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Diane Mufson: ‘Flipped’ classroom offers promising results

Oct. 30, 2013 @ 12:13 AM

Most of us are, to put it mildly, fed up with our politicians in Washington. We’re relieved that the Congress has temporarily gotten its act together, and kept the country from defaulting on our debts.

Yet, since we know that the same cast of characters must revisit the identical problems this winter, we deserve a break to think about something totally different with a positive aspect.  The “flipped classroom” may fit this bill.

The flipped classroom is a teaching model that employs technology and understands today’s young peoples’ learning styles. Basically, students individually view relevant videos prepared by their teachers prior to class and then do what would be considered “homework” in class with teacher assistance. In other words, the learning plan is “flipped.”

A few weeks ago, Huntington attorney Tammy White organized a program at Marshall University to more fully explain the impact of starting this program in a few schools in Cabell and Mason counties. The teachers involved in these classes attended the program and were enthusiastic, even though more work is required on their part.

Ms. White has formed “WE,” the West Virginia Women’s Education Fund, to raise funds to expand this program to Wayne, Lincoln and Putnam counties. This activity demonstrates how informed and motivated people in our area can facilitate positive changes.

There are two basic rationales for this plan. First, today’s generation of students have been raised in the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube world. They constantly go to their smartphones, tablets or computers for information. As active learners they find sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture passive and often boring.

Another problem occurs, even in advanced classes. Some students find they “don’t get it” when the material is presented the first time or very quickly. Sure they can take notes or record the lecture, but that may not prepare them for the related homework. For many students there is no one at home with the academic skills to help with assignments. With videos, they can view them whenever they choose.

Experience and some studies show students have a better chance of understanding the material when they have background information and the teacher functions as a facilitator. The media have referred to this as teachers changing from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.”

Now, having been in the practice of psychology and school psychology for decades, I am as suspicious of new educational theories as anyone can be. Many have been announced with much fanfare, tried and then abandoned. But the concept of the flipped classroom appears to offer much promise in today’s technological environment. After all, we live in the MOOC (massive open online courses) world.

Since its inception in 2007, the flipped classroom is now in use in a variety of states and school districts. It was adopted for the entire Clintondale High School, an underperforming school near Detroit. After a preliminary trial, it was clear that students in the flipped class programs showed significant improvements when compared with those in traditional classrooms.

The flipped classroom will not solve all our instructional woes nor make all students have superior grades. However, it offers a plan to improve education for young people.

So as we all wait for Congress to “flip” from one issue to another and do headstands to explain how government shutdowns are actually good, we at least can take heart that right here in our region we can look for positive achievements from “WE” in the effort to expand the flipped classroom.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.




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