Many years ago, when buzzword bonanza was hitting the world of business books, I wrote a joke booklet with the name: In Search of the One-Minute Megatrends. I was happy to see that I could include pieces of titles from three popular books at the time. Had I actually published such a book, it would likely have risen to the top of the heap, just based on the title alone. People like buzzwords. For one thing, they absolve you of actually having to think about the thing being described.
I mention this because we are seeing a buzzword blast in education today that I think we should step back from a bit and think about quite carefully before jumping on the bandwagon. I’m speaking of the so-called “flipped” classroom where students view instructional lectures online from home, and use class time to do “homework” with the active support of the teacher and, one would hope, peers. The premise is that the online world is ubiquitous in student homes, even though one-to-one computing in schools is still a distant dream. Every kid (it is assumed) will just pop online after dinner and watch a series of online lectures that (presumably) stick like mental superglue to their noggins. Free from the distraction of chatting with friends, posting on Facebook, or doing other social things, our kids will gladly take their own time to watch such riveting videos as The Commutative Law of Addition found on the Khan Academy site. I can’t wait for the Oscar nominations to come rushing in for these gripping titles!
OK, let’s buy the idea that this riveting YouTube entry is better that the average cat video, what chance do students have to ask for help as the presentation is proceeding? The answer, of course, is none. The video plays until the end and that’s it. There are post-tests given to be sure you learned what the video told you and, if you are lucky, you might even remember the material until the next day. But, if you are confused, there is no recourse – no chance to interrupt the teacher to get clarification. Even B. F. Skinner never went this far – he provided feedback throughout the process of his classes. But many educators don’t realize that B. F. Skinner said shortly before his death in 1990, “The worst mistake my generation has made is to treat people as if they were rats.”
The fact that Skinner, himself, recanted his basic premise has had little effect on those who persist in thinking of minds as vessels to be filled with disconnected facts. And so it continues with the flipped classroom. Do flipped classrooms produce results? Maybe over the short term. But electric shocks increase learning in rats running a maze also. That doesn’t make it effective over the long term, nor is it humane.
Of course there will be some students who do not have broadband at home (Hey, if our schools still don’t have enough bandwidth, how can we expect EVERY household to have it?) These students will thus be freed from any didactic presentations at all because they (or their families) lack the resources to provide tools many of us have fought for decades (and failed) to get into schools!
But even this is not the reason I’m so concerned about “flipped” classrooms. All it does is take what happens in the typical class and moves it to the home. We are not stopping to ask whether the load of didactic presentations that make up so much of the school day is the best, or even an effective way for students to learn. Where is inquiry? Where are sustained student projects? Where are any of the educational ideals dating back to Dewey that are known to be effective in reaching all learners? Apparently they are not important. Words like Papert’s Constructionism, Project-based Learning, and the like just don’t have the Madison Avenue zinginess of words like “flipped,” and thus proven pedagogical models remain in the back of the bus, if not being kicked off entirely by the new team of educational zealots who would love to see teachers replaced with videos. The forces behind this kind of change may be pure (I doubt it), but you can be sure there are many people who think of children as wallets with bodies, and you can be sure they are watching this new trend with great attention.
But there is a positive side to this. I have a new book title that should be a winner: 101 Ways to Implement Common Core Standards with iPads in the Flipped Classroom.