Flips, cartwheels and not just rolling over

I like to think that in our Delta Modules we are getting teachers to find things out, think things through and generally reach supported conclusions, not just telling them things, but how far are we really going with that and could it be further ? In the summer, Tom asked why we didn’t flip more of the input and in a Module Two session recently, as the discussion bounced across MOOCs and flips, one of the teachers in the session said why didn’t we do more of it ? So I’m trying to work out whether we currently do it at all, how far we could and if we should.

There is content (information the people on the course need to know), there is delivery (do we give them reading recommendations and tell them to read it, tell them things in a classroom or lecture setting, get them to do things that reveal that content to them – come to think of it that could be on their own or in a classroom) and there is doing things with the content (once you have some things / ideas / access to tools in place, you should be using them, manipulating them, making it your own – the information is only useful if you can organise, refashion, relate to what you already know, apply).

The descriptions of how to flip a classroom seem largely to be rooted in a vision of pre-flip teachers using transmission style teaching methods – tell people some things in class time, then get them to do tasks to demonstrate or consolidate understanding for homework. If you assume that the telling part is fairly monolithic and not very interactive, the flip is that you record that (the telling) as a video (or some patterns seem to set texts, but recording a video of a person telling seems to be popular). You set the students the task of watching the video before class, then they come to class and you get them to do the tasks and activities that demonstrate or consolidate understanding. In this way there is scope to set more individualised tasks, or to get groups to work together and leverage peer to peer teaching more and to provide support. Some seem to make claims that there is more time for individualised support, but in a big group, individualised support isn’t going to be available for all (if you have 25 people and many need help, it can’t all come from one tutor on an individual basis in a 90 minute slot – that’s what, 3 minutes each at best, but it does give you the opportunity to move round and see where and what help might be needed). How much difference does it make ? That seems to be more anecdotal than quantified too (or perhaps I’m just looking in the wrong places).

I don’t think we deliver much Delta content via a straight telling / lecture style format – there is generation of ideas, working things out in pairs and groups and where the information may not be there to be brainstormed, it is introduced through jigsaws, galleries and other information gap approaches, so there is interaction and peer to peer explanation or interrogation. But the idea that you should get people to do some of the background work outside class and arrive prepared to look at things together forearmed is appealing. If nothing else it puts more weight on the idea that much of the work has to be done outside the classroom, that just arriving will not be enough. Would it allow us to differentiate more in sessions ? Or is that a whole other thing, a parallel thing ? Perhaps you can only really flip if you are actually lecturing.

In Module One I thought when I started writing this that we had hints of flip. The weekly project asks people to co-operate and produce something in groups each week and the projects are designed to lead to teachers reading and putting together information that would result in them being that bit better prepared for some element of the exam, but also there is an end product that then exists in the Moodle that others could use as a quick revision tool. But this isn’t really flip, just trying to create a context and a pattern of behaviour that shows the teachers that they have to do quite a lot of it (we only show people what they might need to know, we can’t teach every single thing any person should know – that would be a very long course indeed). I guess flip would be to have more of it ready for them in reading or video form beforehand, rather than asking them to research it themselves. Would that be better ? Would it not make them more passive ? Or are we asking too much in getting them to not only find information but work out if it is suitable for their purposes or accurate or not ? But then that comes back to how much should we be teaching in the way of digital literacies in order to equip them to do the online bits of the course and that’s not about flipping (but rather fits with those other big questions like is it really part of our job to support them with time management skills, and even if it isn’t would it just solve a problem if we could do it, but then would it eat into course time that would otherwise be used to learn about teaching ?).

So if I can say it is flipped I need pre coming to session information delivery, which generates the question of which things have to be included as baseline minimums, guides to what you need to know ? What would get people to consolidate or demonstrate understanding of that and which can be add ons ? The things currently in projects are add ons (as some people don’t participate much and some projects don’t get completed). Can I work out what is baseline stuff and embed it into the course so they can read it beforehand (perhaps we could even find someone who likes standing in front of a camera and get them to make videos), make the sessions build on that and still have projects that add to the whole ? Though why make any of it transmission based if we can make it inquiry based ? Perhaps you can flip with the first stage as guided discovery, but the staging would have to be made very accessible. So flip with the first step on line, a second step in session (or a further on line stage for on line participants) and then a final step of projects. But that is asking people to do more and many of them already find it hard to do what there is (though they are often ok about doing more if the more comes in very structured bits and anyway some of them would do it, and isn’t the joy of online learning that if you can make it right you can offer a much wider range of choice and opportunities). But I can look at what content there is (and could be) and break it up a little differently – can I see how to do that one step at a time ? One session at a time ? Perhaps it will be easier to do when I’ve finished trying to work out what is where in the Modules overall in what we have already got. I’m getting there with the Module Two stuff – I should start on the Module One stuff in the same way. Perhaps a resolution of flipping one session per iteration (and that would avoid pendulum swings and throwing babies out with bathwater ?) starting from the June intensive.

Or maybe I should be looking at the projects, not the input sessions. The very first week of Module One we set up a project that combines the on line with the face to face people and the latter arrive in week two ready to teach in the alternative method they have been assigned. They do a really brief demo and then field questions about why they did what they did, all of this being underpinned by putting together outlines of theory and practice in a wiki. Is this flip ? A demo lesson is not really exploring or deepening their understanding (more demonstrating that it has been achieved – they end up being the talking head to each other rather than one of us taking that role, but it is still a kind of interactive transmission rather than individualised projects happening in class time). The fact that they do it (and there has only been one occasion where it really didn’t happen due to lack of research, interest, perhaps even a lack of belief that we really meant it) suggests we could perhaps get them to do more. I’ve been thinking about revamping the projects lately, changing a couple – maybe giving them a bit more to work with rather than leaving so much of it to them would get more projects completed more thoroughly throughout the course (it tends to thin out as the course goes on). Perhaps I could use something from one of these flipped models to do that. Maybe one of each (a flipped session and a revamped project) for June would be an achievable target.

And I was going to look at it in the context of the other two Modules as well – I guess that has to be another day.


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