After the Flip — The Skip and the Leap?

Jim ShimabukuroBy 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 Teachers could do little more than assign readings in outdated and often irrelevant textbooks, and if they made the time to compose and photocopy instructions and information, they soon learned that the effort to prepare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.

4 Responses

  1. Jim has outlined one dimension of change. The flip and, if they happen, the skip and leap will transform education. However, there’s another dimension, the material delivered by the web medium.

    I claim that lectures are already obsolete just as are textbook pages. The problem is that their replacement is hard to find, even non-existent in some subjects. Still, in principle, they are last-century artifacts.

    Lectures, videos, textbook pages, multi-media, and all of the rest of these 20th-century media are passive. Even simulations, as usually employed in science, are passive. I’ve seen some situations in which the simulation, while still inherently passive, has been employed in an interactive fashion — a very interesting development.

    The future of the flipped on-your-own part of learning will become highly interactive, as interactive as the best role-playing games. (It won’t be a game, however, for reasons that I won’t use space explaining here, except at lower grade levels.)

    Once these at-home lectures etc. are transformed into what today’s software can provide, truly interactive online experiences, the change will be more radical than a change of venue. Formative assessment will be built in and almost not noticeable by students. Summative assessments will not be necessary because learning to mastery will be the norm. Students will choose their own grades and then achieve them or select a different grade. It will be mostly a matter of how much time they choose to spend on achieving a grade and not on how much they can cram just before an exam.

    The neat thing about all of this is just what Jim suggests — it will cost less. Furthermore, the learning will stick and won’t take as long. The new education will fulfill NASA’s motto of “better, faster, cheaper.”

    I must add that my vision of this future does not eliminate teachers and instructors. Rather, it empowers them and makes them more critical to success than ever. It will be many decades before a computer can replace an good instructor and may not occur in the lifetimes of anyone reading this.

    • Harry, good point re passive vs. active independent learning material! Your vision of how these will play out is also very realistic. I also agree with your views on the empowerment of teachers: “I must add that my vision of this future does not eliminate teachers and instructors. Rather, it empowers them and makes them more critical to success than ever. It will be many decades before a computer can replace a good instructor and may not occur in the lifetimes of anyone reading this.” -Jim S

  2. […] After the Flip — The Skip and the Leap? […]

  3. Education , like the fashion business, has trends. The problem is that a lot of the trends are vendor generated. Back a year ago or so the
    ISTE conference was all whiteboards and people rushed out to see what they could do , learn, teach, generate with whiteboards,

    This year it was all mobile devices and use of mobile devices such as tablets and texts. Funny no one thought about the educators and or communities that are not connected well or that have little or no broadband. It was this year BYOD.. and the thing that we talk about
    social media well, now the fashion is to see what we can learn from Social Media and how to harness that power to keep kids learning , in the learning space.

    There were winds of change about testing too. We teachers have been up in arms about testing for some time but the winds perhaps of political or needed change around the NCLB have prompted thought about too much testing , for goodness sakes.. or not.

    We all know that if there is political change in the nation that the whole education set of ideas that have been going forward will be trashed,

    At the ISTE conference it was hard to conduct the SIGDE meeting as there was such rancor, anger and angst about the current educational system ideas. Arnie Duncan some say wants to privatize schools by making them all charter schools without realizing that all charter schools do not work.

    I was at another conference when a starry eyed teacher shared with me the lesson plans from so long ago, how to make a peanut butter sandwich…as a way to teach and share thinking for computer literacy.
    I didn’t say anything .. but I was surely thinking. I think to say anything would have been rude, because I guess it takes 20 years for ideas to come forward? or not?

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