The Flipped Classroom, Is it really a new idea?

Guest Post by Education Writer Gerald Haigh

‘Flipped Learning’, or ‘Flipped Classroom’ is a teaching method that involves giving students the content of a future lesson for homework, then consolidating the learning in class. It started, so far as I can tell, in American colleges, with academics posting their lectures online in advance and then using teaching time to lead discussion and reinforce understanding.

clip_image002In UK schools, though, it’s quite new. Or is it?

Here’s a memory from my own school days. Our much-respected young history teacher, Paul Slater, whom I was to meet again many years later when he was a Coventry head, is setting our homework.

‘I want you to read the next chapter, about the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, and figure out why the British government was so worried about a pact between two faraway states.

Make notes, discuss it among yourselves, and we’ll talk about it next lesson.’

So, there you go! You say

‘We’ve been doing it for years!’

And up to a point, that’s true, which is important because some critics of flipped learning seem to regard it as a fad sprung from nowhere.

21st Century Flipping with Office365

The key differences, though, are that today’s lesson flipping is more clearly defined as a pedagogic device, and, crucially, it assumes the extensive use of technology. Teachers in schools, though, certainly in the UK, want to be go beyond that static model of ‘watch the lecture, then talk about it next day’. That means they need technology that’s responsive, flexible, allows interactivity and collaboration, is easy to use and, of course, affordable. And that is a reasonable definition of Microsoft Office365, as used, for example, to support flipped learning at Shireland Collegiate Academy.

Office365 in action at Shireland

Kirsty Tonks, Shireland’s E-Learning Director says,

“It’s a matter of what flipped learning means for us. We haven’t looked too much at the American way. We wanted to use quality activities that can accelerate learning for our students.”

clip_image004So Shireland teachers use their class sites on the school’s SharePoint 2013 learning gateway to provide students with material to work on at home, from the school’s extensive resource bank, or from an external source such as YouTube. Along with the resources are questions and invitations for students to respond on line both individually and in collaboration with others.

‘They’re not just passive recipients,’ says Kirsty. ‘They have to internalise and act upon what they see. The teacher then looks at their responses so that they can meet their needs. What we’re talking about here is personalised learning really working.”

“That said, it’s really important to understand, adds Kirsty, that Shireland teachers and students are well used to using their class sites, working collaboratively in a seamless way between home and school. Since we set up our own SharePoint learning platform in 2004, teachers have been used to delivering work out of school hours using our class sites. Now, of course, the advent of SharePoint 2013 and Office365 have added new features to make the whole process easier and quicker.

Sir Mark Grundy, Shireland’s Executive Principal underlined Kirsty’s point by describing to me his observation of a Religious Education lesson which was at the ‘flip’ side of the equation – students had previously been given, on their SharePoint class site, an exam question and a model answer, and asked for their comments. By the time of the lesson, says Sir Mark,

‘On the screen were about twenty lines of dialogue from the student’s online discussion at home – different responses which all fed off each other.’

Voice of the teacher – Office365 supporting learning

Kirsty then offered to gather impressions from teachers of their use of flipped learning with Office365. She sent me two, from teachers Kerry Shoebridge (PE) and Dave Green (Maths). Bearing in mind that these accounts come directly from the classroom, and describe Office365 working to support learning, I decided to reproduce them in full as they were offered.

So Kerry writes.

‘Flipped learning and the use of class sites have become fundamental to progress and succeed within Physical Education. The areas provide students with extra information and collate all relevant resources to support their learning prior to or following a lesson. My GCSE students have been able to access exemplar work for their Physical Exercise Plans, view sporting videos to support their practical assessment, view mock examinations and be a part of somewhat heated class discussions on relevant sporting topics, linking with social media. One student commented on her use of the class site’

"It helps me find my own answers rather than relying on my teacher".

And Dave Green writes,

‘In Mathematics, students use Office365 class sites to access a range of information about their work, from basics such as details of homework deadlines through to lesson activities and detailed feedback on their work. Use of the class sites within lessons, coupled with the facility for students to access their work outside of lessons, helps students to understand and view their learning as a seamless process that takes place both inside and outside the classroom.

The students receive more effective feedback on their work through the calendar function on their Office365 class site.  Upon accessing the calendar item, students can read general feedback that is applicable to the whole class (common incorrect spellings and misconceptions, for example).  Following this, students use a link to a document library where they can access an Excel document; this contains links to a range of feedback videos which students are individually directed to, based on their needs. 

These videos contain examples and follow-up questions for students.  Students can record any difficulties with these questions on a discussion forum, which can then be checked before the subsequent lesson by the class teacher, ensuring that lesson time is finely tuned to focus on addressing students' misconceptions. Being able to use Office365 in this way has transformed the way that students receive and more importantly understand and act on the feedback I give. When I surveyed my students on the Class Site there was an overwhelming majority that preferred it and found it more helpful."

The point here is that the whole process – the SharePoint learning platform, the class sites, the facility for storing and sharing resources, the seamless home-school working and collaboration are all made possible and accessible through the Office365 working environment.

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