Mark Ostler, Faculty lead for Humanities at St Paul’s Catholic School, has been investigating the flipped classroom technique with his learners, as one of our BSF ICT Innovation Projects. You can read Mark’s initial and interim posts here.
As my project draws to an end I want to reflect on the overall experience during the unit of work it has been based on. As you may know from previous posts, there were many low points in the early days. However, as with anything new, a steep learning curve and many lessons later, I’ve become more efficient in the creation of the video resources required for a flipped classroom and am enjoying the cost/benefit ratio shifting in the right direction.
I gathered student opinions informally throughout the project, and have carried out a student voice activity more formally at the end. Students enjoyed watching videos for homework, were very happy that they were not officially required to do any written work at home, and felt better prepared for lessons. Some also commented on how much more they achieved during an hour long lesson as a result of being ready before the lesson started. Many felt they learnt more from the visual nature of video compared to a more traditional paper based reading and writing style task. Students were also happy with video that requires on-screen reading rather than listening to a voice over, which in good news as these are much faster to produce.
The parental voice was gathered during a parents’ evening for the year group the project has revolved around. I was fairly certain before the evening of the views I was about to hear. I suspected that although many would be in favour, there would be a group who strongly believed that unless their child was sitting and writing for at least half an hour, then it wasn’t real homework. I was wrong to assume that some would hold this strongly negative view. All parents had something positive to say. They felt that their children were more engaged when homework revolved around their laptop or tablet, as this is part of “how they live” now. Their belief was that the format of the information gets them interested, even if the theme doesn’t! However, most felt that balance is essential, and that in the long term they would rather online video to prepare for lessons was part of a range of homework styles, rather than the only type of task students are expected to complete independently. Finally, a small minority of parents were overly positive. One family had enjoyed a lengthy discussion about globalisation over dinner after their child had watched a video. Another (one I expected to be critical after a homework related discussion last year!) said that although they really struggle to monitor homework at home and that their child never seems to have anything to do, the online geography videos were the one thing they had seen their child doing all year!
Evidence of success?
So at this point, I feel more positive about my flipped classroom project, and feedback from students and parents has been positive. What about the facts, the harsh reality of assessment? The previous unit of work for the class involved in the project was taught using a broad range of lesson styles and strategies and traditional homework tasks. The average percentage in the class was 60%, and the average over the course of the year at that point was 61%. The average for the group during the flipped classroom unit of work was…………..(long dramatic pause)……….60%. So my conclusion could be that a flipped classroom environment makes no difference at all to attainment. I could discuss levels, but these as we know are very subjective by nature, and according to the government don’t even exist any more. All students managed to maintain the level that they had been working at, and a small number did improve by a sub-level, but it was probably unrealistic to expect a dramatic change in level over one half term. Importantly though, I need to remind myself that it’s not all about the numbers. The student voice shows that they have enjoyed their learning more. Subjectively, I feel like they know about this unit in more depth than those taught earlier in the year. It may be that I have worked so much towards developing their knowledge and understanding that I have neglected to work on developing their exam technique!
The fastest and easiest way by far to develop video resources is to animate power point presentations. If you’ve not tried this before, when your presentation is ready, it’s a simple case of file/export/create a video. You can set timings, or do the timings live as you record a voice over. If you prefer to record a voice over separately, Audacity is free, and easy to use for simple recording tasks. You could then patch your video and voice over together in Movie Maker. These steps provide a simple way of creating video without any additional software cost. I’ve also tried out iMovie, which certainly gives a more professional look to the end result, and Adobe Premier Elements, but these both depend on access to more expensive hardware and paid-for software. I also feel that there’s more to learn once you start using a more polished and highly developed package. If time is short, (and when isn’t it?) use what you know, as the students seem to be just as happy with the end result.
With regard to internet resources, setting up a Youtube channel is a great way to go. I would suggest that you don’t allow comments on your videos, so that there’s nothing you need to spend time moderating. Students have liked being able to subscribe to the channel so that they are automatically updated when the next video has been posted. It’s also interesting to look at the statistics to get an idea of how many students have watched, and what their average viewing time is. You can also enjoy the moment when someone first watches your video in another part of the world! You can use Youtube’s creation tools to add background music, and there is a broad range of free music to choose from. Many other websites also provide access to open source music, including opsound.org and freemusicarchive.org. If you are looking for images to use in your video, the easiest solution I have found is to search as usual in Google images, then use the search tools to change the usage rights to anything labelled for reuse.
So what does the future hold? Will I continue this approach with class I have trialled it with and extend it to others? The simple answer is no. For one person do this with one, let alone all their classes, the time required to do it well is prohibitive. However I can see, and in some lesson have really enjoyed, the benefits. My conclusion is that a flipped classroom has a place as one of a variety of teaching and learning strategies. Even if the time did exist, I think that if it were the only approach, what you may gain from it would be counter-balanced by what you lose by not doing other things. I can see myself planning lessons and creating videos once every 2 or 3 weeks as part of a varied approach to teaching and learning, as there are other ways of running our lessons that we know are successful and beneficial and I would still want to include those. This was the main view shared by parents when I asked them. They were very supportive of the project, as long as the long term plan was to do this sometimes rather than all the time. Other staff in the department are also keen for some support to try the approach once in a while, and a long term aim now will be to develop a range of different videos and lessons collectively that can be used in places throughout the year. I encourage you to give it a go. It’s not the only way to produce a lesson that runs itself, but it’s worth it to experience that first time when the students spend a whole lesson doing more of the talking and working harder than you!