Why I Flipped
I decided to “flip’ my ED 486 (Media Literacy) course because I wanted to both improve in-class activities and elaborate on the out of class activities students were expected to do. In the humanities classes are, to a certain degree, already “flipped’ in that students are expected to read assigned materials on their own and then come to class to discuss them in detail. Discussion includes (but is not limited to) verifying what the author is arguing, identifying and extending key points in the text, asking clarifying and probing questions, and juxtaposing ideas brought up in other earlier readings or outside texts. In ED 486 not all of the readings were in text form and students were asked to watch or listen to video clips, complete documentaries, podcasts, and visit websites. Still, books and articles were the most common and I discovered that they were also the most challenging for students.
Technology Tools Used Before, In, and After Class
Before Class (Preparation)
For ED 486, I used a lot of media artifacts to either illustrate a concept or provide examples for analysis. These included images, videos, and sound clips curated as informal “case studies.” Getting these media examples required constant “digging’ on the Internet as well as capturing sources locally (usually through pictures). All of these collected artifacts were organized using the program Together 3 (Reinvented Software). The program offers the ability to tag, label, sort, group, and add comments to a wide range of text and multimedia files which was extremely helpful to me. A piece of media can be framed in multiple ways and highlight a variety of concepts simultaneously.
I used the program Keynote (Apple) to assemble slides for the daily class sessions. The slide presentations generally had two main functions: 1) support for the readings (usually in text format) and 2) organize images and other case studies for display. The slides were available to students on the class website after the session ended.
In class, I presented the slides for the course using Keynote (Apple) projected on a large white board. Videos were displayed using either VLC Media Player (VideoLAN Organization) or QuickTime Player (Apple) because the programs offered the ability to quickly move non-linearly through the video timeline. I brought my own portable, battery powered speaker to provide audio. While small, it was large enough for students in the back of the room to hear.
Students were assigned a day to bring in media artifacts to class and they most often displayed their pieces using their mobile phones, tablets, or laptops wirelessly connected to an Apple TV (Apple) unit. Some simply moved their device to the front of the room and connected via a cable. This was surprisingly easy and quick and students seemed to be quite adept at learning to use these display tools.
A central part of the course is the class website (https://soniclightbulb.com/ed486/). There students can find all course material including the syllabus, class schedule, updated class schedules (they changed….), all of the course readings, guides to all assignments, links to websites noted in class, presentation slides, and the latest news. Frankly, I don’t know how well used it was because I didn’t have the ability to track traffic. I’m afraid that it was ignored by a portion of the class as some students asked questions that could be easily answered by visiting the website.
For over 15 years (even while I was an elementary school teacher) I have designed and hosted my own class websites. Admittedly, these were not elaborate or complex websites with the express function of broadcasting and distributing information in one direction out to students. Last semester I tried using Blackboard and, while it offered some interesting and useful features, I did not like the user interface at all. I decided to return to making my own website for this course.
For ED 486 I used iWeb (Apple) to make the website. The advantage of iWeb is that it is extremely easy to create websites that visually look simple and clean. No web designing ability is needed and building a site is much like using a word processing program like Microsoft Word. On the negative side, the program produces basic sites that are static and don’t allow for interactivity or user contributions. In addition, the program is quite old and no longer supported by Apple, however, it does continue to work.
Once the website was constructed, I “published’ the site to a local folder and then transferred it to my host website, a domain which I own. I used the FTP program Fetch (Fetch Softworks) to “mirror’ the local folder with the one on the server. I mirrored them to save time in the uploading process as only the new or updated files would be uploaded to the server.
My goal for subsequent semesters is to create a more interactive website where students are able to comment, ask questions, discuss, and add content. I am in the process of developing a new website for both hosting case studies for my teaching as well as webpages for disseminating information to students in my classes.
What I’ve Learned
For me, one of the most important lessons learned was that flipping only works if both in-class and out-of-class components are in solid order.
Early in the semester I noticed that the quality of in-class discussions and participation in class activities were not as I had hoped they would be. While I had my slides ready for class and readings in place on the website, students were not applying what they’d read to the discussions and activities in class. I had lots of questions: did they understand the readings? did they find the readings relevant? were they even doing the readings? I thought about how my teaching activities and in class behaviors might have enabled students to not read. For example, were they skipping the readings because, perhaps, there was no external incentive to do them? Did I need accountability systems in place such as quizzes? Maybe I supported the readings too much in class so students felt free to just listen to my lectures and presentations?
I know I have to make changes to in-class activities and practices and these changes have to reflect how students engage with out-of-school texts and readings. I learned that there had to be a clear connection between the two components of the flipped classroom but there was substantial evidence that the out-of-class activities were not being done. I could not implement a new accountability procedure– essentially changing the rules of the course– in the middle of the semester but I need to consider this in the future.
In the meantime, something I could do was change what I was doing in-class so students would at least be knowledgeable about course content. A way of making the connection between readings and in-class activities was the use of a “case study.” I recognize that other fields use case studies regularly but in education, there are not a common teaching tool. From a teacher’s perspective, I want students to be able to remember and apply course related concepts in their future work and everyday lives. I believe that once they understand a concept, they should begin to identify them as they occur and reoccur in a variety of contexts. The problem is these course concepts are abstract and expressed in domain specific (academic) language such as “hegemony,’ “commodification,’ “reification,’ “projected identities,’ etc. I tried to solve this problem by using case studies for students to make connections to. For example, In television, audiences are subdivided and sold as commodities to advertisers. My task in class was to create cases, a series of curated images and media artifacts with framing questions, so when students thought about talk shows (an image as part of the case), they associated it with the concept of “commodification.’ Other examples in the case, such as one on bottled water, helped to further reinforce the concept.
A more formal study of flipped classrooms has helped me reflect upon my teaching in new and revealing ways. It is possible that my students this semester were particularly reluctant to do work outside of class but it’s also possible that I over-estimated student preparation in prior semesters.
In closing, two texts that helped me this semester have been:
The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (2006) by Steven Brookfield
Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Teaching (2005) by Steven Brookfield and Steve Preskill