I’m a great believer in flipped courses, and I’d like to say that everyone should teach this way.
But I won’t. There are some very real concerns about this type of instructional method. One hears horror stories about how instructors show videos to the class while they play a games on the computer, and I’m honest enough to say that I know it happens (for one thing, I’ve actually seen it happen). But I also believe that a bad teacher is a bad teacher regardless of the technology (and in fact, there is a long list of complaints about the teacher in question), so these reports should be viewed as indictments of the particular teacher and not the method.
But let’s say you’re a good and conscientious teacher who wants to do the best possible things for their students. The question you have to ask yourself is: Does a flipped class align with your personal teaching style?
Most mathematicians are gregarious extroverts who love going out and partying every night and meeting all sorts of new people and in general acting like Social Butterflies.
No, wait, those are reality TV contestants.
The stereotype is probably closer to the truth: most mathematicians are introverts with the social skills of a block of wood (or maybe MDF). We take refuge in numbers, equations, and formulas because these allow for precision, unlike the fuzzy world of can you believe what he did or which of these two outfits look better.
The only time where this stereotype is broken is with teaching, because teaching is a social activity. So those of us who become teachers have managed to overcome whatever social anxieties we have and are able to get up in front of an audience and speak to them. In other words, we have learned to become performers. We still have stage fright: the difference is that we muscle through it.
Now comes the important part: there are two types of performers, which I’ll call the movie actor and the improv actor. Neither type is inherently better; however, they rely on totally different skills, and you can be good at either or both.
A movie actor gets a fixed script and they work with it. They’re distanced from their actual audience by time and space, and if necessary, they can do multiple takes to get things exactly right.
In contrast an improv actor has a script, but much of the performance relies on the interaction with the audience and at times the script may have to be dropped entirely because of the nature of the audience.
Movie actors are like those whose lecture; improv actors are like those who use flipped classes. If you like to maintain a comfortable distance between yourself and your students; if you take pride in an excellently organized presentation; if you like to fine-tune your examples and your jokes; then a straight lecture is probably better for your teaching style.
But if you like a more direct interaction with your students, where they can smell your halitosis or comment on your bald spot, and most importantly have to adjust instantly to what a student knows and doesn’t know to what they understand and don’t understand, then a flipped class might be better.
And that’s an important idea to keep in mind. The two types of instruction require very different skills, and impose very different stresses. The advantage of a lecture class is that you can prepare everything in advance, and barring the random chance of a fire drill or other emergency evacuation there are no surprises. But if you’re teaching it flipped class you’re always living on the edge.
There are other things to consider if you want to do a flipped class. I’ll talk about that in a later post.