Finding the right resource to support flipped classrooms in the UK

Chris Solieri

After 5 years of higher education graduating with a BA Hons from RHUL and an MA from Durham University, Chris has somehow retained an indubitable passion for education.

Now, the lead blog editor for LearnersCloud, a unique e-learning GCSE resource provider, Chris’s passion for innovative technologies has flourished and with it, a desire to share his own insights, reviews and experiences on integrating effective technologies within the classroom.

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What if traditional methods of classroom teaching and ‘homework’ were switched?

Teaching professionals have constantly looked at improving ways of raising learner engagement and attainment. While some have fared better than others, it is technology that has offered the greatest scope for innovation, helping the teacher to spend more time supporting students directly rather than instructing them from the front of the class.

Flipped or reversed teaching is not a new concept; it dates back to the early nineties where it was trialled in a study on Peer Instruction at Harvard University. The basis of Professor Eric Mazur’s study was to integrate computer software into the classroom in order to allow the teacher to act as a coach rather than a lecturer.

Today, the purpose of flipped learning has not changed. Rather than assigning homework to consolidate learning, the teacher sets preparatory tasks where the learner attempts to understand and absorb the lesson material before entering the classroom. The teacher is then able to migrate through the class, clarifying misconceptions and offering details to further accelerate learning.

The one significant change since the 1990s, however, has been the advance in sophisticated classroom resources. The introduction of iPads and Android tablets, the use of whiteboards and LMS/VLE systems have all led us to a point that supports and encourages the flipped classroom.

Salman Khan is a name you may be familiar with; he is one of the leading proponents and developers of online lesson tutorials. His video-based education platform, the Khan Academy, has become a phenomenal success in the USA, surging through state, private and independent schools with its collection of more than 4,000 free, teacher-led lesson tutorials.

What effect has this had on traditional teaching techniques?

In a recent interview with euronews, Salman Khan never imagined that after resigning from his analyst position at hedge fund company Connective Capital Management in 2009, his online video tutorials would be helping millions of students worldwide.

The idea behind the Khan Academy developed from his passion for teaching. While tutoring his niece using Yahoo’s Doodle NotePad, Skype and other online tools, he realised that there was no dedicated platform offering online tutoring services. Following his niece’s graduation, and the request from other family relatives for similar support, he decided to host his tutoring clips on YouTube.

Khan soon came to realise that there was substantial interest in video-based lesson resources both for learners studying independently and also within the classroom. Soon after, with his help already yielding great results for his family members and thousands of others who had watched online, Khan decided to focus his time on developing a tutor-led learning platform.

Today, following considerable investment from Google and the Gates Foundation, the Khan Academy offers a video bank covering a wide range of subjects, from physics and chemistry to computer science and English grammar.

Salman Khan’s mission has not been to replace the teacher but rather to offer a complementary and supplementary resource that provides access to all learners, at anytime and in any location.

Video-based tutorials have been the principal feature of the flipped class − and with good reason. They enable the teacher to create a schedule for students to watch, absorb and compile questions on a specific topic before entering each classroom lesson. The teacher is then able to accelerate learning by consolidating the information taught in the tutorials through problem-solving and collaborative exercises. In this way, the student is also able to control the pace of their learning; pausing, replaying and digesting material at their own convenience.

It’s clear to see why the Khan Academy has gained significant support in the USA and in developing countries. In the UK, however, educationalists have been less sure − critics have mainly questioned the relevancy of content and the level of engagement these slide-based tutorials offer.

What alternatives are there to the Khan Academy in the UK?

While many schools have trialled the use of podcasts and slide-based tutorials, opponents have questioned their ability to engage and excite learning in the same way that animated and illustrated video tutorials can.

TED has become renowned for its Technology, Entertainment and Design conferences held at locations throughout the world. In line with its mission, Ideas Worth Sharing, the not-for-profit launched a sister site TED-Ed that was formed to create Lessons Worth Sharing.

TED-Ed is an open platform and shares certain similarities with that of the Khan Academy. When visiting the site you’ll be able to browse through an existing library of video lessons, curated by real teachers and visualised by a team of professional animators.

The TED-Ed platform serves as a useful alternative as it allows teachers to select subject-specific videos, accompanied by a short lesson plan and follow-up talks, to support delivery. However, while writing this blog, researching TED-Ed and the teacher reviews available, a familiar question arises… how relevant is this for educators in the UK?

As an educator, I appreciate the value in mobile learning, the accessibility videos offer, and the usefulness of consolidation tasks and end-of-topic questions, but can this really be regarded as personalised learning? Yes the teacher or learner can select which tutorial to watch, yes they can choose when they watch it, and yes they view each video across multiple devices, but is this tailored and relevant to their curriculum syllabus?

To appreciate this distinction, I want to propose a third option: LearnersCloud - an online tutor-led video resource. While the coverage of this resource is limited to GCSE, it is gaining tremendous support from proponents of the Khan Academy in the USA and teaching professionals here in the UK. Developed by real UK GCSE teachers to ensure that each clip covers a specific topic or unit within each of the UK’s leading exam board specifications, it can be used as an independent revision tool or as a complimentary teaching resource in-class.

Irrespective of which resource you choose, up until now flipped learning has placed the onus on teachers to develop video tutorials. But with the use of external resources such as these, more time can be spent developing task-based lesson plans and reflective summaries.

Flipped learning is a trending term in education with the number of supporters growing exponentially and we’re seeing examples of successful integration in more and more learning institutes throughout the world.

Virtual learning projects are encouraging teachers to redirect their teaching methods and are orientating them towards the individual needs of the students. For us as teachers, this is a goal that we should all aspire to.

If you’d like to share your view or experience of flipped learning, please comment below or tweet @InnovatemySchool and @LearnersCloud.

Photo credit: Bombardier

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