing it will not give you the experience you need to really understand how hard it can be to teach something. The perspective I gained after teaching CS for 25 years is light-years away from what I knew after I’d been teaching for 5 years.
Teaching about teaching is a whole different game. It’s meta-teaching. I have to hand it to them though; they’re good at that. They often fool countless students into believing they know what they are talking about (some call it pseudoteaching). You know what though? They really don’t. They actually don’t know what they’re taking about – mostly, they’re just good salespeople. Sure, they may understand it, academically – in other words, they understand it like I can understand what it’s like to be a brain surgeon by reading about it and watching movies about it. Truth is, until I’ve had my hand (or whatever) inside somebody’s head, I can’t understand. Not really.
Until you’ve actually had to teach something, You don’t really understand what’s tricky about it. Talk to any ‘pure educator’ about teaching recursion. Mostly, they have no clue.
I think all academic educators ought to know something besides education. They should not only know how to teach, they should know how to teach SOMETHING – and they should have had to do it. If nothing else, it might give them an appreciation for the difficulties specific to teaching some thing, as opposed to teaching in the general sense.
Back to this “flipped classroom” fad. While I will grant there may be some value in off-loading some of the more straight-forward stuff to videos for students to watch outside of class time (like assigning reading), there are many problems with this approach – not the least of which is that we don’t have any actual evidence (other than a few small studies) that it solves any problems. The “flipped classroom” became a fad when Salman Khan started to push it. He had some good ideas to be sure, but he is not the saviour that many in education claim he is. People demand “proof” that games work as educational technologies, but when some education celebrity says something is cool, teachers and academics fall all over themselves to subscribe to buy their Product, in much the same way people flock to celebrities who claim to have health and fitness solutions.
Professional suicide aside, sending your students home to watch or listen to lectures so you can spend time in class working with individual students may help some students, but I can tell you from first-hand experience, it disadvantages others. So really, all you’ve done is switch one group of disengaged learners for a different one. If you are one of those teachers who likes to be a follower of celebrity, then I guess it will make you feel like you’re part of some “IN” crowd. If that’s how you make your pedagogical decisions, then maybe you should re-think your profession, because this makes you part of the ongoing problem rather than the solution.