From Flipped Classrooms to Flipped Learning: Advancing the quality and value of our flipped learning

| By Farhad Mordechai Sabeti

This summer, the DigitalJLearning Network enjoyed the distinct pleasure of taking 16 educators, from 16 different schools, to the 2014 ISTE Conference in Atlanta, GA. We asked each participant to share what they learned with you, our readers, here on our blog. Farhad Mordechai Sabeti (@fmsabeti), Director of Education in General Studies at the Bnei Akiva Schools of Toronto, shares his reflections in this sixth installment of our blog series

This past June, I had the pleasure of attending the annual conference of the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) for the first time, thanks to the generous support of the Digital Jewish Learning Network (DJLN) and the AVICHAI Foundation. Despite multiple warnings (perhaps warnings is too harsh – advice or counsel is more appropriate here) of the sheer magnitude of this conference, I was struck initially by the breadth of offerings, and quickly learned that this conference exposed participants to far more than the newest gadgets and trends in the world of educational technology. As a fortunate member of the DJLN group, I was happy to focus my attention on blended learning and the flipped classroom model.

One of the greatest benefits of such a large scale gathering is the opportunity to learn from, and interact with, educational leaders in the area of educational technology. One such opportunity was afforded to me in attending a few sessions given by Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two of the pioneers of the pedagogy of flipped classroom learning. As part of a DJLN, I have been engaged in blended learning for quite some time, but was immediately struck by the message of their first session:

Okay, we’re flipping – now what?

Put more explicitly, now that classes are being ‘flipped’, and this is succeeding from a practical and educational perspective, where do we now invest our administrative and pedagogical energies?

Thankfully, Bergmann and Sams – two dynamic and engaging presenters – offered a plan for continuing to navigate these exciting learning waters. This plan necessitates a philosophical shift in how we view our flipping activity: Bergmann and Sams call for a move from flipped classrooms to flipped learning. In this paradigm, the focus transitions from an operational implementation of flipping classes (how do I record my lessons, how do I make them available to my students, and so on), to a generative approach, where the focus of our efforts is solely centred on how this approach can support the learning of our students.

To this end, Bergmann and Sams define flipped learning as:

“A pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed in a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”

Upon first hearing this, I turned to my neighbor and asked, “Weren’t we always focused on the learning?” With suspicious synchronicity, Bergmann and Sams answered my question indirectly with their next line of questioning. One of the most appealing advantages to the flipped model is the time that is seemingly gained in the classroom. Now that we are ‘flipping’ our classrooms successfully from a purely technical perspective, we can focus on the pedagogy of flipped learning without letting technological challenges and perhaps barriers monopolize our energies. As well, since we are now using considerably less time on lower-order tasks and lessons, what do we do with our class time? This ‘newly acquired’ time is the key to maximizing the educational value of our flipped model. 

With this in mind, we’re now charged with the essential task of filling this time with the most valuable educational activities for our students. To this end, Bergmann and Sams suggest four T’s to consider in supporting teachers and administrators in transitioning from flipped classrooms to flipped learning.

  1. Thinking of the teacher – this facet specifically concerns what we value educationally, and what we want to spend our classroom time doing with our students. School leaders can support this type of growth through modelling the value of flipped learning. A flipped staff meeting is one example of such modelling.
  2. Technology – we want to choose the right tools, but we also want to recognize that the tool itself does not facilitate learning. 
  3. Time – we want to invest a considerable amount of time into creating robust and rich flipped learning materials, but we also want to recognize and make the best use of the flexibility created with respect to in-class time.
  4. Training – the landscape of flipped learning resources has changed tremendously over the past years, so teachers and school leaders should take advantage of subject-specific and general resources available online.

It’s perhaps most telling that both of the sessions presented by Bergmann and Sams were nearly full – and both were held in large lecture halls. Clearly then, there remains a great deal of excitement around flipped learning, and teachers, administrators and developers continue to see its value and place within our classrooms. With the semi-structured approach and vision towards how flipped learning can shape classroom learning, this pedagogy can continue to evolve into an essential part of our teaching toolkits.


Credits: Rotate graphic designed by Andrew Kelly from the Noun Project.

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