Flip boring classroom lectures

Recent studies show that lectures elicit about as much brain activity in students as passive television viewing. Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt, CC BY 2.0

Presentation software such as PowerPoint and Prezi have improved over the years, but even the fanciest transitions and animations cannot change the fact that presentations can be a dull way for students to learn information. Rarely do presentations or lectures require students to practice higher learning skills from Bloom’s Taxonomy. In fact, studies have shown that lectures generate about as much brainwaves as watching a reality television show: next to none.  

MIT professor of media arts and sciences Rosalind Picard conducted a study in which she fitted her students with wristbands that recorded skin conductance as a measure of emotion and cognition levels. The sensors recorded strong spikes when students were in labs or at home studying and doing homework. The sensors recorded flatlines during time spent in class listening to lectures. (For more on the study: PDF)

Author and educator Sir Ken Robinson says the modern-day classroom, with its focus on lectures, is modeled after the intellectual culture of the enlightenment, in which the master taught the apprentice, often through rote memorization. This “sage on the stage” method of teaching is not at all effective in today’s information age. Why would a student choose to listen to a lecture when they can search the Internet and find videos, games, and interactive websites about the very same topic?  Classical classrooms, with their focus on lectures, are boring today’s kids to death. Robinson says that it’s time to change educational paradigms to better suit the modern world. 

According to Picard’s study, students are doing the higher level thinking that will “cement” the topic in their memory when they are home alone, without any coaching or supervision from a mentor or instructor. This is the time they would benefit most from someone to guide them.

One way we can work to change the educational parading is by flipping our classroom. In a flipped classroom, the instructor records brief video segments student can watch at home which replaces the need for in-class lectures. The teacher then saves the valuable face-to-face time in the classroom for interaction and activities that generate higher level thinking. The class or traditional lecture becomes homework and the homework becomes class. It’s flipped. The teacher’s role is no longer “sage on the stage” but  “guide on the side.”

But there are a few things you should remember when you decide to flip a class:

One additional benefit to recording short video presentations is that students can play them back multiple times and review the content more effectively.

With flipped classrooms, the teacher takes on the role of coach or mentor during in-class time. The teacher can more readily move around the room to view how students work, discover which students needs additional help, give feedback. etc. This replaces the passive in-class lecture. The lecture takes place before the students come to class.

For more on how you can flip your classroom using readily available software and technology tools, stay tuned to Learning Innovations.

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