Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Flipping doesn't replace teachers

I haven't updated the blog in a few weeks for 2 main reasons:
1) We are in the middle of a 3 week mid-winter holiday
2) I have been working on my Masters dissertation, which is due in September

The Masters is a 3-year part-time MA in Education with London South Bank University, which I started back in England in 2010. The dissertation is the final project, a 20,000 word research based paper. I won't bore you with a lot of details, and it has nothing to do with flipped learning, but a lot of the reading I have been doing concerns curriculum reform. As I've been reading, I've been struck by some research findings that can be applied to flipped learning.

Curriculum reform is a major way for governments and policymakers to try and improve education. Teachers tend to be very wary of curriculum reform and of curriculum materials in general, a feeling that researchers say have stemmed from reforms in the 50s and 60s where curriculum materials were designed to be "teacher-proof"; that is, the thought was that if the curriculum materials (and in mathematics this tends to  mean textbooks) are good enough, then the quality of teaching won't matter.

Well, obviously this idea didn't really work - all it succeed in doing was making teachers wary of using textbooks and other curriculum materials. Teaching is a human activity and no two teachers will teach the same curriculum in exactly the same way. This is the difference between the planned curriculum (what has been designed for teachers), the intended curriculum (how teachers plan to deliver their lesson) and the enacted curriculum (what actually happens in the classroom).The way teachers use curriculum materials has a lot more to do with their knowledge and beliefs surrounding mathematics and pedagogy, the way they were taught maths themselves, the culture of the school and routines and practices they  have already established, than the curriculum materials themselves. And, what can really mess things up is when a teacher uses curriculum materials without really understanding the goals or ideology behind them.

Well, what does this all have to do with flipping? Reading this stuff about teachers' uses of curriculum made me think about one of the key issues people have against flipped learning: that it replaces teachers with online videos. Along with that argument some might also think that flipping can replace a POOR teacher, so this could be a great way to improve the quality of teaching in a school. I mean, if a teacher is not standing at the front lecturing, and the material is being taught online at home, how much harm (or good) can they actually be doing, right?

WRONG! Since flipping I've had to think much harder about how I structure my lessons. First of all, if you are recording your own lessons it takes a lot more thought and planning to make a video. You have to be able to anticipate the questions students might have, or the parts they will find difficult and try to explain them in a way that they will all understand. This is much easier to address in a live classroom where the students can ask their questions right away, and you can at least see their facial expressions and ask critical questions to gauge understanding.

Also I have had to think more about the activities I set up in the classroom. Flipping can get pretty boring if all the students do is come in and work on questions from the textbook. The questions you need to ask them to see if they have understood last night's video are so important, as is ensuring you are stretching the most able students with challenging and engaging problems.

Anyway, I guess my point is - good teaching is good teaching. It doesn't matter what tool you are using to deliver the lessons (and video lessons are just that - a tool). Flipping does not replace a teacher, just the opposite, it gives the teacher more time to interact on a more personal level with their class. It, along with any other educational reforms, will never be "teacher-proof"!

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