Why I won’t flip my classroom

Prof. Pettigrew says proper lectures work just fine

Brennan Moore/Flickr

One can hardly check out an education website these day without hearing something about the flipped classroom (sometimes called flipped learning or inverted learning). If you don’t believe me, click here, and here, and here.

The basic idea is that the supposed old way of teaching—providing all the information to the class via lectures is tedious and ineffective. After all, there are plenty of ways of getting information to students outside of class—say, via online talks. In the so-called “flipped” model, students get the basic information outside of class and teachers use the class time to create activities and and projects that help students understand that information more deeply.

This model, proponents say, will end the “tyranny of the lecture” and enhance learning. What will compel students to watch all these lectures on their own time is rarely spelled out — but let’s not split hairs.

Like most education fads, flipped learning has just enough sense in it to make it appealing and to give its advocates a sense of superiority that sometimes convinces people they must be right. But like most fads, it ignores a lot of the reality. It is possible to innovate in education, but most of the time, smart, dedicated people are already doing what you want them to do—or there are good reasons why they aren’t.

The grain of truth in the flipped learning model is that – obviously – dry boring lectures in which a professor drones uncontextualized facts for hours is not a good way to teach. But good teachers have known that for millennia.

In fact, among humanities professors, the classroom has been flipped, to a large extent for a long time. In a typical university literature course, for instance, students are expected to get the information (reading a novel, let’s say) on their own, and then come to class ready to analyze and discuss that material. No wonder that so many who are excited about flipped learning are scientists. Science profs are finally cluing in to what humanities profs have long known.

Am I saying we in the humanities don’t lecture? Of course we do – but, when we’re doing our jobs well, we’re not lecturing the way flippers say we do—talking at students for an hour or so . What the scientists largely still haven’t figured out though is that good lecturing does more than simply transfer information. Good lecturing provides information but also context and perspective. Good lecturing allows for asking questions and considering answers—thing that are best done live and in person — and the very things that flipped learning advocates are looking for.

The lecture is not a tyrant. It’s a tool – and its virtue, as with all tools, lies in how skillfully it is used.

Todd Pettigrew is an associate professor of English at Cape Breton University.


Why I won’t flip my classroom

  1. Todd,
    I really appreciate that you’re focusing on the pedagogy of lecture, not just the idea of it. As someone who flips, I think the discussions MUST be focused on pedagogy, not just the tool (video) in order to make a difference. On that note, I just want to offer a couple thoughts.

    1) For me, flipped learning allows me to give more freedom to students. When I choose to use a lecture, there is a reason and it always connects back to some form of interaction and accountability in the class space. The video is not transforming the learning process, it is the doors that open because the lecture is being repurposed.

    2) While flipping has totally changed my approach to teaching, I do not claim for one minute that this has solved all of my teaching woes. I still battle complacency and a flat-out refusal to engage, just like every other teacher. The video is not an instant hook for the kids, nor is it meant to be. But, it does allow me to give students more choices in their learning rather than a dictation of how to get from point A to point B, and that has helped me engage kids that feel disenfranchised from the education system we have to work within.

    3) I’m not convinced this is a fad. There are teachers that have been revitalized by flipping because it forces us to really think about our philosophy of education. I feel more connected to my students and I am convinced it is because I thought about what the best use of my class time is. I can engage with every student, every day, simply because my lecture is no longer dependent on the class day. It’s available whenever the students need it, freeing me up to be available when they need me as well.

    I write frequently about flipping on my blog (linked in my name). I’d be interested to hear some thoughts on some of those articles.


  2. Exactly. “Information” is only part of the picture.

    “What will compel students to watch all these lectures on their own time is rarely spelled out.” Exactly again. In the final analysis, the idea of the flipped classroom is another soft edu-tainment example of “everything but the obvious” — the obvious here being the iron necessity of simply _doing the work_, of committing oneself to the task at hand, whatever it happens to be. Oh, right, I forgot — it’s all about “engagement” and “motivation” — as though passing the course and wise use of one’s substantial tuition fee investment shouldn’t already be huge “motives” to be “engaged.”

  3. While I agree that this model has been used in college courses for decades, it is more recently finding its way into high school classrooms. There is a huge difference between college students learning what they have a passion for, and high school students learning what is required. The two main reasons in tabor of high school Flipped Classrooms are (1) differentiated instruction, so all students get the information at their own pace, and (2) maximizing one-on-one student time, to find student strengths and weaknesses sooner and work with them towards success. In high school, these are both unwritten expectations of all teachers, but I can see how things are different at the college and university level.

  4. It is refreshing to come across your more balanced view of “#FlipClass”. There is way too much evangelism and cheerleading for “#FlipClass” on the internet and not enough constructive criticism & debate.

    Open criticism and debate of “#FlipClass” will enable the best bits to be developed/propagated and the worse bits to be fixed, worked around, abandoned, etc.

    Readers may be interested in some related #FlipClass posts I have collected here => http://t.co/KnegGfs0

  5. This article is very confusing and contradictory. The title is ‘why I won’t flip my classroom’ but you say that you and other humanities teachers have been flipping your classrooms since before it was a ‘fad’. After harshly criticizing proponents of flipping for acting superior you go on to say how superior you are to science teachers.

    Could you please clarify on these points? If you’re changing definitions of flipping mid-way through your post you need to specify what you mean in each case. How is your method of flipping superior to the methods of those you say claim to be superior?

    At the end, it sounds like you’re encouraging science teachers to move into the ranks of good teacher like those in the humanities by flipping, but you say this directly after you criticize them for flipping.

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