Creating Awesome Online Discussions

We can use the discussion tool for so much more. With some tweaking, we can make a fairly boring tool into something that is engaging for students and increases the depth of student learning.

I had the pleasure of giving a presentation called “A Tour of Blended Learning Ideas” with Maria Peraino (@marperaino) at the ‘On the Rise K-12” conference this year. Several of the ideas that Maria covered involved creating better online discussions for students so that the use of the vLE isn’t dreaded by students in the same way it often is by teachers taking online AQ courses.

“Ahhhh I have to respond to three others that wrote about the same thing!! I can’t take this anymore!!”

If our students think that discussion posting is useless and not at all entertaining, it likely means that it is useless and not at all entertaining. We know this because we often feel the same way when we have to make contrived discussions posts in courses we take. It’s not that our jobs are about entertaining students, but we do need to make discussions at least tolerable.

If we can expand our understanding of the tool to get beyond just ‘discussions’ but see it as a platform for other creative ways to explore a topic, we’ll find a much richer level of learning. We can, maybe, even have some fun with it.

One example of this, that can be applied to any subject, is ‘in character’ discussions. After learning about and discussing a topic in class, a teacher can assign character roles to the students that are relative to the topic. In a science class, some students can play the role of homeowner, environmentalist, business person, scientist, mayor, etc. They can write their discussion posts as their character and then reply to others in character as well. They layer of critical inquiry and thinking about the topic is expanded as the students are forced to think about the situation from a different point of view. Put simply: it adds a layer of awesome.

Likewise, students could write in a small group discussion from the point of view of characters in a novel, or as people from different countries sharing about the geography of their home country and answer questions from fellow students.

A topic could be discussed from the point of view of someone from the present, past and future. How about getting students to write fictional letters to the editor in the discussion tool and have others reply as a different character. Or one student can interview another in a discussion, fictional or otherwise.

Students can play a collaborative creative writing game in a discussion by continuing a story where another student left off. There’s many possibilities.

As we know, getting students to think from different points of view is a vital part of critical literacy. It gets students thinking about motivations, interpretations, perspectives, conflicting interests, and diversity. Such an ‘in character’ activity can take a simple discussion task and jack it right up Bloom’s scale with very little additional effort or preparation from the teacher. Good for the teacher, great for the students.

There’s other great uses for discussions that Maria covered in our presentation and I’d like to blog about about them in the future, but the most important take-home is just that the discussion tool can be used for so much more than common discussion drudgery.

Embedding a Blog as Your Course News Stream

What do you do for inquisitive parents who want to know what’s going on in their child’s classroom if the class is entirely locked away inside an LMS? (I’m switching to the term vLE, so I’ll start using that now). The options for parents are a little limited. The parent can be set up with an Auditor role and be able to log in and see what’s going on inside, but it’s a little cumbersome to set up and parents most likely won’t love having to remember a login and password. They may have seen other teachers maintain a classroom website that contains information and updates on what’s going on in the classroom and liked having that resource.

So do you maintain both a classroom website (or blog), and your course inside the vLE? Some of this is doubling up on work. If you’re an active blended or eLearning teacher, you’re already writing updates in your course news stream. It would be a hassle to have to do that twice in different tools.

I may have a solution for you. When I was an eLearning teacher, I used an embedded blog right in my D2L course, instead of the D2L news tool. At the time, I used Blogger and it looked like the picture below.

Capture2

Unfortunately, due to browser changes in the past year, any site that is not considered “secure” (https) is not permitted to be embedded. This means that blogger can’t be embedded anymore.  But, WordPress can, and it’s pretty awesome.

It’s not too hard to swing over to WordPress when you want to write something in your blog. (I suggest putting a shortcut link in your bookmarks bar). It’s pretty easy to use. When logged in, you’ll see a “Post” link at the top. #Simple. Anything you write in your WordPress blog can be viewable by any interested person on the internet, while the rest remains secure inside the vLE. This way, there’s no messing around with auditor accounts or suggesting that parents use their student’s login (when parents really shouldn’t be given that kind of digital access to communicate with other students in the class).

The cool part is, it will most likely look a lot better. Many WordPress themes are pretty sweet looking, and a lot of them will naturally reshape themselves to fit the size of the widget it will appear in. Try using the “Featured Image” feature. On many themes, it places an image with the title of the blog post in a variety of different ways. You’ll find that WordPress forces your posts to look great. D2L almost does the opposite. The news tool in D2L is, unfortunately, very limited when it comes to appearance.

You can put your WordPress blog in a widget that takes up 2/3rds of the width of the course, or the full width, depending on what you select in your homepage set up. There’s also the ability to just use the blog as the homepage itself and not embed it into a news widget.

I was just playing around with it and embedded this blog into a test course.  You can see the result in the title image of this post.

Notice that WordPress shrinks the title of the blog to fit the widget size, so you’ll have to consider whether or not you want the title of your course to be in D2L, or in WordPress, keeping in mind that some people see only the WordPress blog. You might want to choose a WordPress theme that allows a bigger title.

One more thing, you can also write news entries from the WordPress iOS or Android app and they will appear right in your course. That can be pretty handy to stay active with the course on the fly.

If you give it a shot, I think you’ll find that it makes it pretty easy to keep your class transparent for both parents and students.

I wrote up the instructions on how to set it up which can be found here. Enjoy!

Video Game Designers: They Sure Know How to Teach

I understand that it’s still a bit taboo in professional circles, but I’ll admit it: I’m a casual closet gamer. So yeah, I play the odd video game. I’m not into the big multiplayer shooter games, but I am a sucker for an adventure game. I’ve been very impressed with some games lately that unravel an intense plot that rivals a good movie. Yet in the game, I am the protagonist, co-constructing the story with the author as I progress through the plot. I move myself through the rising tension, the conflict and through the to climax. I’ve walked, ran and shot my way through immersive stories where the hero (or anti-hero) struggles with redemption, loss, the human condition, and identity. The stuff of great novels has moved into video games.

Bioshock Infinite

But that’s not the cool part.

As an educator, I’m amazed at how effectively these games teach! I think they’re beating us teachers at our own ‘game.’ Many games require the player to learn an extensive collection of skills and strategies as well as the controls and mechanics of the game in a short amount of time while keeping the player motivated. It’s a tall order to get the player up to the skill level required to have an enjoyable experience throughout the game.

In many older games, the player must first run through a training module before the game. A skill is explicitly taught to the player, demonstrated. The player must then execute the same skill and successfully master it before moving on to the next part of the training module. Some people don’t mind that, but I think they’re dreadful. I want to get into the story and start my way down the adventure.

Tomb Raider

Many games in the past 10 years have switched to a new, integrated approach. They train the player as they progress through the first parts of the story, without the player knowing it. Each skill is carefully introduced in a way that feels seamless with the story. A problem is presented to the player that can only be solved with the application of a new skill.  After solving it, the player feels a sense of reward just for figuring it out,  unaware that she or he just graduated from a training level, reached mastery, and can move on to the next skill level. To the player, they’re just in the story.

If a certain skill, weapon or tool will be required for further progression in the game, the player is first introduced to the skill in a comfortable environment and given some practice time that is still part of the story. They first learn the skill without frustration and then comes the test. A foe or puzzle is presented to the player that requires that skill to now be executed under pressure, and will still have to apply all the previously gained skills as well. It’s tricky since the player needs to be kept in the ‘zone of proximal development’ or they might stop playing the game. When they finally succeed the serotonin pours forth and the players enjoy the feeling of having met their goal. These game designers scaffold learning beautifully, and probably don’t even know the term.

They’re really on to something.

Assassin's Creed III

I came across an article today about how the founder of Atari has started an educational gaming company. (Atari founder: Use video games to teach and students will ‘never forget’) Nolan Bushnell believes that, “Applying video gaming technology to education will allow students to learn ten times faster and retain knowledge “forever””. Allowing license for a bit of hyperbole, he may be right.

On occasion I’ve gone back and played games that I last played 10 years ago. I found I still remembered how to play, how to progress through the levels, and what strategies to use. Neurons have been fed oxygen in my brain to retain those memories for a decade. There’s something about that immersive learning experience that sticks.

Unfortunately this has changed the way many students, especially adolescent boys, learn. At home they are learning in these games at an incredibly fast speed; they’re processing information on screens at speeds that just make adults dizzy. There’s a bit of contrast with their experience of  sitting quietly, watching a teacher write with chalk on a blackboard. I can see why it would drive their brains bonkers.

Of course there’s still a dark side to video games. Many students are losing their childhoods to them, they have a long way to go with regards to sexism, stereotypes and violence, but nevertheless, they are great at teaching, and maybe this could be put to good use.

I’m very interested to see how the story of using video games in education unfolds. (Which is different, by the way, from gamification, which doesn’t even need technology). The unfortunate part is that though educators are eager and desperate to make learning more engaging for students, early attempts at gaming might not get it right. Small flash-based games might be suitable for primary students, but they aren’t anything near the kind of immersion found in popular video games. Also, could the production of a learning activity ever have the kind of budget that a video game production company has? Would the learning pay off be worth it?

We have a long way to go, but this is definitely something to keep an eye on.

Portal 2

The end of the computer lab

The age of computer labs is coming to a close. At least I think it should.  Computer labs just need to go away.

We don’t have ‘pencil labs’ or ‘crayon labs,’ so we don’t need computer labs. A room dedicated to one particular learning tool doesn’t seem to make sense now. Sure, at one time a special room was needed for computers because of the nature of the older technology.  But with mobile technology now, such as tablets and Chromebooks, it’s not really necessary. There are some exceptions, such as drafting or computer science classes that need more processing power, but otherwise, keep the learning in a more natural learning environment: the classroom.

I’ve found that students mentally associate different environments, or rooms with different ideas. Some rooms are rooms of learning, others are rooms of socializing, others for just doing work and not really for listening. Try to teach a full lesson in the cafeteria, and it likely will be more challenging – same with the computer lab. Many students associate the computer lab with the concept of working alone on assignments, a sort of free work time, not for learning.

Trying to do a full lesson, which involves the use of the computers for only part of the lesson, is a challenge in a computer lab (unless the class is always in the computer lab and the associations in their brains adapt). There’s a giant computer on the desk in front of them, leaving little room for anything else, half the students have their back to the teacher, it’s a difficult layout for group work, and not everyone has a good view of anything projected. Used for just computer work, it’s fine. For anything else, it’s awkward.

Using the technology as a mere part of a lesson is really the best way to go. It doesn’t focus on the tool, keeps it in the context of a real lesson, puts pedagogy first, and still reaps the benefits of the technology all the same.

“Ok, class, we’re going to walk down to the pencil lab today to work on our pencil assignments for the whole period.”

The act of a class standing up, pushing in their chairs and marching single file down to a computer lab where they spend the entire period working on a computer task, should become as arcane as the practice of hiding under desks for protection from nuclear attacks. It’s just a little silly now. There is now excellent and inexpensive technology available that avoids the computer lab problem.

Chromebooks offer a pretty awesome solution. Whether keeping them on a shared cart, or dedicating them to a classroom, a lot of money can be saved and a lot of learning increased. I don’t mean to sound like an ad, but they are remarkable for education.

First, they are crazy cheap (under $300), but second, you don’t need a dedicated room in the building for them and all the necessary equipment. Desks, chairs, monitors, keyboards, mice, wires, data switches, printers, all that crazy stuff.

Second, the technology will simply be used more if it is less of a hassle to do so. Not all students need to use them at the same time. Students that are done work early can work on a Chromebook. They can use them in groups and still maintain a face-to-face conversational workspace. Teachers can get everyone’s attention and ask everyone to close their lids – an instant classroom management solution. There’s a whole variety of applications of a ready-to-go, on demand computer within the regular classroom. It opens up many options that  can’t be done when the whole class is moved to the computer lab.

So let’s move away from marching students around to rooms dedicated to a tool. Just let the students use the tech as they would a pencil, in their own comfortable classroom setting, and available whenever they need it.

(Photo Source: Oregon State University Archive)

Students Take Aim at Antiquated Classroom Technology with ‘Mock a Difference’ Campaign

(Orginally appeared on http://highschoolbreakingnews.blogspot.ca/  Sept 1, 2013). 

 Students across Ontario are increasing pressure on teachers to upgrade their antiquated teaching habits as the “Mock a Difference” (MaD) movement gains momentum.

Feeling they have waited far too long, Ontario students have begun to take educational technology reform into their own hands. The MaD movement simply exhorts students to hurl light hearted but serious mockery on teachers whenever they use antiquated technology in the classroom.

Students’ irritation and anger about the usage of 19th century classroom technologies has begun to boil over into action. “I mean seriously! In what workplace do people drag a white substance across a black surface in order to write something for a group to see?” said one student shaking his head. “Is this a cave?”

Another student, concerned about the disconnect between education and the workplace said, “Sure, there are still a lot of paper forms in some workplaces around the country, but who writes more than a sentence on paper these days?”

In some cases, students are reprimanded for using 21st century learning tools. “I got in trouble for looking up a term on my smart phone the other day. A friend of mine had her cell phone taken from her when she asked her Twitter followers a question about the class discussion topic.”

Adolescents across the province are taking up the cause of mocking teachers the moment they pull out archaic technological devices. “Are you serious?” said one student to her teacher. “You’re actually going to write on that overhead thing like it’s 1960, and you’re not ashamed?”

“If I have to waste any more minutes of my life waiting for my teacher to figure out which way to move a transparency on an overhead, I’m going to lose it.”

Some students recognise the irony of using anachronistic information tools in our centres of learning. “This is 2013, the information age.  Yet one of our main learning technologies is a mineral shoved inside wood that’s scraped across paper to make letters. Wood! We are still using wooden tools!”

Students’ concern about their preparation for future career is rising. “For the most part, all of this ‘information age’ digital literacy stuff that is required to be competitive in today’s economy and labour market – students have to learn it on their own time!” posted one student on the ‘Mock a Difference’ Facebook page.

When asked to look something up in a dictionary in class, one student responded, “Why of course! Flipping through a three inch thick book to find one word sounds incredibly efficient. What a great use of my time.”

Some students are dumbfounded at the speed in which information is processed using teaching tools from the past century. “I love it when my teachers say, ‘That’s a good question. I’m not sure. I’ll have to look into that later.’ What?? What century is this? Why would we not whip out a device, Google it, and know the answer in seconds?”

“It’s not really about the tools. It’s about allowing us to get at the information I need and use efficient communication methods that are already common. Free us up to engage our learning in the ways that this generation learns.”

Participants in the movement recognize that some teachers are trying. “To be fair, there are some teachers that embrace 21st century information technology and we like that. It demonstrates to the rest that our schools don’t have to stay in the past.”

“It’s sad that it has come to this. We don’t wish to be mean,” lamented a student passionate about the MaD cause, “but we have to take a stand against the stagnation of our education, one sarcastic comment at a time.”

“Oh, I’m not a computer person.”

I’m not a real fan of math. I blame a grade five teacher that used competitive multiplication games that humiliated me. Before that, I liked math. Ever since I’ve felt that I have some sort of a math disease. I was so happy when I discovered the word “dyscalculia” in teacher’s college. That’s what I have! My brain is just not able to process math…

Bollocks! I’m bad at math because I fear it. It has nothing to do with the cells in my brain. If I train my brain with more mathematical thinking, I’ll get better at it, just as it is with most things. Half the population wasn’t just born with the inability to do math. “Oh, I’m not a math person.” What you mean is, you don’t enjoy math, you’re scared of it, and you haven’t worked at it enough.

I see strong parallels to using technology. I hear the same,“Oh, I’m not a computer person.” As an eLearning Contact in a small school board, it’s part of my job to try to convince teachers to use more technology in their classrooms, so I encounter this a fair amount.

It seems to be that some people believe that their body emanates some kind of negative electrical impulse that causes computer technology to go wrong. “That stuff never works for me.” “I don’t want the hassle.” “I can’t be bothered.” Well of course you’re not going to be a pro if you continually avoid using it because you feel you’re not good at it.

The truth is, just like math, if they work on it, they can master it. And they’ll probably discover that it’s not all that hard. People aren’t born being bad at computers; it’s just a learned skill. We just need to not fear it. Fortunately, the computer user-experience has come a long way (lead mostly by web-applications, in my opinion). It’s much less likely that people will ‘break’ something in the computer by exploring. What one needs, however, is merely the courage to explore. There is so much that technology can do to make your life easier, more efficient and, in the case of teaching, can help increase student learning. It’s worth it; it’s necessary.

Take heart, computer fearers; it won’t hurt you. Muster up the courage to explore and learn; it’ll get better.

(Fortunately for me, my courage in embracing technology has mitigated the damage caused by my fear of math!)

(Photo Credit: Computer History Museum)

Instagram Anchor Charts

I recently came across a really cool idea through a fellow Ontario eLC, Katie Maenpaa.  A teacher in her board came up with a way to bring more of her real-world classroom into her online one with a miniscule amount of extra work. Jen Kruse, a grade 7 teacher at Holy Saviour School in Marathon, takes pictures of her classroom anchor charts with Instagram on her smartphone. After embedding the Instagram feed into her D2L course homepage, the pictures now appear instantly in her course right after taking them, without any additional work. What a great idea! This idea beautifully pulls live classroom activities into the online classroom creating a true “blended” experience.

As we know, the point of anchor charts is to anchor or lock a learner’s memory on something visual that will remain around them for sometime to remind them of that learning. Extending this to the online classroom merely reinforces the same basic anchor philosophy. They will see the charts when they login for other online activities and be reminded of their prior learning. It creates connections in their brains between their real classroom and their online one, both as places of learning.

Also, this level of transparency for parents is usually hard to achieve. Parents can see examples of what is going on in the classroom and what students are learning, either by using an auditor role, or just following the teacher on Instagram.

I think one of the coolest parts is how easy it is. I’m a strong supporter of technology that helps teachers without being an additional workload burden. In the past, taking a picture with a digital camera, then saving it to a computer, then uploading it to a website or LMS and then linking it to where students can view it, would all take quite a bit of time. I don’t think it could get any easier than this Instagram idea. Right after creating an anchor chart with her class, the teacher can pull out her smartphone, take a picture with Instagram, and it’s instantly online and distributed to interested parents and posted to the front page of her online course. #brilliant

If you’re going to try it out, you’ll see the embed option in your Instagram account on the web. There’s various display options to play around with. There’s a picture of one below. You’ll need to create a custom widget for your feed. I’ll try to get an instructional video up about it on coursehelp.ca sometime soon.

Of course the Instagram feed can be used in many other ways as well. Projects, field trips, art, or even good ol’ fashion chalk notes. Anything that the students are proud of, or you want them to remember, it’s all very easily shared through Instagram and your D2L course.

* (Technical note: In order to embed an Instagram feed into D2L, you must manually add an “s” to the “http” in the embed code, making it “https”. Then it will work).

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 6.31.29 PM Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 6.31.13 PM

Instagram for Android
Instagram.com 
Also available on the Apple App store

Using a Quiz as a Learning Activity/Adventure

This blog post is about eLearning and Blended learning in Ontario using D2L. If none of that applies to you, well, you might as well read something else. 🙂

This post is in response to some ideas put forth by my colleague, Brandon Grasley, on his blog. That post can be found here. http://bgrasley.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/thinking-about-course-design-in-e-learning-and-blended-learning/

Brandon wants to rescue eLearning courses from the strangle-hold that the html content page has on them, and I support him. He suggests using a content module like a folder, or maybe a basket, to contain all the necessary work, and not rely on links to tools such as dropboxes from within the content html page. What needs to be done becomes a little more obvious to the student. ‘Do everything in this basket.’ This would also reduce the dreadful flipping back and forth between the “Content” and “Assignment” links.

My addition:

In addition to Brandon’s proposal, I’d like to add that the quiz and discussion tools can be used to deliver the learning as much as they can be used for assessment. They can be used for both consumption and production.

The current model, as Brandon pointed out, involves students clicking the “Content” area, where they passively read, watch or listen to whatever material is there. Afterwhich, the students then click on the Assignment link and do whatever is required of them there. I believe many students, however, skip the content altogether and see if they can do the assignment without reading the content. In many cases, it is possible.

Here’s my suggestion: The content and the assignment can be merged to make an active, learning activity, rather than use a consume-then-produce model.

For instance, the quiz tool does not have to be used for quizzes. It is a system where input from students can be recorded, but the tool is actually quite robust for delivering content itself as well. A ‘quiz’ could be designed as a whole learning activity, unconnected to a separate Content page.

In this scenario, a student starts the quiz to begin the lesson. Inside the quiz, they will find readings, videos, slideshows, audio clips, images, links, whatever is necessary, and a response from the student can be solicited right away for each item as they journey through the material. They can instantly respond to the content they’ve learned while they are learning it.

quiz capture

By the end, the student has read all the content (since it’s difficult to skip it in this method), they’ve reflected on the material, they’ve learned about the content in a variety multimedia methods, they’ve demonstrated knowledge and understanding of it, and they’ve been asked to apply it to their own lives – all within a “quiz.” Afterwards, the teacher has a strong understanding of the student’s grasp of the material. Moreover, the student has demonstrated and engaged with more of the expectations than the traditional model.

In my own experience while taking AQ courses when life is busy, I don’t necessarily read everything closely. (Terrible, I know). It’s all business; if some content isn’t related to the assignment, I skip it. So do our students. I think this quiz-activity method guides the student through the learning and makes it necessary for them to think about the material and respond to it. I would have liked it in my AQs.

The quiz-activity concept is probably best used as formative assessment and learning task, rather than as a summative assignment. The student will still need to complete some sort of more traditional rich summative assignment at the end which demonstrates their learning.

One problem I fear with this method, is that it makes it difficult to return to the content material after the activity has been completed. This would make it necessary to still have a content area that works more as a reference library that contains all of the information and materials that were used inside quizzes.

I’d like to start experimenting with this model more myself. Students that I’ve taught so far have appreciated the quiz tool since it’s very clear what they need to do and it’s a guided process as they click ‘next’ through the assignment. I suspect they will actually enjoy being forced through the content in these learning activities. It gets them actively doing something while they are learning.

Digital Palimpsests

 Paper used to be expensive. Centuries ago, writers, coveting their scarce paper resources, would sometimes wash away their words or paint over them in order to reuse the paper. A print form of wiping the slate clean, except with this method the original message remained beneath the new words, hidden vestiges of previous thoughts now abandoned or deemed unworthy of the limited paper supply. Those words laid covered for centuries until faint remains of the previous message would begin to show through the whitewash.

Technology of the 20th century allowed scholars to peer into this layer beneath and unearth the document’s original message, the first thoughts that the paper contained, opening up a whole new field of literary discovery. These hidden messages are now called a “palimpsests.” It literally means, “scraped (and used) again.”

Modern technology is now unlocking palimpsests of a different kind. When I was a classroom teacher, I had my students use Google Docs for writing and submitting their assignments. It’s a word processing program that is entirely web-based. I was marking students’ answers to questions about an article when I discovered that one student had completely misunderstood a question. We teachers hate this. It’s a waste. When this happens, we don’t know if student really knew the answer or not. The zero grade on that question is only representative of their misreading the question, not of their real knowledge. As I tinkered with some options in Google Docs, I discovered a way to peer beneath the surface of the student’s work, and to some degree, inside the student’s head.

I often check the document’s ‘Revision History’ to see how long it took the student to write the assignment. This is a feature that reveals previous versions of the document that were automatically saved along the way along with the dates and times the document was edited. When I did this, I first noticed that the student had started working on the assignment several days before it was due, always a good sign. I then clicked on “Show More Detailed Revisions,” which reveals the entire process that the student went through to the write the assignment, including everything they wrote and at what time, as well as all they wrote and erased. I could peel back the surface of the final document and see how the student got there. As I scraped away the layers and examined the student’s first attempts, I discovered that she had initially understood the question correctly. She had right answer; she understood what the question was about, but abandoned her thoughts, whitewashed away her words and unfortunately replaced them with something inferior.

Using new web-apps like Google Docs isn’t just convenient for me and my students, it doesn’t just save the trees or tap into the digital culture of young people. It opens up a whole new field of discovery, new access into a student’s mind as they wrote their work, how they pieced it together, what steps they took, how long it took them, what they removed and what they expanded on. I don’t just get to read their final answer, as I would if it were a paper assignment, or even a word processor file. Now, I can see under the surface and get a glimpse of what the student thought as they wrote. I can read their digital palimpsest.

Flip a Lesson, but Don’t Flip Your Classroom

Some ideas flourish simply because the time is right. In the past several years, across the globe, people independently started making simple instructional videos and posted them online for their students. Many years ago, before I knew anything of Khan Academy or any other education video service, I started making simple videos for my own adult learning program, unaware of the trend.  It’s a simple idea that just makes sense. A student can get a one-on-one explanation of a concept or idea without the teacher needing to be present for that student. Now, rather than just a cool little idea that so many people just naturally started doing, it’s touted by some as being the future of education.

To be sure, instructional videos are awesome. If a student has a hard time on one particular issue, the teacher doesn’t need to use up instructional minutes on that one student while others wait; the student can be directed to a video. They can pause, and back the video up, and watch until they understand it. No one has to be left behind when the class needs to move on through the curriculum. Instruction can be targeted towards students individual needs and can fill gaps in learning. There’s amazing potential here.

But what is a Flipped Classroom? The common definition is that the ‘lecture – homework’ order is reversed, or ‘flipped.’ Classroom lectures are watched at home and the homework is worked on during class time. A neat idea.

However, before anyone gets too crazy about Flipped Classrooms, I think we need to be careful about a couple things:

  1. Lectures, even if they are on a screen, are still a direct-instruction based, passive learning model, which isn’t the best way to learn.

  2. Homework, that is the independent repetition of solving problems or answering questions in order to gain mastery, also isn’t the best way to learn.

Any teacher understands that though these two learning methods are not ideal, they both have their place. However, the concept of just flipping the order of two mediocre teaching methods will not revolutionize education. Though the idea of a flipped lesson is compelling, I am concerned about the “Flipped Classroom” model.

We need a variety of rich teaching models.

I suggest that modelling a classroom around any one teaching model isn’t a great idea. We know that a mix of learning methods is the best for students and their brains. Concepts of Universal Design and Differentiated Instruction have been long proven to help students be successful. We know that we need to mix it up to meet their needs, and to even keep their attention. “A Flipped Classroom” emphasizing one learning method is no different than a “Literature Circle” classroom, where all that is done is literature circles. The teacher’s tool bag needs to contain more tricks than this. Sure flip some lessons, or unflip them and watch the videos in the classroom, use paper, group work, presentations, projects etc. A good teacher needs a variety of tools.

Social cognitive learning still matters.

We also need to make sure that students are learning along with other students in a learning community. Proponents of the Flipped Classroom boast that students can progress through the material at different rates. This means that the students are not learning the material together as a classroom community. At its most base level, the idea that education should consist of students watching screencast videos at home, and then coming to school to answer repetitive questions on their own in an attempt to gain some concept of “mastery,” is one of the worst ideas in education in a long time (and there are plenty). It profoundly ignores 100 years of the best in social cognitive science. Students grow knowledge and skills through social interactions with other students. We know the science on this. We have reason to be concerned if our learning model is restricted to sitting alone inside at home, watching a screen.

Flipped Learning, by it’s nature, really only works with knowledge and some skill development. Some of the most important things in a student’s education cannot be simply taught in a video and then demonstrated in a homework assignment. Creativity, empathy, critical thinking, curiosity all need more robust classrooms than ones that focus on one particular learning model, and function as a mini-community.

Nevertheless, the use of instructional videos or even Flipped Lessons is still a great tool to have in your kit. It can have a positive impact on student success when used in combination with all our other great learning methods that we have developed throughout the past decades. Sure, flip some lessons, but keep that tool bag of great lesson activities. And don’t feel bad that you’re not on the cutting edge of ed-tech. Sometimes that edge wounds learning a little bit.