Traditional Lectures are so 90s

As a professor at a community college, I continually struggle with how to engage my students to help them learn and prepare for the careers they aspire to. I have long ago come to the conclusion that lectures are “so 90s.” And, by that, I mean 1490s. If you examine the basic education approach, nothing has really changed for centuries. Sure, new technologies (such as chalkboards) have been employed, but the fundamental aspect of having an expert explain some concept to a group of students has not materially changed.

Since we are well into the 21st century and students still have short attention spans, one approach is to employ the “flipped classroom” technique. Essentially, what it means is that students review the content at home (before class) and then work on problems or projects during class time. In other words, homework is done in class and the class “lecture” (usually in a form of a video) is done at home. Hence the term “flipped classroom.” Check out this fifth grade teacher who further explains the flipped classroom concept and how she employs it in an elementary school.

Why is this important? Essentially, it places the emphasis on learning with the students. They become more independent learners as part of this process. Additionally, they can pause, rewind, and replay a given segment of video many times until they have understood the concept. This is something one can’t typically do in a traditional lecture (unless one has a very patient professor and peers). During class, students have time to focus on solving particular problems and applying what they have learned. Watch this video to further learn about the benefits of a flipped classroom or alternatively, check out a video of what a flipped class is not. My thanks to Professor Kelly Crawford-Jones for locating these videos as part of a joint presentation we did on this topic at a recent conference.

Are there some downsides? For the instructor, absolutely; this approach requires more up front development of materials including, obviously, the videos. Personally, I rely on Adobe Presenter, Adobe Captivate, and Techsmith Camtasia to create most of this content.

One must also develop in-class projects which reinforce what the students have learned through watching the videos. Student may well resist this approach initially. They will have to work harder and devote more effort outside of class to prepare for each class session. It is so much easier to sit back and watch a professor speak for an hour or two; some even have time to doodle. That option tends to disappear when one successfully employs these techniques.

While this is not a “one size fits all” approach or solution, it may well be something you wish to consider to better engage your students and help them hone their critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities. In its simplest form, a “flipped class” is an alternate approach to engaging your students and helping them focus on their learning.

For those who would like to learn more, read the 7 Things you Should Know about Flipped Classrooms article. Of course, feel free to let me know your thoughts by contacting me directly via Twitter or my Weblog.