This year, more university students and professors will encounter a trend that has come to be known as "flipping the classroom." It's been largely associated with massive open online courses (MOOCs), that edu-tech vogue committed to delivering classes to large numbers of students all at once via video lectures and automated assessments conducted over the Internet.
Some promote MOOCS as the future of lower-cost higher eduction, while others lament them a solutionist privatization of educational practice. Despite the polarization, both MOOCs and flipped classrooms enjoyed positive mentions last week from President Obama, who announced a White House plan to make college more affordable:
A rising tide of innovation has the potential to shake up the higher education landscape. Promising approaches include three-year accelerated degrees, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and "flipped" or "hybrid" classrooms where students watch lectures at home and online and faculty challenge them to solve problems and deepen their knowledge in class. Some of these approaches are still being developed, and too few students are seeing their benefits.
Even among those who have become accustomed to hearing about MOOCs in the media, the "flipped classroom" might be a new concept. What is it, anyway? Here's a definition from a forthcoming report on the subject by the Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) at my own institution, Georgia Tech:
A flipped classroom inverts the traditional structure of a classroom. In a typical traditional classroom, students listen to lectures in class and perform other learning activities, such as solving practice problems after class. In this traditional structure, students are exposed to material in class via lectures, and they attain deeper knowledge after class via various forms of homework. In a typical flipped classroom, students listen to pre-recorded video lectures before class and perform other learning activities in class. In this flipped structure, students are exposed to material before class via videos and readings, and they attain deeper knowledge in class via activities.
Generally speaking, educators have warmed to the idea of the flipped classroom far more than that of the MOOC. That move might be injudicious, as the two are intimately connected. It's no accident that private, for-profit MOOC startups like Coursera have advocated for flipped classrooms, since those organizations have much to gain from their endorsement by universities. MOOCs rely on the short, video lecture as the backbone of a new educational beast, after all. Whether in the context of an all-online or a "hybrid" course, a flipped classroom takes the video lecture as a new standard for knowledge delivery and transfers that experience from the lecture hall to the laptop.