Flipping Classrooms – An Introduction with Video Guide

“there is a lack of consensus on what exactly the flipped classroom is”  – Bishop, Verleger

There are many videos, websites, organizations, and blogs on the subject of flipping a classroom. While the technique of flipping a classroom is currently a hot topic, there is not a clear definition of what it is. A 2013 paper by Bishop and Verleger, which provides a meta-analysis of flipped classrooms, defines a flipped classroom as having interactive group activities during class, and computer-based instruction outside of class (videos). The Flipped Learning Network (FLN) describes flipping as moving “direct instruction” from the “group space” to the “individual space”, freeing up group time for interactive learning with the educator acting as a guide.

Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams are considered pioneers of the flipped classroom. Rather than providing a specific definition of flipping, Bergman gives what it is meant to achieve. The goal of flipping is to maximize the utility of face-to-face time between the teacher and the learner. So while the ‘classic’ definition of flipping is to have students watch video lectures at home and do homework in class, this technique is not always the straightforward choice for all situations. How to optimize the face-to-face time varies by topic, field, age group, locale, institution, etc. With this goal, ‘flipped’ is almost a misnomer in that it indicates something must be getting swapped, lecture and homework being the quintessential example. It has likely acquired this name due to that flipped often presents itself as a way to improve the direct teacher to student contact time of traditional approaches. By understanding this distinction of the goal of ‘flipped’ classrooms, it should help one to identify and design flipped classes.

Continuing from Bergman’s definition, if the goal of flipping is to optimize face-to-face time, we could ask: why is this valuable? Often discussed with flipping is active learning (see the book, Promoting Active Learning Through the Flipped Classroom Model). Naturally, active learning is in contrast to ‘passive learning’ by making use of activities and discussions. It was first pioneered by Charles Bonwell and James Eison in their 1991 report, “Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom“. They advocate for: the development of skills rather than the transfer of information, more motivation, immediate instructor feedback, and higher level thinking. The aforementioned 2013 paper from Bishop discusses the learning theories and models which form a foundation for the flipped approach. Active learning acts as the “super-set” for these foundational theories:

“in the context of the college classroom, active learning involves
students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” – Bonwell, Eison

Active Learning


The DIKW pyramid is a hierarchy model between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. A person starts with data, which with processing transforms into information. Drawing connections and contexts among information can lead to knowledge. Finally, learning to use knowledge to make decisions can result in wisdom. While this post is not trying to be a proponent of the DIKW model, the model can offer an interesting perspective for looking at the benefits of flipping.

Relating the flipping of a classroom to the DIKW model, traditional lecturing involves presenting data and information to the learners. Then at home, students are expected to build on this to develop knowledge and wisdom from activities, homework, assignments, reviewing, etc. Difficulty can arise from this arrangement, as growing to levels of knowledge and wisdom can be tough and unclear. Flipping tries to provide more capacity for the teacher, the subject matter ‘expert’, to better facilitate and individualize the learning. Data and information uptake take place outside of class, and in-class time can be used for expanding upon this with discussions and activities. Rather than adhering to a strict, inflexible model of content uploading, flipping allows the teacher to work more closely with the student to help them ‘progress’ through the pyramid, which can be a distinctly different effort for each student.

If the principles and gains of flipping are plausible or appealing, the next notion might be how to go about flipping a class. Implementation may not always be an easy task, but maintaining the goal of optimizing direct contact time (face-to-face time) may be helpful. Bergman also has a video, “Overcoming Common Problems”, which discusses some of the issues encountered trying to flip, and present five tips listed below. Other suggestions include limiting videos to 15-20 minutes, and breaking down content into multiple videos if needed.

  1. Access – make sure the students have access to the materials. If this is a problem, try flash drives, DVDs, or even grants for laptops.
  2. How to Watch – teach your students how to watch your content. Watching educational videos can be a new experience for students, so show them ways to get the most out of them.
  3. Safeguards – what if the students don’t watch the videos? Try ways to increase the accountability of students, maybe by seeing their notes on the video, have them fill out a quick online quiz or form, etc.
  4. Perfection – DON’T aim for or expect perfection in making your videos. Producing online content can be a new and difficult task for educators, but you should not stress yourself by requiring exquisite videos.
  5. Start Small – if flipping an entire course is daunting, or you are unsure about the outcome, try flipping only pieces of your course. A single lesson or unit can help for starting small.

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