Taking active learning seriously means revamping the entire teaching/learning enterprise—even turning it inside out or upside down. For example, active learning overthrows the “transfer of information” model of instruction, which casts the student as a dry sponge who passively absorbs facts and ideas from a teacher. This model has ruled higher education for 600 years, since the days of the medieval Schoolmen who, in their lectio mode, stood before a room reading a book aloud to the assembly—no questions permitted. The modern version is the lecture.
Though it remains the dominant form of instruction in higher education and can sometimes become a real art form, the lecture may be on its last legs. “The hands-on interactive experience in a lab or an art studio is more powerful than a lecture, and can’t be replicated online,” says Logan McCarty, director of physical sciences education. “The stereotypical lecture where the professor is giving exposition of textbook-type material to the students—I think that type of exposition can be done better with online video or by an interactive-tutorial format.” Today at Harvard, many courses distribute lecture notes, and others post video recordings of lectures online. After hearing about Mazur’s approach to teaching, Weatherhead University Professor Gary King, a government scholar, started to make recorded lectures available before class, thus freeing class time for more active styles of instruction."Revamping the entire teaching/learning enterprise—even turning it inside out or upside down" is what flipped learning is all about. Some people believe that flipping the classroom moves the entire educational process onto the Internet and basically does away with the need for a face-to-face (f2f) classroom or teacher, but this is a big mistake. The flipped classroom does not do away with f2f learning; rather, it frees up f2f learning from the onerous burden of merely transferring information from teacher to student. And I say good riddance.
Some people also seem to believe that the flipped classroom might work for some topics, but not for composition. I think that composition is one of the ideal topics for a flipped class. In many respects, learning to write is similar to learning to paint a landscape or learning to play a piano. Very little knowledge about painting or playing can be communicated by lecture. One learns to paint by painting, to play by playing, and to write by writing. Only after one has some sense of painting, playing, or writing can one make sense of spoken instructions from a teacher.
For instance, I could do a lecture about how to format references in APA style, demonstrating various points on the board or in a PowerPoint, students could take notes before going home to try out the new information. My experience tells me that few students will learn much this way. Rather, I give students an online lecture about APA references, and then in class, the students help each other construct some references in APA style. My experience shows that they learn better by doing than by taking notes. And they do better in groups than alone. That's a flipped classroom.