Ideas & Debate

‘Flipped classroom’ way to go in era of e-learning

Institutions should adopt interactive and learner-centred teaching methods. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Institutions should adopt interactive and learner-centred teaching methods. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

In traditional teaching as we have known it, teachers talk and learners listen. Students acquire their knowledge in the classroom, while analysing, evaluating and applying what they have learned takes place elsewhere — if at all.

By contrast, when students obtain their first exposure to new material outside of the classroom — through reading or watching videos — and then add value to that knowledge in the classroom through discussion and reflection, creative thinking and problem solving, this is known as “flipping” the classroom.

The flipping engages students in purposeful and enjoyable learning, where the focus moves from just being able to remember and regurgitate what they had been told to understanding and applying the knowledge. Happily this is absolutely the approach being adopted in our new curriculum framework.

Not least in higher education, but throughout the years of schooling, flipping the classroom stimulates active learning in class.

It allows faculty to provide more personalised attention and learners to work at their own pace, thus accommodating slow, average, and gifted learners in the same class. It also allows faculty to focus on higher level and higher impact learning, and as the classes become learner-centred it helps them manage ones that are large or practical.

The increase in quantity, sophistication and accessibility of educational technologies has opened up extraordinary possibilities for creating and sharing content and for accelerating and deepening learning.

Technology supports flipped classrooms through capturing content for learners to access at their own convenience, and it can present learning materials as audio, graphics, text or video.

It offers learners opportunities for interaction and collaboration; provides on-demand content and stimulation to response, together with anonymous and immediate feedback; captures data on how learners are progressing; and allows synchronous and asynchronous engagements.

More and more e-solutions exist to support the flipping of classes, facilitating the sharing of files, videos, e-books and collaboration.

So why, given all these benefits, are we not flipping our local classrooms? (Which by and large we are not!)

Our dominant teaching method remains one where teachers or lecturers perform as ‘the sage on the stage, the GOD (Guru on Duty)’.

They justify remaining in their ‘chalk-and-talk’ comfort zone by feeling they are behaving “properly” and “professionally”, the way their role models did, and so they hold on to this approach rather than becoming facilitators and guides.

In the “one-to-many” style we are told that knowledge transfers from the lecturer’s mouth to the learners’ ears without going through the brains of either.

A lack of access to appropriate books or technology certainly contributes to the slow progress towards the flipped classroom.

And adequate bandwidth and online content are needed to access e-learning platforms. Plus both faculty and learners must develop both the competence and the confidence to work in this way.

Unfortunately though, a big cause of the slow uptake of flipped classrooms is resistance from faculty — from the “lecturers”. For them the flipping requires a willingness to transform how they conduct themselves, and to invest in preparing for the radically new approach.

Today’s learners are all digitally connected, so there is a greater challenge for faculty to keep ahead of them — and moonlighting at multiple universities precludes having time to prepare for such inverted learning.

As at a few other local institutions, at KCA University (where, for full disclosure, I chair the council) we’ve started flipping our classrooms.

Faculty are being helped to adapt to the new approaches, and students are provided with high-speed Internet which allows remote access to library resources and thus independent research.

The university has joined Eduroam, a facility provided through the Kenya Education Network, allowing users to log in to any member university.

And the library is a member of the Kenya Library and Information Services Consortium, where students access online journals and e-books.

Champions have also been identified to lead other colleagues in flipping their classes, and a Carnegie Africa Diaspora Fellow has come to build faculty capacity.

Like with the standard gauge railway, the train bearing the flipped classroom has left the station. Elsewhere it has been gathering speed, and now we too must board it in big numbers. Quickly and boldly.