Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Coordinating the Remote with the Local

I'm grouping my students' complaints about the flipped classroom into the following issues, listed in order of frequency:
  1. balance and coordination issues, such as changing the mix of online viewings, readings, and assessments with class activities and explanations, justifying having in-class sessions. (Change 2, 4, 10, 12, 13, 15, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, Drop 9) (13 of 27, 48.2%)
  2. personal issues, just didn't like it. (Change 11, 16, Drop 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) (9 of 27, 33.3%)
  3. scaffolding issues, such as lack of explanation of and preparation for flipped technique. (Change 3, 5, 14, 19, 21, 22, Drop 10) (7 of 27, 25.9%)
  4. computer issues, such as holding class in a computer lab, using Google Drive, computers distracting. (Change 7, 8, 14, 20, 22) (5 of 27, 18.5%)
  5. assessment form issues, such as which questions matched which activities. (Change 9, 13, Drop 7) (3 of 27, 11.1%)
  6. logistical issues, such as conflicts with work schedules. (Change 1, 6) (2 of 27, 7.4%)
  7. effort issues, too much work. (Change 16) (1 of 27, 3.7%)
  8. learning style issues. (Drop 1) (1 of 27, 3.7%)
The biggest issue (13 of 27, 48.2% & 13 of 216, 6.0%) that my students appear to have with the flipped classroom is the lack of balance and coordination between the in-class activities (the local practice of content) and the online, outside readings and lectures (the remote delivery of content). I think this confusion results from two distinct causes:
  1. my students unfamiliarity with the flipped classroom technique, demands, and rhythms, and
  2. my own failure to emphasize and to make explicit the connections between the online, outside work and the in-class work.
I think my failure is the most grievous, mainly because I can't correct my students' lack of experience with the flipped classroom. By a show of hands, I've learned that almost none of my students have ever heard of the flipped classroom, much less have engaged one. I suspect that this will be much the case for the next few years, perhaps forever, if the flipped class isn't more widely adopted.

I can, however, change how well I build the connections between the work done outside of class with the work done inside class. I attribute my early failures at this clear articulation as evidence of my own lack of experience with the flipped class. I forgot that what was clear in my mind is seldom clear in my students' minds. For instance, if the preparatory online lectures and outside readings are focussed on developing a strong thesis statement in academic documents, then I must use every opportunity in class to emphasize and echo the thesis meme. Most students do not necessarily make the connection between the concepts the cover outside of class with the work that they do inside class.

One of the first changes I made was to incorporate the weekly assessment into the class discussion. I display the assessment on the screen, along with the charts and graphs that Google generates, and we discuss their answers. I try to draw the implications for the work that we will do in class.

I also ask the students to write blog posts about the topic of the week, which gives them a chance to use writing as a tool for learning, a key instructional and pedagogical strategy in my classes.

The clear articulation between the remote instruction and local practice is not a finished process. Rather, it is something that I must work hard at every week, and there are always weeks when I lapse. I must continue to develop new strategies that help my students (and me) clarify the connections between outside and inside the class. There should be a true circular causality here, a feedback loop, by which the outside content informs and modifies inside practice which feeds back to inform and enrich the outside content. This loop is short-circuited when students don't see the connections between what happens outside and inside the class.