By Jim Shimabukuro
Why all the flap over the flip? On the surface, it seems nothing more than an ancient idea resuscitated by a hip metaphor. Ever since the first school bell rang, this has been the model for many disciplines, especially the ones that emphasize performance. Study, practice, and learn at home, alone; perform under the teacher’s watchful eye in the classroom. In other words, students prepare at home and demonstrate what they’ve learned in the classroom. Teachers use their performance to identify shortcomings and devote class time to coaching, guiding, and shaping.
However, as long as the paper medium held sway, the flip remained a good idea that was simply too cumbersome and labor intensive for both teachers and students. Back then as now, the medium is the message. Teachers could do little more than assign readings in outdated and often irrelevant textbooks, and if they made the time to compose and photocopy instructions and information, they soon learned that the effort to prepare handouts is extremely labor intensive. They could leave additional learning resources at the school library, but the number of copies available and the library hours made this alternative impractical for students.
The flip, sad to say, was mere lip until the arrival of smartphones, those bright little appendages that students reconnect as soon as they leave the classroom. Sit outside a classroom building when students, en masse, are emerging or entering. You’ll quickly notice the choreography: those entering are reluctantly shutting down and stowing their cellphones, waiting until the threshold before doing so, and those emerging are reaching into their pockets and bags for their cells, reconnecting with the world and reviving their lifelines.
We’ve passed the point, I think, where the classroom is the hub of learning. The hub is moving ever outward, and this transition has enormous implications for schools and colleges. One is that the classroom is quickly becoming a place for restricting rather than facilitating the information flow that’s vital to learning. And another is the flip. With smart phones and the web, a good idea is now sustainable best practice.
In two Illinois schools, Pekin Community High School and Havana High School, enlightened educators are head over heels for the flip, and at the forefront is Havana School District 126 Superintendent Mark Twomey. Hat’s off to Twomey, a leader for the 21st century who demonstrates that imagination, creativity, guts, and plain old-fashioned common sense can do far more than dollars when it comes to using the latest technology to improve learning. The formula is a simple one: Use the tools that are becoming readily available and accessible to leverage a practice that makes sense.
In fact, the flip is so simple that there’s really little or no additional cost for outside resources and expertise, expensive facilities, equipment, and service providers. It’s bootstrap. DIY. Working with what you have instead of breaking the bank to buy the glitziest panaceas. And anyone can do it.
Technically, the flip switches lecture and homework, where the lecture is done at home instead of in school and the practice is done in school instead of at home. This is an obvious oversimplification of a more complicated learning process that is split between formal and informal environments, between supervised and unsupervised contexts, and between active and passive classroom practices, but it serves its purpose.
I’m taking the time to savor the flip boom. It feels good to see educators taking charge and re-establishing control over their work. It restores a sense of confidence and pride in a profession that seems to have been temporarily overwhelmed by the tsunami of technology.
Still, I can’t resist wondering what’s next. Surely the flip isn’t the end all. The one constant in ed tech is that change begets change. Technology is much, much more than a tool. It’s a medium, and, as such, it is also an integral part of the message. That is, when we alter the medium, we also alter the message
My guess is that the flip is just the first element in a three-phase change process. The second element is the skip. This is where educators will increasingly bypass the classroom half of the flip in favor of virtual alternatives. They will realize that the technology that makes it possible to extend learning into the student’s out-of-school life can also be used for teacher-student and student-student interactions. In fact, it can literally take interactions into a whole new dimension.
Personal communication devices and the web make it possible for teachers and students to interact anytime from almost anywhere. This means the ability to skip past the physical classroom and into the virtual learning environment where they’ll have 24-7 to accomplish what they’re now trying to do in an hour – and they’ll be able to work when they want from a place of their own choosing.
But the skip, too, will be a transitional element in the three-phase process. The final element is the leap, which will take learning out of not only classrooms but school and college campuses as well. Furthermore, where it lands will forever change our notion of “schooling,” bringing it into alignment with what we generally think of as “education.”
The leap will ground education in the world, both virtual and real. It will take both teaching and learning out of the box, turning the planet into a classroom and the entire globe into resources for learning. This means that “formal” learning will occur in what we now consider the web’s “informal” context.
The best part of this process is that the precedent for change agents has been set in the flip. Teachers and their leaders will be in charge, and they’ll use the emerging technology that’s turning nearly every person on the planet into a networked, connected user and creator of information. Their mantra will be sustainability, and they’ll make sure that funds are used efficiently and effectively.
At the end of the leap, it might be tempting to say that classrooms and schools will disappear, but they’ll probably survive. However, their functions will change drastically, and they’ll be used to house drop-in support services with much smaller footprints and budgets. For all practical purposes, the world will be the classroom for the majority of students, teachers, and administrators, and pedagogy will reflect this reality.
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