After my break from mass waffling over the Christmas holiday I have actually come back to the blog with a range of things that I want to waffle about. It is very rare that I am “spoilt for choice” for content, usually I wake up on Sunday morning thinking – “What on earth am I going to write about!” I have decided to write a few waffles on technology and teaching and link them to the Horizon Report on Technology in Higher Education. Although this has probably been done a few times across the vastness of the internet, after engaging and researching about a few of these, I wanted to waffle and put my own views across – this week, gym kit on! it’s time for some flipping!
The NMC Horizon Report 2014 Higher Education Preview identified aspects of technology that should be adopted within specific time periods. Flipped Classrooms, it was suggested, were to be implemented within one year or less. Although I do not use this approach in all my sessions I do in many of them with various degrees of impact on the progression of the learners. I’m not going to spend time here describing the what the approach of the flipped classroom is – you can find this out from a quick google search (other search engines are available) but I did want to concentrate on what I have I achieved with this approach and what the negatives have been.
Approaches I have used
Simple beginnings – Within the modules which I teach, either as a tutor or a module director, there exists a module handbook in electronic form. Within this there is a schedule of the learning, detailing the key learning and sometimes questions, as well as the supporting reading/tasks. When I first started out on the flipped classroom approach I felt that this was a ‘simple starting point’. Learners could engage with the reading before hand and because the key learning/questions of the sessions were being identified then there existed a focus of what the learners should be looking at. This method of sharing the forward planning allows the learners to not only know what is coming up each week but also prepare or read around the subject before the actual session occurs supporting the depth of their discussion.
Student Version Presentations – For the sessions I teach, I try (and I know I sometimes fail despite Yoda’s saying) to send (via email) a copy of the presentation for the session. This is essentially a student’s version of the presentation, since I remove any ‘answers’ or tasks which the learners do not need to be aware of before the session. I also remove any photographs/images in order to reduce the size of the files. The ‘full version’ of the presentation is uploaded (or revealed) after the session. I am never keen to ‘read’ powerpoint slides to the learners, preferring to pose questions or statements on the slides and talking/discussing around this points. You can see more about this by reading my research on good practice in the use of powerpoint.. By providing the presentations before the session, the learners again have the option to engage with the material prior to the learning. Key questions and reading are available to provide a focus of their pre-learning and there is a complete reference list at the end of the presentation so they have the reading available. Some modules/programmes actually provide a paper copy of the presentation within the session. Although this is also helpful (and generous!) without being able to engage with the information before hand means that it does not actually meet the requirements of the flipped classroom.
Prior tasks and reading – When reading about how people approach the process of ‘flipped’ learning I often hear about videos and podcasts. These are just two of the many different approaches that can be used in order to support this form of pedagogy. Within modules we have something known as ‘Supported Open Learning’ or SOL tasks. These are compulsory parts of modules which learners have to engage with – a bit like homework for students – did you think you were not going to have homework ever again! The idea of these tasks are that the focus and activities are provided for the learners and they are encouraged to either further their own understanding/learning from the previous session or prepare for the next – hence why it is appearing here. Sometimes there is even a room timetabled for the learners so they can work in groups or engage with practical resources which are set out for them within the room. The SOL task could be a video or podcast (sometimes from my own site :)) or further or prior reading to be completed before the session. This then becomes the first slide/activity within the session or is something which is referred to and discussed throughout – rather than watching or doing the task within the actual session. These tasks are, of course, provided in the session schedule and presentations as well. These tasks are designed to further embrace this method of teaching in order to alter the focus and to improve the depth of the discussion within the session – and providing more time for this discussion.
Student version of presentation
I have noticed a change in the depth of discussion in many of the sessions. It has been interesting to hear learners support their own developing views with the reading which have been set for them prior to the session and the questions which they ask relating to the task. Learners often support their own reflections within the teaching sessions with reference to the SOL tasks and I the use of schedule gives them and overview on how the learning will be developed and the connections can be made. I am hoping that this is also reflected in the discussions within assignments.
Initially I was going to address these as disadvantages of the approach but I think it would be better to focus on them as points for development.
Engagement – One of the points I really need to work on is the engagement of the learners with the prior tasks/activities. Although it is possible to monitor views on videos or attendance to timetabled sessions, the actual engagement is harder to measure. If learners have not engaged with the material then their involvement in the subsequent discussion will or could be limited. This can lead to the focus being only with the learners who have engaged. This might be the simple answer to the question however I do feel that there could be an issue of equality here – everyone benefits from the discussion while only a few have engaged with the prior reading/tasks. If you read this blog on a regular basis you will recognise that motivation and engagement are key attributes of teaching for me, and the role which technology can play within these. This is definitely one area of the flipped classroom approach which I need to develop further.
Preparation – As everything, I always start of with good intentions and I am definitely changing the way in which I teach with technology in higher education. Sometimes I know that I fail with this approach. I am working on finding online versions of some teaching material or even recording my own new versions but all this takes time which is often difficult to fit into a large teaching timetable. As this year progresses I am sure that my own engagement with this approach becomes more established that it will become more embedded within my practice.
Phew! well done if you have got this far! (I need to award you an open badge!). This is probably one of the longest waffles I have written! I hope this waffle reflects how passionate I am in using this approach within my teaching. Initially practitioners might consider this approach a lot of work, although by starting simply I think it is possible to begin to embed this pedagogy within existing sessions easily. Hopefully in just over a year I have implemented it, although I know that there exists some refinements to be achieved. If you have any suggestions how I can improve or views on this approach then I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas. Please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.
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Have fun and I’ll catch you later