Flipped Classrooms are older than you think

I have one comment and three reservations about the research mentioned in this post from 2013: Gathering Evidence that Flipping the Classroom can Enhance Learning Outcomes   by Kelly Walsh on March 10, 2013 http://www.emergingedtech.com/2013/03/gathering-evidence-that-flipping-the-classroom-can-enhance-learning-outcomes/comment-page-1/#comment-80327

The comment is to note that the flipped classroom approach was already being explored in 1963 when I was in college at Cornell University. Our chemistry professors, Sienko and Plane, had created a ‘programmed workbook’ version of their textbook. The students who used the workbook but did not attend lectures performed just as well as those of us who dutifully arose on Saturday morning to sit through the professor reading his notes. At neighboring Ithaca College, all lectures were recorded and available via closed circuit TV to every student. Many chose to watch the lectures from their dorm rooms. This leads into my concerns about research design.

Problem 1: confounding of variables. In the case of Sienko and Plane, we can be reasonably assured that the treatment and control groups were receiving the same academic material. However, many flipped classroom studies provide different stimuli (local classroom teacher live presentation as compared to nationally-recognized, recorded lecture) to each group. These studies do not allow us to distinguish between the effect of high quality presentation and the medium of presentation. We need to compare apples to apples.

Problem 2: Few studies track student time on task. It is pretty well accepted that more time spent studying results in higher academic performance. Do students using pre-recorded lectures at home spend more time with them than students attending the same lectures live at school? You can’t replay the live professor if you happen to miss a point and many students would not dream of interrupting to ask a question even if the instructor requested that they do so. I was amazed to find that my own preschoolers in the early 1970s rewound the BetaMax tapes of Sesame Street repeatedly until they had mastered the lesson. Is this going on with older flipped classroom students? We need to control for time-on-task if we are to understand the outcomes of flipped classrooms as measured by improved test scores.

Problem 3: Not all students are alike. Some may thrive in the complex social settings of face-to-face classrooms. Others may find classrooms distracting when compared to quietly watching a video at home. Still others, those with more chaotic homes, may find the classroom a calm oasis. When study sample sizes are small the effects of individual differences and social settings may be much larger than the effects of flipping the classroom. This could account for mixed results and relatively small effect sizes in research to date.

I have spent my career advocating for educational technology and believe, at an intuitive level, that it can enhance learning when properly used. My disappointment is that poor research designs are interfering with our ability to demonstrate that edtech really works and to guide us in refining the design of even more effective learning aids.



About lizaloop

Social philosopher, educator, writer, idea generator, teacher, parent, grandmother, community volunteer, musician, former horseback rider, skier, former dog owner, trouble-maker.

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