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Helping educators move to flipped learning

April 05, 2017

Flipped learning isn’t sweeping the nation’s classrooms yet, but it surely is gaining traction. As more schools embrace the educational concept, many K-12 education leaders look to solution providers to help them enhance their curriculums with technology that supports the model.

Around 40 percent of middle and high schools are implementing flipped learning with positive results, according to the Speak Up 2014 National Research Project facilitated by the education nonprofit Project Tomorrow and the Flipped Learning Network. Seventeen percent of elementary schools are increasingly using flipped learning in their classrooms, too. In higher education, close to 70 percent of surveyed college faculty have tried flipping an activity, class, period or course, and plan to do it again, according to the report “Flipped Classroom Trends: A Survey of College Faculty” from Magna Publications.

The origins of the flipped learning model lie in the idea of exchanging places between the activities traditionally handled in the classroom and those undertaken at home—chiefly, lectures and homework. In a flipped environment, students watch instructional videos online on their own time and then work with their peers and teachers on assignments in class.

But there’s more to the concept than that: The big-picture focus is on maximizing classroom time in pursuit of rich learning opportunities and student-centered, active and collaborative learning strategies. For example, at the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School, a public middle school founded in 2014, teachers use Cortex, a Web-based platform that brings together instructional tools, digital content through playlists, student goal-setting and feedback, and more to create a highly interactive experience for students.

“Cortex allows students to encounter a variety of resources, either paced to the scope and sequence of what a teacher is teaching or through a playlist of digital resources that allows them to progress at their own pace,” says the school’s co-founder, Erin Mote. “This means that within a typical day a student will encounter a flipped classroom in a direct instruction context, with small group tutoring, or in a collaboratively co-taught classroom.”

This way, the school creates a highly configurable environment to telegraph the message that learning can happen anywhere, she explains. The furniture is movable and every student gets a Chromebook. It seems to be working.

“Last year Brooklyn Lab was among the best performers in the nation in terms of absolute academic growth,” Mote says. “Students—a third of whom are students with disabilities—experienced an average of 3.2 years of growth in reading and 2.1 years of growth in math as assessed by Northwest Evaluation Association in just one school year.”

Down the Flipped Learning Path
Other schools beginning to chart their own course to flipped learning classrooms may seek support in choosing, setting up and learning to use appropriate software and hardware, as well as to architect infrastructures and integrations to bring new learning environments to life. Forward Edge, the largest K-12-focused technology provider serving Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, is helping schools use technology and integration to enhance their curriculums overall, “with the flipped classroom being one piece of that bigger puzzle,” says Katie Ritter, its director of integration services.

Teachers often dip their toes into flipped learning as they undergo professional development and learn about opportunities to create video instruction for students. “They tend to try things out in smaller bites versus implementing a full-blown flipped learning classroom on a regular basis,” Ritter explains. Forward Edge supports those efforts, introducing educators to screen-casting software to create video tutorials, for example, and showing them how learning management systems or YouTube can house these videos as well as additional flipped classroom resources.

Since making video screen-cast tutorials can be time-consuming, Ritter encourages teachers to record their lessons in the physical classroom space as they are teaching them, using devices like Swivls. These automated mobile accessories connect to smartphones via Bluetooth to create videos with features like automatic panning and CD-quality sound. “Teachers can have the recording automatically going on in the background while they use their smartboards, and create videos without taking an extra minute outside of teaching time,” she says.

Flipped learning initiatives also seem to be moving on a parallel track with districts’ moves away from bring-your-own-device (BYOD) toward one-to-one initiatives, where the school provides the same mobile device for use on wireless networks to all users. That’s good news for flipped learning. With BYOD efforts, after all, even wealthy districts likely will have populations of students who can’t afford their own devices to access screen-cast or other online content, says Forward Edge CEO John Waltz. Clearly, that puts a brake on teachers’ desire to create such content. “A lot of districts are headed in this direction,” says Waltz, who notes that it’s easier for them to pursue this route from a cost perspective since the debut of low-cost Chromebooks.

Extend Your Reach
Solution providers like Forward Edge are in a good position to help schools make steady progress to flipped learning environments. Waltz points to the expertise Forward Edge can harness from Ingram Micro advisors who understand the education market and can help it point its clients to appropriate infrastructure and student device choices. “That’s essential to making recommendations to school districts,” he says.

In addition, Ingram Micro’s close relationships with manufacturers often result in Forward Edge being able to give its school customers a better price on technologies to support flipped learning and other educational technology efforts. “That helps leverage us over the competition,” Waltz says. Also of note is the work Ingram Micro does in connecting solution providers through the Trust X Alliance and government and education market groups to learn best practices from each other. “Ingram Micro is really good at pulling these communities together to glean what is working so that partners can better enhance what they do,” says Waltz.