Flip, Blend, Connect: A SXSW Edu Conversation

There’s a lot of buzz about flipped learning, blended classrooms and online learning–technology allows us to engage students with information in many new ways.  But is it really more effective (or as effective) as face-to-face instruction, and how can we just not replicate traditional classroom methods at home(like lecture), and turn it into something more transformative in terms of student learning?

This was the subject of a core conversation that Stephanie Sandifer and I led at SXSWEdu last week, (Flip, Blend, Connect) attempting to address:

  • What do these terms mean to you?
  • What questions or fears do these methods bring up?
  • How can we make student learning with these methods more transformative?

This session was a SXSWedu core conversation, which meant no slides, and lots of conversation among the participants.  Due to the room size, we used a lot of “think-pair-share” time, rather than other models, but it worked to stir up a lot of conversation.  (After all, don’t we as educators just want time to really talk to each other?)

One thing we wanted to do is challenge the level of use of these methodologies so that we aren’t just “flipping the lecture”, but moving their thinking beyond that.  So as a framework for the discussion, we shared the SAMR model by Ruben Puentedura as a rubric for evaluating levels of technology use in online environments.  (Thanks to Carl Hooker for introducing me to the model).

SAMR proposes four levels of technology use, from the basic level of substitution to the more transformative levels.   The model isn’t about “judgment” but about helping us examine our practices and see if they align with our goals, and it describes a natural progression of technology use with a goal to move towards more transformative uses.

Silvia Tolisano blended Puentadera’s work with Alan November’s to make a “mashed up” model–identifying the lower two rungs of the scale as ‘automating’ and the higher rungs as ‘infomating.’–a helpful way to think about them.

These models led to our second “Big Question” — If ___________ learning looked transformative, what would that look like?  (fill in “flipped, blended, or connected.)

I shared one of the examples I recently discovered in Alan Levine’s DS106 online digital storytelling course.  Students in the course create a variety of media objects throughout the course.  They then are invited to remix their creations randomly (by pressing a “remix” button that suggests a particular remix).  This “meta” level of creation takes connected learning far beyond just substitution of technology to a redefinition of a task completely.

Some research studies we shared, including a Department of Education “review” of studies on online learning, indicated that there isn’t a distinct statistical advantage to flipped, blended, or connected classrooms per se.  The factors that made the real difference in student results were–student choice (choice of assignments, videos to watch, etc.) and student self-reflection.  (Ironically, these elements tie in for me with work Carol Kuhlthau has done on the student research process.)

I also noted in other sessions at SXSWEdu on online learning and blended learning(like Andrew Ng–creator of Coursera), developers spoke about the importance of building the human connection into online courses to help with student retention and student satisfaction and engagement.  Of course in the flipped classroom, that hopefully occurs since students do spend time in the classroom.  What we wanted to explore in the discussions in our session was not only how we formulate the online pieces for students so that they engage them at a more sophisticated level, but also we do IN the classroom to follow through on that.

Much discussion in the session centered around ways to engage students better in flipped learning.  Good teaching still applies.  After a lively discussion of how to make ______ more transformative, participants shared their discoveries, including one art teacher who uses a “modified gamified flipped” art classroom using tools like Prezi, to inspire students.  And why not, as participant and science teacher Lindsay Owen, suggested– set the stage first with exploratory activities in the classroom, then the flipped item at home setting the context, and then following up on that in the classroom?

One resource we shared was science teacher’s Ramsey Musallam’s action research into his own classroom.  He decided to apply the scientific method to his use of the flipped method–having students “explore-flip-apply” rather than just start with the assignment to watch the “flipped” material at home.  He discovered that having students engage in exploration prior to hearing the content made a huge difference in their learning results.

Another area of concern in flipped or blended learning is mindful thinking about what happens when students are back in the classroom.   How are we helping students apply what they are learning?  Is the classroom time only used for helping students with problems, or can we leverage that background knowledge into student -centered projects or application of some kind?  (As a former English teacher, this notion of flipped classrooms isn’t all that different from asking our students to read novels at home, and then we engage with the texts through different methods in the classroom.)

Participants grappled with these questions and more in some very loud conversations throughout the session.   Our hope is that having a model to evaluate applications with with provide helpful food for thought that extends beyond the actual session.

For more materials and links from the session, check out the Flip, Blend Connect wiki (and check the sidebar for links as well).

(And thanks to Stephanie for being an excellent co-planner and lead on this session!)


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