Secondary school teacher Jeremy LeCornu shares his experiences of ‘flipping’ the classroom to improve teaching and learning outcomes.
Flipped learning or the flipped classroom is where students watch instructional videos at home and do the typical homework in class. The term ‘flipped’ is used to refer to the reversal of the traditional classwork and homework. The basic premise is that direct instruction, which is often referred to as lecture (though it is not necessarily the same thing), is not conducted in large groups. In flipped learning, the direct instruction is delivered individually, usually – though not exclusively – through teacher-created videos. This time shift then frees up face-to-face class time for richer, more meaningful learning experiences for students1.
So, why flip? The big misconception
Flipped learning is commonly thought of as ‘all about videos’ – but this is simply not the case. Flipped learning is ‘all about class time’. The driving question that should motivate a teacher to flip their classroom is, ‘What is the best use of face-to-face class time?’ There are many valid answers to this question, however many believe that having the teacher spend the majority of the time ‘lecturing’ to a whole class is not one of them. In this era the teacher can and should be so much more than simply a lecturer of information. Class time is best used applying knowledge with the support of the teacher and this doesn’t happen often enough in a traditional classroom.
One of the pioneers of flipped learning, chemistry teacher Jon Bergmann, highlighted this point during his keynote speech at the Future Schools conference held during March in Sydney. Bergmann explained that the time allocation of a traditional classroom is largely based upon Bloom’s Taxonomy.1
Most ‘traditional’ class time is spent with teachers focusing on remembering and understanding concepts and information. The students are then given homework tasks where they apply and analyse this information. The issue with this model is that the applying and analysing is essentially the hard stuff and at home there is no expert (the teacher) to assist with this.
The time allocation of Bloom’s Taxonomy in a flipped classroom is modified.2
In the flipped classroom, it is the remembering and understanding of concepts and information that becomes the homework. This is where videos fit. In the flipped learning model, in order to recuperate class time, video lesson content is sent home with the student. But the video content is just the tool that makes flipped learning possible – it is certainly not the focus. The focus is on the use of class time. Most class time is spent on the hard stuff – applying, analysing, evaluating and creating. This makes much more sense as the teacher is available to support and guide the students and to work more individually/personally with them.
In the simplest sense flipped learning enables teachers to speak with every student in every class every day and consequently this enables the development of deeper relationships. This is simply not possible in traditional classrooms and it is this that I feel is the most compelling case for flipped learning.
My personal experience
I flip my senior Biology classes and I love it. I used to ‘lecture’ all the time and I rarely had time for practical activities and helping students to apply knowledge to exam-style questions. Now I spend most class time on these things, however this change has certainly not been an instant one. In fact, it is a continuous journey – but the journey is brilliant!
I discovered the flipped learning idea early in 2013. I was already aware of some fantastic teachers on YouTube and I decided to follow their lead and produce my own videos. I started out using an iPad app called Explain Everything. I made some pretty good videos using this app and posted them to YouTube for my students. Whilst these were a good start, I wanted to do better. I had admired the work of an American YouTube chemistry teacher named Tyler DeWitt. DeWitt’s technique uses two video cameras to produce highly interactive videos with himself in the picture speaking directly to the student, and this is the preferred style according to DeWitt’s 100,000+ subscribers.
Through a stroke of good fortune, I made contact with DeWitt online and he invited me to the US to meet him and observe his recording studio set up and filming techniques. I visited in July 2014 and when I returned I immediately set up my own home recording studio:
I am now producing videos that look like this:
Since adopting this technique, I have produced 30 videos and have over 650 YouTube subscribers and 65,000 views.
While I’ve had great success, it is important to remember this has been a continuous journey rather than an instant change. It has been two years since I began producing video lesson content and I am a long way from finished. In fact, I have only made videos for about one-third of the South Australian Year 12 Biology coursework. However, there have been benefits for my students ever since the very first video I produced. While it took a long time for me to be able to ‘fully flip’ significant sections of the Biology course and receive the full benefits outlined earlier, it was still very beneficial for students to have access to video lessons. They could use them to recap concepts that were covered in lessons, or if any students missed lessons they could use them to catch up. They also make fantastic revision tools for tests and exams. A great aspect is that once a video is recorded it is captured forever and this means the time spent on planning and recording them can be utilised perpetually. Undoubtedly there is a major time outlay required to get started with flipped learning, however there comes a point where this investment is very handsomely repaid.
Video production tips
From my experience, I can provide some advice when it comes to producing video lesson content.
- You should make your own videos and you should appear in them, which allows you to ensure that you deliver the content exactly as you want to and it helps you to develop relationships with your students;
- Keep the videos short and concise (10 minutes maximum);
- Pick the recording technique/tool that best fits the purpose – there are a range of different techniques/tools and I outline these in the section about our whole school program;
- There is no need to use music in the background as this tends to be an unnecessary distraction; and,
- Just hit record and have a go! It can be daunting (and a little strange/unnatural) the first time you record yourself, but the more you do it the easier it gets.
The important questions
There are some very relevant and necessary questions that come to mind as part of the flipped learning conversation. I will try to address them and how they can be overcome.
How will the students watch the videos?
Flipped learning works best if students have their own device. This device can be anything from laptop to tablet/iPad to smart phone. With one of these devices, the students can access the videos through the internet. If they don’t have a device you could copy the videos onto a DVD or USB and they can watch them on their home computer or DVD player.
What if students don’t have home internet access?
Flipped learning works best if the student has home internet access as you can provide your videos via YouTube or any other online service. However, not all students have internet access at home and this cannot be a barrier. There are several ways around this issue. The videos could be stored on the school server or they could be provided through a cloud storage system such as Google Drive. Students would then just need to download the videos at school and store them on their personal device. Again, at the very least DVDs or USBs could be used as a method of deployment. Any of these methods will ensure that the videos can be viewed by students offline.
What if students don’t watch the videos?
This is a very common question. Although I don’t see this as a flipped learning question, it is more so a question about homework in general. Yes, there are students who don’t complete homework. There are many strategies which we can use to deal with this. The first thing to bear in mind is that these videos tend to be a more engaging homework task than traditional tasks. They are also not as difficult and students have the ability to pause, rewind and fast forward as necessary. As in any homework situation there needs to be a consequence for non-completion. In my case, students are not able to enter the learning environment unless they have completed the required viewing. They are either isolated in a corner of the classroom to complete the viewing or sent to a study room while the rest of the class work on the application style lessons that I deliver. In my experience, it only takes a couple of these exclusions before students realise that there is a significant disadvantage for not watching the videos and they soon conform.
What if they don’t understand the videos?
This is a very valid question. This generation is sometimes referred to as the ‘YouTube Generation’. However, most of the videos they are watching are about things like ‘funny cats’ and not many students actually know HOW to watch educational tutorial videos. You need to teach your students how to watch your videos. This involves identifying and extracting the key information. They will need to learn to pause and rewind when necessary. They should be taking notes and writing questions that they need to clarify with you in class. A general rule of thumb is that it takes students around double the total duration of a video to complete this successfully. The teacher must provide some time at the start of each lesson to address any clarifying questions that students may have.
The whole school program
After sharing my experiences with our school leadership team, we set up a teacher recording studio in our new Bright Learning Centre so that our teachers can produce high quality video lessons at school:
From the beginning of this year we embarked on a flipped learning program across the whole school. Teachers have formed small (3-4 people) Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs) and their goal is to produce recorded lesson content and flip their classrooms. Obviously, with 103 teachers at our school the teacher recording studio was not going to be the technique of choice for everyone. As you can probably imagine, it is right down the far end in terms of complexity.
It was important to provide our teachers with a range of different tools and techniques for producing video lessons. All of our teachers have a MacBook and an iPad and they are extremely powerful tools for producing recorded content. There are several very effective and very simple techniques we are using.
- Keynote and PowerPoint presentations – so easy to make, or to take pre-existing presentations and record narrations to bring them to life! Export it as a video and voilà! – you have an anytime, anywhere resource for your students.
- Screen recordings with Quicktime or Screencast-o-matic.com – With a screen recording, your imagination is your only limitation. With either of these two tools it is very easy to capture a recorded lesson/tutorial. Anything you can do on your computer screen, can be recorded. The great thing about screencast-o-matic.com is that it is free on any platform and it can access your computer’s webcam so that you appear in the videos.
- iPad Apps – With apps like Explain Everything teachers can produce quality recorded content. It is very simple and effective.
The key aspect to this professional learning program is TIME. We have dedicated two two-hour sessions per term and two of our four full day professional learning days (student free days). Teacher engagement has been great so far. I think all teachers are motivated by a passion to collaborate with each other and improve their pedagogy – which is exactly what our flipped classroom program is all about. I am very confident that passionate teachers coupled with time to collaborate and produce content will lead to some exciting and powerful outcomes for teaching and learning in our school.
Where to from here?
At this early stage in our whole school program the aim for teachers is to master the techniques and produce a collection of video resources. As I have found with my own experience, this will take time. Once they start to produce these videos and use them with their students we will be able to turn our attention to the key question. What should face to face class time look like? The will not be the same for every teacher but the conversations around this topic will be powerful. It is an exciting time in our school and we are moving in a great direction. I hope to have conveyed in this article that flipped learning is not an instant change and requires an investment of time and training. However the great thing about it is there is as much to be gained from the journey as there is from the destination.
- Flipped Learning – Gateway to student engagement by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, published in 2014 by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
Jeremy LeCornu is the Digital Learning Coordinator at Brighton Secondary School in South Australia. He is passionate about making curriculum content readily accessible to students anywhere and anytime by producing video lesson content for his Biology students. Jeremy has had great success through publishing these lessons on YouTube and anytimeeducation.com.
As much as Jeremy loves to use video content to enhance his own teaching, he is equally passionate about inspiring and helping others. He has been responsible for leading the implementation of a whole school flipped classroom approach at two schools in Adelaide. You can read more about Jeremy’s experiences on his blog https://jeremylecornu.wordpress.com/
Brighton Secondary School has been recognised as an Apple Distinguished School and Jeremy, along with fellow staff member Sam Moyle, has been recognised as an Apple Distinguished Educator.