Unflipping the flip

I have been really curious and a little wary of the “flip” (flipped classroom, flipping the classroom) kind of frenzy recently. Basically, it seems to mean that we flip:

  • Students into teachers
  • Homework into Classwork
  • Classwork into learning by self or network, guided or unguided
  • Hallways and Social spaces into Classrooms
  • Closed curriculum to open
  • Degrees to badges
  • Fixed learning periods to flexible learning time, anywhere
  • Fellow students into collaborators

Doubtless, there will be more interpretations, each taking a part of the fabric of conventional education system and creating delightful flip variations. Perhaps one day, there will even be a few frameworks and associated evangelists that will claim to be the experts on flipping the classroom, and people who will ask “How do I flip the lesson on Newton’s First Law”.

There are also valid voices that question the flip. I would add that a whole lot of teachers may just not be able to deal with the flip – it places a great pressure on teachers to…actually teach. Jay is right in worrying about the flip faring the same way as eLearning did. The fact is, like anything, we will do well to ignore the hype and concentrate on the core learning from these flips.

The core learning is not that we have a found a presumably efficient way of utilizing classroom time, or that we have found a great way to bypass degrees as credentials for jobs we aspire for, or even that we have just realized how good it is to have high quality online material and great classroom engagement.

The core learning, at least for me, at a systemic level, is that we have relaxed the boundaries of the conventional system without breaking them. We are still inside the box. This is not a disruption (or transformation George would say), it’s  a distortion of the contours of the educational system – an internal shift or re-arrangement of factors, perhaps even an innovation.

The clearest evidence of this is that the flip is not able to do away with the vocabulary of conventional systems, nor is it adding any new vocabularies that did not exist earlier. A test is a test. A group project is a group project. Hallways are still in a school. Content is online or mobile instead of in a book or through a projection device. Competencies are still defined and used the same way. Badges are mini-degrees (if backed by MIT and Stanford?).  As George says, “the difficulty is that you can’t have structure leading.”

Furthermore, it would do well for someone to ask whether the conception or the implementation failed of the traditional system. After all India flipped from an ancient gurukul system to a British system not too long back. It would make sense to delve into the flip and see whether it will share the same fate.

But then, perhaps, it will be enough to just distort and not transform.

The MOOCs that I have attended aren’t anything like these flips. They add vocabulary. They do not take an existing model and rearrange it or make it more efficient. They are not definitive recipes for change-mongers. They are complex, adaptive, emergent, chaotic systems. As Dave Snowden wrote to us during EDGEX, “you can design something that will manage process, can’t define outcome”. That approach is transformative, because then you are looking at the core issues that an educational system is expected to address – not outcomes, but process.

George provides a set of 8 distinctions between the MOOC model and the model that is being implemented by initiatives such as EdX and startups like Coursera. The vocabulary of the MOOC really emerges in these distinctions. The belief that these initiatives follow a MOOC model are misplaced (perhaps because the phrase Massive Open Online Course has been literally implemented by a few).

At present, these initiatives are nothing more than extensions/combinations of the self paced elearning and instructor led virtual models, automated assessments in some cases, with the added spice of learners being able to collaborate online and being promoted by individual and institutional brands (acceptance) – hardly a disruption. In fact, the reason such flips will continue to attract students (even though a meagre percentage would actually certify), is because a brand pull exists or marketing dollars will be spent.

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