The idea was to flip the classroom this week, but not in the sense that I would ‘deliver content’ in advance of the session. I try to avoid this as I know this is not an effective way of teaching and might encourage (probably not the right word) passive learning if learning can ever be passive. Is it actually possible to ‘deliver content’? We do hear about delivering content and absorbing knowledge. Absorbing knowledge as if knowledge is some sort of magic cream that soaks into our skin and then reaches our brain and makes us more knowledgeable? What is knowledge and how do we get it if not through absorption?
Also, just ‘flipping the classroom‘ where the teacher ‘delivers content’ ahead of a session – I am not sure how radical this is from the more common model where the teacher ‘delivers content’ during a session. I do understand that the ‘flipped classroom’ frees up classroom time for active learning and this is really good and valuable and enables more student-centred learning in the classroom. At the same time, however, I am wondering if the flipped classroom is not not just changing the order of when things happen and using available technologies to do this? Is this still not tutor-led and tutor-centred teaching? Is this moving the instruction to the pre-session phase? Could something more disruptive trigger real engagement and active and profound learning before, during and after our sessions driven by the students? These are questions I have in my head when designing the week 5 task which I am sharing here hoping to discuss with others.
My approach is collaborative and we co-construct meaning through conversations, experimental activities and immersion that help us make sense of practices, ideas, concepts and make new discoveries and re-discoveries through uncovering experiences, existing collective and individual knowledge and digesting known and unknown in our professional context. In a way the approach is inquiry-based.
So, while the term ‘flipped classroom’ was used, I am at the moment unsure that this is what we actually did. Of course, language changes over time and terms are used in different ways. Many times words also change their original meaning, well people do. So if we used a version of the ‘flipped classroom’ that was different from how others use it at the moment, does this mean we need a new term or could it just be a different version of the ‘flipped classroom’ as others define and use it? I was thinking of how I could label the approach I used but also wasn’t sure if a new label or term is needed.
In preparation for week 5, students were invited to work in their action learning sets and explore a specific learning theory (behaviourism, social constructivism, experiential learning). A wiki was set up in Blackboard where the instructions about the task were captured. The wiki was used to co-ordinate pre-class collaboration within action learning sets. An inquiry-based learning approach was used. The activity was set-up by me the tutor and while I am writing it now, I think I could have been even more adventurous. Part of the exploration and the research was that the action learning sets carried would be to edit the related wikipedia page and check accuracy, identify gaps and starts filling some if these with valuable additions based on the research they carried out.All that a few days in advance of our face-to-face session. Was this too ambitious?
1. How did I feel?
When I set the task,I wasn’t sure. Actually the original plan was to ask action learning sets to work on this activity throughout the module. Only a week or two in advance of week 5 it suddenly clicked that it could be linked to week 5 around learning theories. As the action learning set didn’t seem to engage with this task from the beginning (was I asking for too much?) I felt suddenly releaved with my new idea on how I could make it work and relate it to a specific session and week. But I wasn’t sure if it would work, so I was anxious but also excited with the possibility that my students would get something out of this. I decided to go ahead with my plan.
The session around learning theories is the one which is undergoing the most changes from cohort to cohort. And we have tried different approaches, including guest speakers in the classroom and remotely, debates, de-constructing literally (we ripped it apart!) and metaphorically a book around learning theories and presenting interpretations etc. The feedback that we have been receiving about the module highlights a special difficulty with the learning theories and for some we do too much and for others too little on learning theories. How can we offer a more balanced approach that would help us maximise engagement with the learning theories and understanding? I keep trying different things and have invited my current students to comment on our current week 5 approach and my reflections captured here so that I can see clearer their perspective and identify how I could refine the approach for future cohorts or come up with a completely new idea. Also very possible 😉
2. What did I learn?
This approach confirmed again that we do need to trust our students. It is important to design learning experiences that foster deep engagement through collaborative and autonomous learning. Students are also able to self-organise and find ways to communicate and co-ordinate learning activities. Some might say that my students are a special case as they teachers and ready for such type of learning. And I would probably agree with them. But are there ways to help all our students? Is scaffolding learning activities needed to help students become autonomous responsible learners and collaborators? If we do need to use a scaffold, do we teachers provide this, or could this emerge from the students themselves, generated by peers, their community?
When my students arrived in class, I was so pleased to discover that they felt relaxed about each other’s presence and have opened up to new learning opportunities. I noticed that some of the pairs from week 4 when we played our mixed-reality game in Manchester City Centre did sit closer together. Was this a coincidence? What effect did last week’s task have on their relationship as learners? I find this fascinating and would also like my student views on this.
Too often I have heard that wikipedia is bad for us, that we shouldn’t recommend student to use it. Wikipedia is a digital encyclopedia which is enriched by the global community. I think there was value in visiting specific pages and editing the ones linked to the theories we wanted to explore in the context of this module. I asked my students to critique and identify gaps and enhance existing pages. Is this a bad thing? Isn’t this a form of peer learning and peer review? When we later openly discussed the theories in class and recorded these, they will become learning resources that can be shared with others who perhaps missed the class, students who would like to review their learning and also others from outside the cohort, outside the university. Re-use and re-purposing. The idea is to create a bank of learning theory videos and edit further wikipedia pages, further learning theories. I would also like to use the clips we created with this cohort to become foci for discussion with future cohorts. Writing about it now, sounds good and I would like to try it again with the next cohort but might alter the approach.
I loved the depth of engagement with the literature and how this surfaced through the presentations as well. I was so proud of what my students have learned and as one of my students said “Chrissi didn’t really tell us anything. She could be away and we would still do the task and learn.” What does this mean for teachers? Something to think about.
3. What would I do differently?
I am wondering if this task could be aligned more clearly with the assessment of this module. As it has been done with the game. Perhaps I could emphasise more that this task, if I decide to use it again, is helping students to gain a better understanding of a variety of learning theories and explore how these link to their experiences as a learner and teacher. I actually think that could work. The educational autobiography, for example, which is the first piece my students are writing, should be completed in the first few weeks. I could ask them after week 5 to revisit this and try and analyse some of their experiences in light of the theories we explored and further engage with the literature. I think that could work but I would like my students also to comment on this. Also, I think we could link the learning theories week to the observations we carry out as part of the module and also keep referring back to them in the remaining sessions.
The action learning sets are not all the same size (2 of them are much bigger than the third and this can be problematic!). This week especially, I think this imbalance created a challenge for some and I do need to think more about shaping these in future cohorts. Not sure what I can do when some of the students are not able to attend specific sessions and then some of the action learning sets have less members to carry out this and other activities. But I really should come up with a plan B so that nobody is disadvantaged and feels enabled to engage and contribute in a meaningful way.
The task itself. I would like to refine this week’s task further. Keep the inquiry element and but not ‘sell’ it as the “flipped classroom”. Looking back now, I am no longer sure that this is what we did. As I did design the pre-class activity this time, I would like next time to let the students take ownership of their learning and create a task themselves that would help them learn. I am now excited with this idea!
A big thank you to Mark McGuire who stayed with us and co-facilitated this session with me on Tuesday but also Fred Garnett who prepared an extension activity on our PGCAP News Blog This is an opportunity to start thinking about our own teaching and learning philosophy, law or theory. Please engage in this!
Thank you everybody for embracing this experiment. I am looking forward to your comments. 😉