Flipping the Classroom: Weighing the Risks

This is part 3 in a series of posts on Flipping the Classroom. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

I’m having some great discussions with other teachers around flipping the classroom, on Google + and Twitter, as well as on our Yammer network at Algonquin College. One of the common themes of these discussions is around risks.

Of course, any new undertaking comes with its own special set of risk factors. I’ve thought a lot about some of these risks as I’ve worked on developing my flipped video production course for this Fall. I’d like to share some of the risks that have popped up in the past few weeks, and the approach I’m taking to help mitigate them.

What if students don’t hold up their end of the deal?
Flipping the classroom means that the students are required to show up to class prepared. They must have reviewed the course material in advance and come ready to get to work. Of course, that’s not always going to happen.

Like all teachers, at the beginning of the term, I set out pretty clear guidelines for students in terms of what’s expected of them. But I take a bit of a different approach with it. I remember some of my teachers would start the first class by telling the students what’s expected of them – if you don’t show up to class, hand in your assignments on time, and surf Facebook in class instead of paying attention, you will FAIL. Instead of focusing on telling students how they might fail the course, I tell them what they need to do to succeed. I make a few deals with them right off the bat. I tell them that success in my class is easy, provided they make these deals with me:

Deal #1: You and I will both show up to class on time.
Deal #2: Neither of us will text or chat on the phone during class.
Deal #3: You keep your eyes to the front of the class when I ask (i.e. no surfing, Facebooking etc.) and I’ll make sure there’s always something interesting going on.
Deal #4: You do the assigned homework and complete your assignments on time, and I’ll be there to help you when you need it.

Notice how it’s a two-way street. I’m not off the hook here. I ask them to agree to these four things, and I agree to hold up my end of the bargain too. We make a deal that will help to ensure everyone’s success. I show them that we’re in this together.

The consequences of not holding up their end of the deal are all on them. If they don’t show up to class on time, they’ll miss stuff (and I don’t repeat myself). If they text in class, they won’t catch everything, and they’ll miss stuff (and I don’t repeat myself). They don’t pay attention, they’ll miss stuff (and…well you know). They don’t do the work (i.e. watching the videos of the course material so they’ll be ready to work in the lab), they’ll have to do it during the lab time itself, meaning they’ll fall behind, potentially run out of time, and I’ll be less able to help them.

On the other hand, if they do all these things? They won’t miss a beat (and my end of the deal is to make sure that they get it and have support). If they do these things, they won’t have any other choice but to succeed. Does it work 100% of the time? No. There’s always going to be a few who buck the trend. But more often, people are ready and willing to be successful. People are more likely to follow the path to success than the road to failure – as long as you show it to them.

Isn’t it a lot more work?
Yes, it’s a pile more work. I’ve spent several days in the past few weeks restructuring my entire course, recording and editing bunch of videos, posting them to YouTube, setting up a blog, scheduling the posts, tweaking my presentations, and integrating everything to the BlackBoard LMS. But now that’s all done, and ready to go. The day before the course starts, everything will come online automagically, we’ll be ready to go.

It will be more work in class too. It’s actually easier just to stand up in front of a class for three hours and drone on over Powerpoint slides. It’s easier to get the students doing an exercise or quiz, and then bask in the beauty of a quiet classroom while they all work away. It’s a lot harder to be on your toes for three hours, roaming through the lab and engaging with the students, working alongside them instead of in front of them.

But I am anticipating the rewards will far outweigh the amount of work it’s taking. I am anticipating that the experience will be much, much richer for both my students and myself. After 12 weeks in this environment, they will not just be familiar with the concepts. They will have created and achieved things that they can be proud of.

And to me, that’s worth every second of extra work.

Trying anything new is risky. Will this flipped classroom thing work? Well, I don’t really know for sure yet, but I’m very optimistic. Will I learn a lot? You bet I will. And I hope everyone else does too.

What about you? What do you see as some of the inherent risks of flipping a classroom and how are you overcoming them?

photo by epSOS.de

Flipping the Classroom – The Redesign
Getting in the Groove of Google +

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