The short educational videos of Khan Academy have attracted millions of followers worldwide. Salman Khan, the 36-year-old architect of the Academy, has executed the “flipped classroom” model more successfully than anyone else. It is the idea that students should watch online lectures and work through homework problems on their own at home, at their own pace. Class time once reserved for lectures by teachers would be spent mentoring and one-on-one tutoring. In other words, what was once done in the traditional classroom would be done at home and what was done at home would be done in the class.
Can the flipped classroom work for college students? How practical is it? How effective would it be?
Here is a random sampling of the perspectives of some community college students in Northern California.
As Mary sees it, changing the typical teacher-classroom setting can make a big difference in the way students absorb the material. In the traditional method, teacher lectures and students are expected to learn the material without actually engaging in it. People such as Salman Khan have realized that real learning takes place when students are engaged, rather than sitting at a desk listening to a teacher speak for over an hour. “I feel as though lecture is something I can listen to at home and while I am in class I can ask the teacher any question on the material or ask my peers for their feedback on the lecture. This type of education will work better for our generation as we have come a long way in technology.”
To Julio, flipping classrooms is a great idea because “in some classes lectures literally go on forever. Students just sit there passively, often bored and frustrated. I'm a huge statistics nerd and the fact is that it will make learning in a solo environment much easier. If this plan gets to become like Facebook in the next few years, it will open up education for the better.”
Joelle is convinced that flipping classrooms will not work. First, many people will not listen to the lectures at home and so when they get to class, they will be even more lost. “Class time is a time to absorb all the information possible so that at home you can try to work out the problems or write your essays in peace and quiet. It is challenging because you are now on your own to use the information you absorbed in the class. I also do not think it will work for those who actually do listen and read the lectures at home. If there isn't a teacher to answer their questions right away, the rest of the section might not make any sense. Traditionally, in the class, the teacher teaches you the fundamentals and builds a solid base for the more challenging questions. Without this, it can get very confusing for the students.”
James believes that flipping the classroom will benefit students, particularly in math and science. When students listen to lectures in classes, they are expected to know everything by the time they finish taking notes. Then they are expected to do homework and solve problems by themselves. Students often feel overwhelmed with challenging problems and have no one to ask for help. They begin to fall behind. Listening to video lectures at home without distractions, they know what to ask in class. That way they can solve problems and master the material.
Julie’s view is that flipping the classroom will be of use to those who have mastered online learning and research and are self-motivated and relatively wealthy. “However, for people with learning disabilities like myself, there are disadvantages. People with limited resources cannot afford expensive technology like smart phones and iPads. I am afflicted with ADHD, anxiety and depression. I suffer memory lapses and I find learning new things very difficult. While flipping classrooms might work with classes in which I have a natural interest, like Liberal Arts, it would not work for me in Applied Sciences. I prefer learning in a classroom where there is live interaction with my teacher as well as other students. So, while flipping the classroom can be an advantage for some, many of us need the physical presence of a living and breathing instructor.”
Yvonne finds the idea of flipping classrooms at a college level attractive. It will show which students are actually doing the required work (watching lectures at home). Listening to lectures at home actually forces students to take the time to pay attention and go over the material. It gives students the ability to come up with questions to ask the teacher later. When they get to class they can right away ask what they need help with. It also makes the job of the teacher easier.
Some students may like flipping classrooms so that they can get one-on-one help with their professors but Ray sees it differently. “Because I am a more hands-on learner, it just will not work for me. I have taken online classes and hated them because I never felt I was learning anything from my professors. I do not think flipping classrooms will work at the college level. I feel that if this method of teaching was an option for college students, more than half of the students will not even watch the lecture online. That would just make it that much harder for them to learn anything. I understand why they are trying to flip the traditional classroom because technology is starting to take over the younger generations. I may be old-fashioned, but I definitely prefer the traditional setting in a classroom, getting lectured by a professor and working on my work at home.”
Kelvin thinks that the Khan Academy has done a great job demonstrating that there can be a new way of teaching. The opportunity to allow the student to decide when they wish to listen to the lecture can be very useful in reducing stress. It also makes more sense in terms of time-management. In many cases, students are too busy with work or parenting for the first half of the day. This frequently conflicts with their class schedule. The flipped classroom can also benefit students who are ill or recovering from illness. “From experience I can state that having surgery on my shoulder, and with a very short time for recovery before the start of the semester, caused me a great deal of stress and pain. A flipped classroom can greatly help in such situations.”
For Cheslea, the story is in the grim statistics. According to the report by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, the United States spends $1.3 trillion a year on education. The result, however, is not consistent with the investment. For instance, the U.S. is ranked 25th out of 35 countries in mathematics, 17th in science and 14th in reading. These statistics cry out for reform. “I am 100% behind Khan’s idea of teaching students all around the world through web videos. Khan’s idea can change the minds of many students who feel that the current education system is doing nothing for them. His idea will work even better at the college level. What is inspiring is that with an operating budget of only $7 million, Khan Academy is reaching, over the course of a year, about 10 million students in a meaningful way.”
Tony really likes the idea of flipping the classroom. It is an effective way of engaging students, leaving more time for hands-on experience with the teachers, be it lab work in chemistry or biology or solving math problems. In fact, in math classes it surprises Tony that there are not more whiteboards around the whole classroom. “I think it would be an excellent idea to break the class into small groups and spend most class-time solving problems. The students who know how to solve a problem can explain it to other students and the professor can move around the classroom, acting as a facilitator to help when needed. Educator and author John Holt once said, “The biggest enemy to learning is the talking teacher.” On average, in a one-hour class, a teacher’s lecture can take up fifty-five minutes, with the other five minutes spent perhaps on student interaction. However, study after study has shown lecture is the most ineffective way for students to learn and retain information. “We need to push past the lecture model. Online lectures free up the professor for more meaningful teaching in the classroom. Plus, online lectures can be recorded and reviewed as needed by students. Technology has really evolved to the point where we can now easily use it to enhance the education process. I believe countries and educators who embrace technology will achieve their education goals faster. That will ultimately benefit the next generation of learners.”
For Christina, “going in to a classroom and seeing my instructor face to face is how I've been conditioned to learn. However, flipping it around and listening to lectures on my own could work if it were not for the fact that I'm so easily distracted. When I'm in a classroom setting, I am forced to focus on the lecture, so I suppose it would depend on the student. I think it would be a great idea to flip one or two classes to help students decide which method would work best for them."
Kendal thinks that flipping the classroom is a good idea for math and science classes. “The method of listening to a lecture for half of a class period and then having to immediately put into practice what was just learned is very challenging for me. I am a student who likes to be prepared and I feel that having a better understanding of the day’s topic would make the time spent in class more valuable. It would also give students a chance to practice the problems or homework on their own. I know that when I am forced to figure something out, I usually remember how to do it when the test comes around. If someone shows me how to do a problem and I just copy the work written on the board, all I have done is copying and not the learning of how to solve that problem."
Flipping the classroom has its benefits and drawbacks like most innovative ideas. As Petros sees it, if classes are changed to reflect a tutoring style, it will become more engaging for students and instructors. In contrast, when classes have twenty five or more students, the dynamics between instructor and students becomes robotic due to sheer size. Educational institutions and teachers often knowingly ignore the fact that each student is different and possesses different intellectual skills. Some may be initially geared more towards math or history but all have the ability to master any subject in their own way. "The challenge comes in executing this truth. Instead of our current factory-like education system, Salman Khan is highlighting individually-geared learning. Online learning lectures and problems with small in class tutoring is the way of the future."
Although the idea of having one-on-one tutoring with the instructor in class might sound appealing to some, David has found the conventional way of teaching to be still effective. The main reason he is opposed to the flipped classroom is that he finds doing homework and other busywork in the classroom extremely difficult. “My mind can focus and concentrate much more easily in the comfort of my own home and desk. Even though I feel this way about flipping the classroom, I can see why it would be of use to many students. Students may have the opposite experience from what I have. For instance, a student might learn and do homework more effectively when given one-on-one tutoring. In the end it comes down to this simple truth: The effectiveness of different types of teaching depends on the student.”
For Abigail, flipping the classroom will not improve the learning experience of students at any school level. When you're attempting to use in-class tutoring or "one-on-one" time with a group of 30 students, it simply does not work. There are too many students in need of help for the instructor to spend sufficient time with each one. When you are able to lecture the whole group, you can utilize teaching methods that will appeal to a large group of students, which also leaves sufficient time for questions. Also, as is likely to happen with a flipped classroom, when students are given too much responsibility with little accountability, they fall behind. Yes, at the college level, students should be able to take on the responsibility of watching lectures at home to practice later in class, but there will always be students who cannot live up to this challenge, because they are not receiving direct "credit" for it. Those students will end up lagging behind the others and so most attention will go to them, because they will be completely lost. This is unfair to the other students in the class. Also, online lectures can leave students with the responsibility of essentially remembering everything the online instructor said, and then later ask questions. This expectation is unrealistic and unfair to students. It is much easier to ask questions as you are learning the information, then to come back the next day knowing exactly what it was you were confused about. This is bound to fail. Additionally, students who work hard will go to tutoring on their own, and those are the students who will succeed anyway.
Katia believes that classes should be based on one-on-one tutoring as opposed to class lectures. By having students listen to the lectures at home allows class time to be reserved for working on what they have learned. This is the ideal way of teaching: have students and teachers interact on a tutoring basis, instead of having students mindlessly copy their teachers’ PowerPoint lectures. However, if students are not serious about their responsibility in the flipped model, they are signing away their future. They will not succeed in the class. Countries that have higher educational rankings than the United States use techniques like this. "Our college classes today are mostly all about busywork and simply passing the tests. For students and teachers to successfully execute this method, both staff and students have to have a clear understanding of the dynamics of the flipped model. With hands-on technique promoted by the Khan academy, students can become more intelligent and succeed in college. From experience, I can say that many of the classes I took reduced to nothing more than copying the PowerPoint slides of my teachers. In a psychology class I once took in high school, my teacher would stand in front of the class and would read off the bullet points. It was a shame to spend the class copying down what she had already typed. It was a total waste of time. Flipped classrooms are the way to go."
Lauren is intrigued by the idea of flipping the classroom. She finds lectures utterly useless. In college, many teachers just make PowerPoint presentations and go through the slides in class. While it is helpful for teachers to fill the gaps in the slides, students can do that at home. The proper “flip the classroom” technology is what students are missing. lauren would love to go home after a long day of school and work and just sit down to take notes on a lecture and wind down. “I honestly think it would be amazing. This way, students can hear the lecture and come up with questions and are prepared when coming to class to work on the homework. The only thing that would make this approach unsuccessful would be if the software and the technology were weak and counter-intuitive. There has to be some kind of website where students can log on and easily find all the lectures. The teachers would have to take the flip seriously. I doubt if a lot of teachers would go for this method but I think students would love the switch. No more missing homework assignments! No more failed tests! No more misunderstanding! I would love it!"