– Dan Jones –
In education, we love to view ourselves as collegial, cooperative and collaborative. This makes the relationship between two well-regarded organizations in the Flipped Learning community surprising, curious and confusing. The Flipped Learning Network (FLN) and Flipped Learning Global Initiative (FLGI) are prominent champions of active learning. So what does the unexplained disconnect between these two community groups say about our colleagues, you, me, and what we all may need to do to be more effective in our classrooms?
Both FLN and FLGI want to help move educators from passive learning to active learning. Given their common objectives, you would expect a symbiotic relationship between them, so why does it not exist? We decided to put that question to Ken Bauer, board chairman for FLN; Errol St. Clair Smith, Director of Global Development at Flipped Learning Worldwide and the architect of the Flipped Learning Global Initiative; Joy McCourt, an active member of both FLN and FLGI’s communities; Andrew Swan, a former board member with FLN; and Jon Bergmann, one of the cofounders of both organizations.
There is a history between FLN and FLGI that dates back to 2012. Some of the earliest pioneers of Flipped Learning: Jon Bergmann, Aaron Sams, April Gudenrath, Kristin Daniels, Troy Cockrum, Brian Bennett and others, worked hard to bring some order to what was then the untamed Flipped Learning frontier. These early settlers worked to establish a definition, the four pillars of Flipped Learning and an online home where Flipped Learning educators could gather and share ideas. Over time, each of these founding members left FLN to pursue other things, but FLN has remained true to its original mission — bringing educators together to share their experiences in the flipped classroom. By 2015, when Ken Bauer became an active board member, every one of the original pioneers of Flipped Learning had moved on to other things, including Jon Bergmann. The old guard didn’t necessarily say good-bye to Flipped Learning. On the contrary, Jon Bergmann hooked up with a new team and launched the Flipped Learning Global Initiative.
Both the new and the old organizations serve the same purpose, but they have different ideas about how to move things forward. When I asked Ken Bauer to explain the differences between FLN and FLGI, and he said, “I’m not really sure. I haven’t paid too much attention to what FLGI is doing… At FLN, we are providing a platform for educators to share their vision of what flipping is rather than us pushing a vision. It is more about providing a platform for people to share what they are working on.” Errol St. Clair Smith expressed a very different perspective. Errol said that FLGI “leans to the future and looks to continue to evolve as Flipped Learning evolves.” He went on to say that FLN seems “steeped in the past, and holds firmly to what was created in the past.” Together, Bauer and Smith painted a picture of Siamese twins connected at birth, separated and now going in very different directions.
FLN operates with a set of founding principles going back to 2012, while FLGI works to spot and embrace emerging trends and needs in a rapidly evolving Flipped Learning universe. Joy McCourt, an active member of the Twitter chat #flipclasschat, has had the opportunity to work with both FLN and FLGI. I asked her for her perspective on this question, and she provided a very stark contrast. Joy said that FLN has a different feel than FLGI. “FLN feels more grassroots, where people share what’s been working for them through informal blogs.” Her view of FLGI is that it is much more formal. The blogs on FLGI seem more like published articles rather than educators sharing their personal, raw reflections. She also pointed to the fact that FLGI is more focused on formalizing Flipped Learning through their certification courses and putting pieces and parts of Flipped Learning into a defined scaffold.
Responding to the more formal feel of FLGI, Errol replied, “It all depends on what you are building. Any hundred of us could casually show up at the beach today, and with very little planning, build a pretty impressive sandcastle. If the main purpose is to connect and relate, we’ll all go home feeling that we had a great time together. But if we wanted to build a university, a school system or have a greater impact on education, we would need a more structured approach. We could still connect, relate and have big fun; it just means that our form would be significantly shaped by our function.” Andrew Swan offered a different lens. “FLGI is more credentialed, research-oriented and has an international reach, but FLN has a more robust social media network (particularly on Twitter) and generally stronger connections in the United States.”
I posed the question to Ken and Errol regarding whether or not they feel that FLN and FLGI play important roles in the world of Flipped Learning, and if so, how do the two organizations complement each other. Ken said, “Definitely! The main thing is being open to collaboration.” He went on to say, “FLN, as a whole, is open and welcoming of anyone to join and do any of the activities that we are working on.” Ken shared with me that he does not see any sort of competition between FLN and FLGI. He went on to say he has a philosophical approach to things that are centered on being open: open source, open education, open resources. He added, “There is no reason to be closed to anything because there is nothing to gain by closing.” When I asked Errol this same question, he agreed that the two organizations could complement one another. He said, “FLN has built a great community, and people love working with them.” This led me to follow up with the question, “So how can FLGI and FLN collaborate more closely?” Errol said that the biggest struggle is moving people out of silos, “Getting people out of silos is really hard. People like working in silos because it can be comfortable. Silos are a challenge to collaboration, but when sharing resources is the centerpiece, global collaboration is more possible.” Errol’s statement harks back to a part of FLGI’s mission statement. “FLGI’s primary focus is building bridges between the silos of robust Flipped Learning activity occurring worldwide.”
So if both organizations are all about community and collaboration, why aren’t they collaborating? Errol shared with me that he has reached out to FLN at least five times over the past few years to collaborate on different projects, and only one time did a project come to fruition. I asked Ken about FLN’s desire to collaborate and whether or not they have collaborated with FLGI on anything. Ken confirmed that Errol had reached out to collaborate with FLN multiple times. He went on to say that he has always responded to Errol’s requests with, “I am open, just send the specifics.” To date, they have only been able to collaborate on crossovers with podcasts. Ken was on Jon’s podcast and Jon was on Ken’s podcast. I asked Ken whether FLN had reached out to FLGI to collaborate on any projects, and he said, “No, but it isn’t anything against FLGI. That said: we haven’t reached out to anybody.” I asked Ken if there was a reason that they have not collaborated with other organizations, and he responded, “Time, Dan, time.” FLN is a nonprofit organization; the individuals involved are volunteers and are stretched thin. Ken went on to say that FLN has not thought about collaboration from a strategic point of view, but they are very open to anyone who would like to collaborate with them.
This all begs the question, does the lack of a symbiotic relationship between the sibling organizations help or hurt the progress of Flipped Learning? Joy shared with me that the two organizations provide great resources for different levels of “flippers.” She went on to say, “I feel like FLN is a better support for those just getting started with Flipped Learning, while FLGI can be a better resource for those ready to take things deeper through certifications and examination of the Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning.” Ken noted that FLGI provides great resources through their certification course, and even though he has not looked too deeply into them, some of his colleagues have taken the courses and had wonderful things to say about them. He added, “I love the work that Jon and the rest of FLGI are doing.”
I have been interested in a stronger definition of “flipping” for a few years. – Andrew Swan
What about the two different definitions for Flipped Learning? Does the lack of agreement help or hurt the community? In Ken’s view, “There is a struggle because I don’t like to put things in stone. Putting things in stone prohibits people from making it their own.” He went on to say, “Jon and Aaron wrote about this in their first book. People have to make it their own. It can’t be Jon’s way or Aaron’s way or Ken’s way or Dan’s way. People need to make it their way. Aaron and Jon struggled with putting a single definition together because they didn’t want it locked into one thing, but they knew that if they didn’t put out their own official version, there are all of these hundreds of different versions and there was no one to point to. That said, I think it is fine to have multiple definitions.” When asked whether FLN has ever considered updating their definition. He said, “We haven’t considered it, but yes we could.”
But others believe that a commonly accepted definition of Flipped Learning is critical. Jon Bergmann shared discussions he’s had with Dr. Robert Talbert, author of Flipped Learning: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty. Talbert argues that in order for research to be conducted on any educational practice, it must be defined. We cannot research something that is undefined. Jon is adamant, “We have moved beyond the definition that was developed in its infancy.” Andrew Swan agreed, “I have been interested in a stronger definition of “flipping” for a few years. For a while, I raised concerns with several people about the FLN website’s definition, particularly its statement that reading texts as homework is one way to flip.” He went on to say, “I blogged a bit in 2017 about the usefulness of standards for the practice.”
When I asked Errol about FLGI’s new definition, he said, “The new definition mirrored and reflected how Flipped Learning is redefining itself. Flipped Learning is evolving independently of FLGI or FLN. At FLGI, we are observing, identifying the needs and addressing those needs. In 2018, we reached out to over 100 experienced Flipped Learning practitioners in 49 countries. Those educators collaborated to define what Flipped Learning is right now. The global evolution of Flipped Learning also revealed the need to identify universal best practices. The global standards project began with around 1,000 suggested best practices submitted from Flipped Learning educators around the world. After sorting, multiple rounds of peer review, and anonymous voting, the list was culled down to 187 best practices that all 100 delegates unanimously agreed were essential. There is an ongoing conversation about the standards and a process in place for review and revision every other year. These standards are not about one person’s perspective, rather it is about honoring the collective insights and experiences of all 100 plus people involved in the process.”
Ken shared that FLN is also working to meet the needs of educators, and Joy added that FLN has started to include a “Researchers’ Corner” by Robert Talbert in their newsletter. On the flip side, Errol noted that FLGI is serving a large variety of groups on a global scale that includes K-12, Higher Ed., nursing, and even corporate trainers.
Jon Bergmann weighed in on the history of collaboration across the Flipped Learning community. “Flipped Learning started out as a small group who were passionate, and they were able to collaborate easily due to its smallness. Collaboration becomes more and more difficult as things grow. My vision moving forward is for the whole community to rally around the standards so that we can talk about how to make Flipped Learning better.” Jon went on to say, “The biggest idea in Flipped Learning is that it is a meta-strategy, and if we start agreeing on the fact that this is the biggest idea in education… it will completely change education in crazy awesome ways. When we all see this as the idea it is, it’s world-changing. It is when we play it small, we miss the opportunity to change the world.” Andrew Swan echoes Jon’s words, “I hope that more teachers will think deliberately and carefully about how they use class time and why they assign homework. My hope is that flipping will become more universally and accurately understood as a solution to many basic problems of instruction, assessment and relationship building.”
From these interviews, it’s clear that there’s a lot of great work going on at both organizations. FLN and FLGI also show that we can do more together than any of us can do alone. In short, collaboration trumps isolation.
In our flipped classrooms, we often encourage collaboration through group projects and in-class group activities. Sometimes we assign students to groups, or we allow students to self-select. In the best-flipped classrooms, we rearrange the chairs, the tables and completely restructure the entire classroom in a matter of minutes. At the end of the class, we give those students who “played well together” a good grade and leave the school parking lot assured that we have prepared them for the future.
FLN and FLGI is a close-to-home example of what happens when collaboration shifts from the classroom to the real world. To move what we’re teaching our students (and ourselves) from myth to reality, perhaps the most important lesson we need to embrace is that collaboration and working together is a lot easier said than done. It takes extra work, extra time, extra effort, extra resources, extra communication, extra humility, and an extra dose of vision, understanding, and patience. But if we can rise above the myth that collaboration is a simple, neat, set of best practices, then collaboration is possible and amazing things can happen inside and outside of our classrooms.