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Engaging students with the flipped classroom

Time is a funny thing. Even though a minute has 60 seconds, and an hour has 60 minutes, people perceive time differently. The best example for this is a classroom: for teachers, a class is a lot shorter than it really is; for students, it’s a lot longer.

Teachers sometime feel that time flew by and they still have so much information to share. Students, on the other hand, experience time dilation, as if they were orbiting the Earth in a fast space shuttle, and for them a one-hour class could feel like ages.

This different perception of time during classes never happens without a reason. I will mention two of them:

Reason #1: The student perspective

For students, one hour feels like much more time because they really are on a space shuttle — in their fantasies at least — when they aren’t paying attention to class. If this happens, believe me, it’s not their fault; they are just not engaged enough.

But in many cases I heard teachers blaming students for their lack of interest and I think that couldn’t be more wrong.

Humans are naturally programmed to seek knowledge. We want to experiment and discover the world for ourselves. If students aren’t interested in the class, teachers should look at what they are teaching and, more importantly, how they teach it. In a perfect world, all class content should be interesting and the all teaching methods should be fascinating. That would solve the “bored student” syndrome.

Reason #2: The teacher perspective

Dedicated teachers work hard and spend a lot of time preparing classes and lessons in order to transfer as much knowledge as possible in a short amount of time. In an inexplicable way, when a teacher is speaking times moves faster. There’s just so much to say! I experienced this myself.

But one hour is one hour, a really short period of time that must be managed accordingly. For teachers, the goal shouldn’t be to transfer a vast amount of knowledge in such a short time. Sometimes the sheer amount of information can make students feel that they can’t keep up and when this happens they will embark on that space mission I mentioned before.

Instead of giving as much information as possible, teachers should try to transfer bits and pieces, that stir students’ interest and makes them curious and eager to learn. It’s like a pull marketing campaign: teachers “advertise” their classes with interesting pieces of information, and students will want to learn more about that during the class and on their own.

That could open the door of possibilities, because the learning process wouldn’t be bound by the classroom walls; it could happen anytime and anywhere.

The solution: flipping the classroom

There are many solutions to address the above mentioned situation, and modern technology coupled with the force of interactive media tools can be of great help. However, that may be not enough. We are still waiting on ideas that can turn the whole world around and that may never happen, but there are ideas that managed to turn around tiny parts of it and made a whole lot of difference.

There’s one idea that managed to turn learning upside down after years and years of traditional education, and it works. And if you ask me, it was about time. Probably you already know that I’m referring to the flipped classroom model.

The short period of time spent in class could be used for so much more than taking notes and listening to a teacher’s monologue. The classroom should be a space of collaboration and interactivity where students can clarify the aspects of the lesson they don’t understand by discussing them with their peers and teachers.

When I was a student, I bogged down with my homework many times and I wished I had a colleague or teacher who could help me move on with some of the assignments. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible, and I usually ended up with half-done homework and not so good grades.

Now, with the flipped classroom model everyone can have their homework done well and on time.

If we want this model to really be successful, it isn’t enough to just flip the class. Some key elements need special attention, such as the class content and its presentation, class collaboration and, last but not least, an instrument which can help to coordinate the learning process.

Content and presentation

The content of the classes that students will read, watch or listen to at home has to be interesting and enjoyable if we want an actual knowledge transfer. If it isn’t engaging enough, students will skim the lessons and will skip videos and podcasts. Even worse, they could engage in other less constructive activities, like social media scrolling, instead of learning.

But content isn’t everything! The way the content is wrapped is just as important. An interesting topic could be presented in a less exciting way, the same as a boring topic could be presented in an engaging manner. It is simple, filmmakers do it all the time. A little backstory can do miracles.

Not so long ago, I asked my students to watch the movie called The Big Short before an economy lesson on the recent financial crisis. And it worked. They saw the story and got interested in the topic and we could engage in numerous discussions on how the movie presented the situation.

We don’t have to use Hollywood movies in our teaching every time, we can come up with our own little stories that can make learning a bit more enjoyable. With a little imagination and the array of modern screen casting and media editing tools, the sky's the limit.

Class collaboration

I dare say the flipped classroom model fits reality better than the traditional education model. In the real life, we work together with our colleagues as a team to get better results. This can be true in the classroom environment as well.

Completing assignments during classes and working together can have many benefits. In case of different opinions on a subject, constructive discussions could broaden the learners’ perspective.

By working together, students can complete harder and more complex assignments in the classroom, because they have each other’s knowledge and their teachers’ help at their disposal. This will make them have a deeper understanding of any subject.

Coordinating the learning process

Flipping the class can be lot easier with the help of technology. It is important for teachers to maintain the control over the knowledge that is transferred. Every teacher should know if their students learn their lessons at home.

In this case, a learning management system could come in handy to monitor students’ progress through the class content. But it isn’t about just about maintaining control over the learning process. With this learning platform, teachers can create interesting and engaging content that includes images, videos and audio materials as well.

And let’s not forget about communication. Teachers can keep in touch with each of their students through messages, chats and notifications.

With the help of an LMS it’s easier to create the synergy between the learning content, its interesting presentation and class collaboration.

Watch this space — next time I’ll write about screencasting and how all that contributes to a successful flipped classroom.