Esher SketchCreative Commons License photo credit: Wild Guru Larry

In Flipped classrooms hold implications for communication (part 1), we talked about an experiment I’m conducting this term, and explored the background a bit. In this part, let’s explore some of the advantages of the flip, especially for students.

Inside out

There are certain advantages for students getting “lecture” material outside of class via reading or podcasts (audio or video). I have tried to follow my own guidelines and speak rather than lecture, and I think it works in the way intended. I contend that “out loud” excels at giving the “big picture,” the context into which the details fit, making them more understandable because the audience sees the pattern, whereas print excels at explaining and mastering detail.

A skilled writer can show the big picture, and a skilled speaker can get detail across memorably, but neither are easy. Most of the time, why not simply focus on strengths? Give an audience a handout, a white paper, a book, etc., to master the detail, and use speaking to give the big picture.

Think about when you’ve been on the receiving end. Have you ever had a history teacher flood you with dates and names and wars and wound up simply empty? Have you ever gotten so lost in the details of a book chapter, you couldn’t find your way through? Most academic conferences, and most business reports, would improve fivefold from this simple realization.

A number of communication problems result from trying to meld the two rather than have them work in partnership. The “slideument” is one. This is the attempt to make your slideshow both support your speech (as it should) and act as a handout (which it should not). I’ll have more to say about slideuments later. Another such problem is the typical lecture, which attempts to replicate written material out loud. As we saw in Part 1, there are good historical reasons for this, but those reasons no longer apply.

A problem that concerns me about speaking vs. lecturing, however, is the possibility of different classes getting different material. Since I’m not reading out loud, it’s easier to leave something out for a given class. That’s fine and appropriate for a speaker, but it makes it difficult to test over later–and testing remain part of most classroom experiences.

Since a podcast records material once for playback multiple times, I can ensure that every student gets the same material. It’s not ideal for speaking (vs. lecturing) since it’s one-way. With no audience to give feedback, the delivery can get wooden (like a lecture), and there is no opportunity to adapt the material based on audience response. Even if I record a live talk to a class, it will target the live audience without necessarily providing what later “audiences” need.

It requires the same skills as a radio announcer, in fact–the ability to sound conversational even when the “announcer” can’t see or hear the audience.

I’ve been in radio, too, and although I don’t claim expertise on this, it seems easier to me to develop the announcers ability than the effective “reading out loud” ability, even though both may involve speaking a script out loud. Maybe it’s a matter of mind set. Courses in writing for broadcast emphasize the difference in writing for the ear and writing for print, and I suspect most academics simply write for print.

In any case, audio or video podcasts can provide consistency, as well as the opportunity to rewind, and so the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages.

Students also have more opportunity to use the material in the way that best fits their own learning styles. The more visually-oriented can watch a video version, complete with PowerPoint slides (if they’re so inclined). It is trivial to extract an audio track for students who either are more auditory in learning style or prefer to throw the file on an iPod for listening to as they travel. (I’ll post separately about problems and opportunities in listening to academic stuff while driving.) And there are at least a couple of ways to reduce either video or audio to text for those who prefer to read.

These advantages enable students to “get” the material more effectively and efficiently.

Outside in

Bringing the “homework” into the classroom has advantages beyond saving time for students outside class–a real consideration, since other approaches sometimes lead students to complain about an increased workload. Here’s the main advantage: some questions only come up when you’re actively working on a project or a problem–questions you don’t think to ask when you’re reading or hearing about how to do it rather than doing it.

Speech classes have always involved actually giving speeches, but much of the preparation has happened outside the classroom–we only see the “final result” in the classroom. That means that, often, students encounter their real questions at 2 a.m., when no one else is available.

The Web has helped with this somewhat, as long as the student works enough ahead of deadline to benefit. For instance, if I’m working on an informative speech about Shakespeare at 2 a.m. and confront for the first time the idea that Shakespeare may not have written the materials attributed to him, I may have trouble finding further sources (or, at least, credible ones). I can post something in the course’s Web-based “Help!” topic, but I won’t get much response until a more reasonable hour. If I still have at least a couple of days before I give my speech, no problem.

If it’s due in six hours, though, I have a problem.

By flipping the “homework” inside the classroom, I (the hypothetical student) will be working on this at 9 a.m. along with my peers. I can ask the question out loud and get an immediate response, perhaps interact with my professor about what I’ve discovered, and (depending on the plan for the rest of the period) might even be able to run over to the library for some directed help.

It doesn’t have to be “homework,” of course, but since the pure information portion of the class is gotten outside the classroom, more time can be spent inside the classroom on application.

Speech classes have always been a little more oriented this direction than, say, a history class anyway, since so much of our class time is devoted to giving speeches. Therefore, it should be relatively easy to implement. We’ll see.

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