‘Flipping classrooms’ is rapidly becoming a form of pedagogy drawing a great deal of interest. In a survey by BESA (British Educational Suppliers Association) in May 2015, 19% of post-16 providers use it regularly, a further 40% intend to introduce it in the near future. Some secondary schools are adopting the idea too.

There is a danger that flipping classrooms can become a gimmick, the latest education fad. In this article I want to show how it can go beyond technology-driven pedagogy, it can raise achievement. Let me explain how by suggesting three perspectives to the flipped classroom.

The First Dimension: ‘Sage on the Stage’

The early stages of the flipped classroom (especially in America) centred on the use of video; teachers recorded footage for students to watch in their own time. This still happens of course. It is an instructional approach, where the teacher is the ‘sage on the stage’ albeit in a different format, which enables students to arrive at the lesson to apply what’s been learned. It’s a one dimensional approach aimed at encouraging students to take greater responsibility for their learning; there’s nothing wrong with it and may be a good starting point for many.

The Second Dimension: Interactivity

Flipped learning has moved away from video and uses software that not only presents knowledge but requires students to interact with it. This interaction may include watching video clips, accessing PDFs or listening to MP3 files to create a multimedia experience that inspires and engages. eLearning software facilitates this process very effectively. As does any cloud-based technology which grants access to the student at any time or in any location and on any device.

If you type in ‘flipped learning’ into a search engine you can find innovative schools that building their curriculum on the idea. For instance, The Manor Academy in Mansfield Woodhouse (@TheManorAcademy) where homework is redefined as ‘learning tasks which support, enrich or extend the topics they either are or will be studying during lessons, delivered to students through their iPads or direct email’. Like many schools, such tasks are thematic, encouraging students to look beyond subject boundaries.

Interactivity arrives in different ways; answering questions to deepen understanding, responding creatively to knowledge or tasks, preparing information to be used within forthcoming lessons, even encouraging students to peer-teach. This dimension develops independent thinking as well as learning though it requires careful and strategic planning.

The Third Dimension: Analytics

This is where achievement can be raised quite significantly when the systems outlined below are embedded across the school. Planning remains strategic but must be owned by the student and teacher alike.

  • The flipped classroom replaces traditional homework policy, it is embedded across the curriculum as outlined above
  • Learning tasks deliver ‘content’ but vital to this process is the platform used by the school or college; eLearning offers consistency so all students share the same experience. Teachers also learn how best to structure these resources within this consistent framework. nimble®Author offers this consistency. It simplicity ensures anyone can master it quickly and easily
  • When a coherent framework of competencies, understood by student and teacher alike, become the foundation for all learning tasks, it’s possible for everyone to see how one task informs another. Progress can be monitored
  • nimble®Author offers formative and summative assessment. Students get immediate feedback on how they’ve performed, pass marks can be set if required which generate certificates. But equally important are survey questions which encourage students to reflect on their performance.
  • Therefore the analytics underpinning this system identifies:
    • Who in the class has succeeded in each learning task, who will need additional support. (If assessment activities are well designed the level of diagnosis can hugely informative)
    • Ways for students to identify how effectively they’ve mastered the relevant competency from the learning task (eg. Use of prefixes and suffixes in literacy or use of ratio in numeracy). Once identified, students identify their next stage of development and attempt learning tasks to progress in that competency
    • Analysis of cohorts to identify broader issues of achievement, by department and across the organisation as a whole
    • Data that can be exported into the MIS and reported to parents (who will be familiar with the activities their offspring has undertaken)

The point to emphasize here is the flipped classroom isn’t only an occasional alternative to homework, it places considerable responsibility on the student not only to complete the work, but identify their own progress within it. Mentors can support this analytical process where required. Over time students get used to thinking independently and develop the metacognitive processes of learning how to learn, a key component in raising achievement.

Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at Plymouth University (@timbuckteeth) highlights the danger that we under-estimate the potential of flipped classrooms. If we’re not careful it can be a gimmick. Whereas the paradigm has the potential to create active, participatory learning where responsibility and independence are visible outcomes. It’s not about flipping classrooms but flipping traditional roles. For this to happen students need access to the analytics and to understand what the result means to them as individuals.

I’ll be providing a case study in September of Shireland Collegiate Academy to illustrate how they’ve used nimble®Author to flip their classrooms and significantly raise achievement in the process.