Flipped classrooms hold implications for communication (part 2)

Esher-sketch
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.

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Flipped classrooms hold implications for communication (part 1)

Thoughts Before the Jump
Creative Commons License photo credit: MichaelLaMartin

I’m trying an experiment this semester in the college classes I teach. In various circles it’s called a “flipped” or an “inverted” classroom, a term I’m not completely comfortable with, but it’s a handy term at the moment.

While relatively new, it is rooted in ideas and practices that are not, and it seems to me to be good communication practice, recognizing the strengths of various forms and building on them.

The flipping background

A flipped (or inverted) class swaps out what goes on in the classroom and what goes on outside the classroom.

Traditionally, since the Middle Ages students listen to a professor lecture in class, and do application work (otherwise called “homework”) outside class. Reading could fall into either category.

Almost everyone has heard that the lecture is passé, exemplified in the now-cliché, “Be the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage.” I’ve taken a related approach, demonstrated in workshops I’ve done for teachers around the theme, “Stop Lecturing and Start Speaking.” When you want to master detail, you do better to work with the information in written form. When you want the big picture, “out loud” excels. That partly has to do with the way we process information, and also with the interactive nature of “out loud.”

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The experience of learning

My friend and colleague Kat Bailey at APSU has some great observations on Lessons from the Game Culture for Education. For instance:

[E]xperience is the heart of learning, it is the best teacher. Flat knowledge in books or lectures are leap points for learning, but activity is the key to success in the learning cycle.

This shows something of why Second Life can be an important factor in teaching a variety of subjects, but it obviously goes much more broadly than that. It’s not so much that Kat gets at a reason to use games and game environments in teaching, but rather that she gets at the very nature of learning.

Here’s another one:

Too often, we define learning by objectives, assessments and due dates. The experience of learning can be described but not explained by statistics.

Amen, sister! Preach on! My take: this is not anti-assessment. Just a recognition that the really important stuff goes beyond assessment.

There’s an old story about a drunk searching for something around the base of a street light. A passerby says, “What are you looking for?”

The drunk says, “I lost my watch.”

So the passerby helps look for a bit, and then says, “Are you sure you lost it around here?”

“No, I lost it over there in that alley.”

“Then why are you looking for it over here under the streetlight?”

“This is where the light is. It’s dark over there.”

If we focus only on the stuff that is relatively easy to measure, we are going to miss the important stuff.

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