UPDATE: Shifting the Focus from Flipped Learning to Reaching Every Student

Lead Features September / September 18, 2018

-by Errol St.Clair Smith-

The question was simple, “How many of you learned at least one thing that will help you reach every student in every class every day?” A sea of enthusiastic hands reached for the sky. This scene at the first RESCON in Australia was déjà vu. A week earlier the same question produced a similar visceral response at RESCON New Zealand. After five years of hosting FlipCons, we committed to shifting the focus of the conferences from the process (Flipped Learning) to the outcomes (reaching every student). The first RESCON delivered on that promise.

But the name change was much more than mere window dressing. For the first time a Flipped Learning conference was “flipped,” so after Jon Bergmann’s keynote, attendees morphed from passive to active participants. Each attendee selected a track, and each track was a guided “deep dive” into the process of reaching every student. Over four days, educators and administrators from as far away as Pakistan and Taiwan swapped challenges and solutions.

Within minutes of entering the breakout sessions, the questions began to fly. Some were routine and expected. “What do we do if students don’t watch the videos?” But other questions offered evidence that the community of Flipped Learning educators has evolved and matured.

The peer-to-peer discussions were fascinating. Though many were there to get their heads around the basics of Flipped Learning, a sizable number were focused on how to expand the buy-in for Flipped Learning in their schools and universities. Surveys taken during the conference revealed that a surprising number are working in school cultures that are unsupportive or antagonistic, as the graph below displays.

Perhaps the cultural climate ratings we received explain why many attendees were eager to find ways to get more interest from skeptical peers and recalcitrant staff. But others were simply seeking confirmation that they were on the right track with their transition to Flipped Learning. The latter group was pleased to have their processes validated and updated. As expected there were many success stories exchanged across the four days. We also heard tales of tormented efforts to make the transition to Flipped Learning at schools that have been trying for several years.

Fortunately, Jon Bergmann’s keynote message focused on the four big barriers to Flipped Learning: traditional mindset, toxic culture, inflated egos, and overwhelming expectations. Ironically, one of the biggest surprises came during a flash poll. Attendees cited the unrealistic self-expectations as the biggest barrier to greater success with Flipped Learning.

Jon offered very practical solutions for dealing with unrealistic internal and external expectations. He also encouraged flipped educators to be willing to take courageous action when the school culture is not supportive of Flipped Learning.

Supportive Places and Spaces

Both RESCON New Zealand and RESCON Australia were hosted in spaces that screamed, “I was designed for Flipped Learning.” If there were traditional classroom configurations in either facility, they were well hidden. Attendees spent four days immersed in highly flexible, easily re-configurable and visually appealing spaces that invited interaction and collaboration.

On day two at RESCON Australia, Peter “Wags” Wagstaff used one of these enchanting spaces to deliver a lively and insightful keynote. Wags underscored some of the hidden challenges of student-centered learning in higher education. Peter shared an entertaining story of a student who was entirely uninterested in learning. The student confessed to going through college for one reason only — to get a degree. Wags also shared a dramatic tale of two classes at his university. One was flipped, and the other was based on traditional lecture. The stark image of a cavernous, empty lecture hall with a professor presenting to six students was a wake-up call.

Other Highlights Included

– A keynote by Jon Harper on the value of vulnerability and the need for self-care. His message was thoughtful, at times humorous, and red-hot relevant. He modeled his message in real-time which made his talk all the more compelling.

– International faculty members Peter Santoro, Terra Graves, and Kathy Swanger presented a remote Insanely Smart Panel via Webex. (It was the talk of the RESCON New Zealand.)

– The draft of the updated definition of Flipped Learning was also presented for the first time at this year’s RESCONs, giving attendees a preview of the road ahead.

– The University of Adelaide received the International Flipped Learning Award for their trailblazing work in introducing Flipped Learning in higher education. The Award was accepted by Sophia Karanicolas and Cathy Snelling, who both helped lead the university’s Flipped Classroom program.

As always, some of the best professional development occurred at the bar. Over a few drinks peers more openly shared their reflections and concerns about Flipped Learning and where it’s heading. International Faculty member Matt Burns lead a robust and enlightening barside chat about the updated definition of Flipped Learning.

If the aim is teacher engagement, apparently wine and discussion trump coffee, donuts, and briefings at the monthly faculty meeting.

The closing keynote was delivered by yours truly. The message included a quick update on the global developments in Flipped Learning. I invited attendees to look at the big picture, see where they fit in, and consider why reaching every student matters more now than ever.

 Big Takeaways

The four days of professional development aimed at shifting the focus from the process of Flipped Learning to achieving the end result of reaching every student were rich with ideas and strategies. The big takeaways were:

  1. Those who have embraced Flipped Learning are as passionate as ever. However, in both schools that hosted the RESCONs, the adoption rate was below 25 percent. Clearly, much more work is needed to reach the full potential of Flipped Learning.
  1. “Reaching every student” has very different implications in higher education than it does in K12. We heard tales of professors flipping classes of 500 or more students, while massive lecture halls hosted professors speaking to just a few students. The challenge surfaces at universities that value research over teaching. At these institutions, there is generally low incentive to focus on reaching every student. On the flip side, there are signs that competition, the cost of attending universities, increasing dropout rates, decreasing enrollments, and anemic class attendance is placing pressure on universities to examine their traditional models. We learned this month that the University of Western Australia (one of the big eight) is launching a new Flipped Learning program. The march toward active learning continues.
  1. Global collaboration is on the rise between Flipped Learning practitioners, yet the concept is still remote to many, if not most. When the rationale for global flipped collaboration connects to practical local teaching objectives, the idea is well received. What we heard affirmed that active collaboration among flipped educators around the world is still in the early stages of adoption.
  1. Reaching every student in every class resonates. Shifting the focus from the mechanics of Flipped Learning to the outcome of reaching every student in every class every day is a promising step in the right direction.
  1. Transitioning to Flipped Learning is a process, not an event. The discussions clearly revealed that Flipped Learning is not necessarily a “flip it and they will come” proposition, even where schools have invested in the ideal infrastructure. Overnight success is an unrealistic expectation. Slow and steady wins the race.
  1. Three trends to watch: The impact of Global Standards on Flipped Learning. Increased global collaboration across countries and disciplines. Increased recognition of Flipped Learning leaders who are pointing the way to reaching every student.

RESCON Australia | New Zealand 2018

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Errol St.Clair Smith
I am the Director of Global Development at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. I joined the education community in 2005, working closely with national education organizations on community outreach and professional development. Over the last decade, I’ve led the development of community platforms for The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE); the Association of Curriculum Developers (ASCD); the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), and the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO). I'm honored to have received four Emmy nominations and an Emmy Award for public affairs programming. In 2017 I co-authored Flipped Learning 3.0 with Jon Bergmann. The book was updated based on the AALAS Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning in 2019.

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1 Comment

on October 3, 2018

This article was great to highlight the encouragement of a flipped classroom. As a future teacher, I am a strong believer on encouraging my students to utilize their skills in hands-on activities that will also help them to cooperate with their peers and share ideas with each other. By doing this in the classroom, visual learners and hands-on learners will have a chance to relearn the material in their own way instead of sitting down and listening to a lecture or video. Auditory learners will have a chance to learn the material by watching videos and taking notes. Although a flipped classroom will have every different learner engaged in the activities and video watching, the different types of learners will have a chance to learn the material in the way that they feel most comfortable in doing. We, as teachers, want every student to feel comfortable with what they are learning and to be successful, no matter who they are or how they learn, in the classroom and in the world beyond the classroom.

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