Thoughts on Education – 2/2/2012

I was reviewing some articles that I thought I might write about here, but I really didn’t come across much that I found incredibly useful in the last couple of days.  I had picked out a couple of articles on gaming in the classroom, thinking from the titles and blurbs that they would be interesting, but I didn’t come up with much.  The best, probably, is this one from the New York Times.  It’s ok, but it has the same flaws that I see in so many of these articles, namely that it says this would be a great idea but then fails to provide any resources or solid examples.  So, the theory might be great, but what am I supposed to do with it?  I feel that way about a lot of the educational “advancements” out there.  They always sound great, but how do they actually work?  That’s why I like the idea of the “flipped” classroom model, as I have seen more about how that works than anything else.

The interesting thing about the flipped classroom is that everyone starts off the article saying how it is an obvious fit for math and science, but they think it could probably work for the humanities and social sciences as well (see this one for example or this one that is even advertised as flipping a history class but uses a chemistry video to show how its done).  But that doesn’t seem as obvious to me by any means.  As this article from another blog here in WordPress shows, the real idea behind flipping is a pretty natural fit for teachers from all areas.  As he says, “I think good teachers have been doing this sort of thing, well . . . forever.”  I have to agree in general, as what else is a discussion section or anything like that anyway.  Yet, making the next step and giving up the lecture is a much bigger one.  Is a better model the one from my grad school days — the large lecture two days a week and then a discussion section the last day?  Yet, I was never satisfied with those, as it never seemed like the students were all that prepared to discuss.  They wanted the material delivered to them, not to have to interact with it in a meaningful way.  The level of engagement was low, as it often is in my discussion classes today, where about a third of the class is actively participating, another third is paying attention, and the rest are completely tuned out.  I just wonder what incentives would be needed to get a higher level of engagement.  Because without students paying attention and participating, this will be a failure.

How about these ideas/questions?

  • Would the students be more willing to do a serious amount of work outside of class if they only met one day a week?
  • What sort of incentives would be needed to get the students to do the required work ahead of time?  A required one-page response?  Completion of a mastery quiz?  Completion of a blog post?
  • What do you do with students that have not, despite all incentives, done any of the required work?  Do you have daily grades that they essentially don’t get?  Do you kick them out?  Do you let them stay on the assumption that it’s better for them to hear what’s going on even if they haven’t done the prior work?

Just some practical questions that I’ve had running through my head while I’ve been reading over things.  I actually got some of these questions while wandering through an H-Net discussion over flipped classrooms.  It is a bit hard to follow, as you’ve got to delve through the forums, but there were a lot of good pros and cons raised about the flipping idea, and I feel that it is really worth reading for anyone considering something like this.  Even though H-Net is history focused, the ideas are mostly general and could apply to any discipline.

By the way, this one is the absolute best article on flipped classrooms for those of us in the humanities and social sciences.  It covers the usual major criticisms of flipped classrooms and refutes each quite well.  I’m not going to go back and repeat them here, but I will just recommend you go and see for yourself.

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of three, student of life, owner of a parrot, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all around guy.

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