Rapid-fire changes in technology have the potential to turn education on its head, and Lodge McCammon thinks that can be a good thing.
“Because the technology is going to be so ingrained and fluid, we won’t really have to teach students how to use technology so much as how to reflect on their own learning and use it in smart ways,” he said.
McCammon is a keynote speaker at the Midwest Education Technology Conference, which gets underway in St. Charles today. More than 2,000 educators and technologists will share ideas and get up to speed on everything from teaching programming to integrating social media into classroom instruction.
But for McCammon, the flip is where it’s at.
“Anything that makes a teacher's life more efficient, is a good technology, I believe,” McCammon said.
In a flipped classroom, students first get their lessons online, often through videos, then teachers guide them through homework or projects during class. McCammon has developed his own method for showing teachers how to turn classroom instruction on its head and offers free training through Fizzedu.org.
“The flipping the classroom model can redefine what it means to be a 21st-century teacher, and that’s really exciting to me,” McCammon said.
The exact origins are fuzzy, but many proponents of the flipped classroom credit Colorado chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams for getting the ball rolling. In 2007, Bergmann and Sams began recording their lectures. Aided by what was at the time a relatively unknown online video service called YouTube, the concept spread quickly.
While some models for flipped classrooms lean on pre-produced videos as lessons, McCammon champions a method in which teachers use something as simple as a cell phone to record their lessons and then post the videos online.
It's a practice that he said can benefit teachers, too.
“What we’ve started to find is that teachers who filmed their content would then look at their content,” McCammon said. “That new way to go about reflective practice, to really see what you can do to improve — that can create a whole new teacher.”
In an increasingly digital world, McCammon said teachers posting their lectures online could also crack the code for increasing parental involvement.
“Parents think, ‘Wow, I can tune into my teacher’s YouTube channel and find out exactly what they’re requiring of my child, what I can help them with, because I don’t remember this content, even though it’s fifth grade.’” McCammon said. “This is helping me help my children."
Chris McGee first discovered the bridge between school and home that McCammon describes when he began flipping his sixth-grade classroom in the Kirkwood School District.
“That was what I would call the unintended consequence,” McGee said. “The parents really knew who I was, how I teach, and what our key concepts are. You know, parents are asked to help out at home and they don’t know how because it’s been 20 or 30 years since they’ve been in that classroom.”
Results varied, but McGee said overall the approach began moving the needle when it came to academic performance.
Now the curriculum coordinator for science and social studies in the Webster Groves School District, McGee will be leading four workshops at the Midwest Education Technology Conference this week.
Last month, he began rolling out a project to help 18 teachers in Webster Groves learn how to flip their classrooms; he hopes to use the teaching style for a variety of subjects and grade levels next school year.
“We’ll see it spread through the district, I hope, in the coming years,” McGee said.
There certainly are limits, though, and McGee said flipping a classroom should be seen as an instructional tool, not an end.
“It’s doesn’t work for all teachers, it doesn’t work for all contents,” McGee said. “I don’t see it as a silver bullet. I also have found that it doesn’t work for all kids. Even within my flipped classroom model I still needed to have other things available for my students.”
Four years ago Clintondale High School just north of Detroit put 140 freshmen in flipped classrooms.
Within one semester, academics improved and discipline incidents were reduced by 66 percent, according to school officials. The move was so successful they decided to go all in, becoming the first school in the country to move toward a completely flipped classroom model.
“It’s become very popular,” said Carl Hoagland, professor of technology and learning at the University of Missouri St. Louis. “It’s something that a number of teachers is doing. They may be doing it to a large degree or, some of them, to a small degree. It affords some opportunities for teaching in different ways that we didn’t have before.”
Hoagland noted that any discussion about flipped or online learning environments shouldn't ignore a lingering digital divide, in which poor students often don’t have the same access to digital technology when compared to students from more affluent households. And while the flipped classroom model is gathering momentum, he said, the learning style is not without its critiques.
“On an extreme people say, ‘oh, the kids are just watching videos,’” Hoagland said. “The question is, do you use your time in the classroom wisely, do you dissect what kids are thinking about the video?”
Like McGee, Hoagland said flipped classrooms shouldn’t be viewed as a quick fix for academic improvement.
“It’s not the be all and end all; it doesn’t mean you’re going to have student learning more and doing better in school,” Hoagland said. ”A lot of it depends on how a teacher uses that material in the classroom.”
At Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., a team of four researchers has embarked on a multi-year study to understand whether students in flipped learning environments process and retain knowledge differently than their counterparts in more traditional instructional settings.
"We’re interested to see how the flipped teaching methodology affects learning, retention of the material from class to class and transfer of those ideas to new situations or other classes,” said Rachel Levy, a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd and part of the research team. “We’re also interested in students’ attitudes about learning in the flipped classroom versus the traditional classroom.”
They’re also measuring how using a flipped learning environment can affect students’ attitudes and enthusiasm for learning.
Though research on flipped classrooms can lean on previous studies related to distance, active and computer-based learning, Levy said understanding how the model works in the age of social media and cheap video production is in its early stages.
"Controlled studies of flipped classrooms are very much in progress right now,” Levy said. “I really think people are still trying to understand how people might measure the impact of these classrooms.”
Levy said even though their research is being conducted at a small liberal arts college with a history of interactive lectures, she hoped their results can apply to K-12 education, as well.
“How many students you have in a classroom has a lot of impact, how much preparation students have before they come into your class, how much enthusiasm they have, and their attitude toward your class really matters” Levy said. “But that matters no matter how old your student are. It is possible that the impact of flipping classrooms isn't particularly dependent on the age of the students."
Could the flip bring Missouri up to speed?
So, could training teachers better to use increasingly affordable video software be a fast track to bringing the state up to speed?
“Perhaps,” Watson said. “The flip side to that is that somebody might perceive it as low hanging fruit and not really change that much of what the school is doing but feel like it has.”
Watson, a consultant with the Colorado-based Evergreen Education Group, said he’s not trying to downplay the potential. At the same time, Watson said it will take much more to reboot the digital landscape in Missouri.
“The really transformative opportunities tend to be more at the school or the district level, than simply the classroom level,” Watson said.
Big picture, Watson said, ramping up education technology in the state requires a full range of options for all K-12 students, from online classes to schools operated completely online.
As employers increasingly demand that workers show up with a full digital toolbox, Watson points to states like Michigan that mandate every student take at least one online class before graduating from high school. With that in mind, he said flipped classrooms are just one slice of a much larger pie.
“Jobs of the future are going to require that people be able to think creatively, create and share knowledge, and do all these things that are technology based and technology enabled,” Watson said. “All those things are taught in online and blended classes.”