Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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flipped approach

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I continue to think about how lectures are changing in our new connected world. My last blog post primed my thinking and thanks to the comments and a great run yesterday. I have been able to push my own thinking to what it is I was trying to get at and the changes to the lecture that we’re seeing today. 

Lectures For Content Delivery Are Dead

Boring LecturesThis is what I am coming to understand. That the lecture use to be the way we delivered content to students. The PowerPoint made this easier on us as it allowed us to make some quick bullet points of what we wanted to cover and then go about “covering the material”.

When content is free, open, and accessible to all then we need to rethink what lectures should be used for and delivering content or knowledge is not a good use. Let kids go find the content….what we need to use the lecture for is to inspire them to go learn the content, create understanding, and apply that new knowledge to other areas. 

Lectures should be used to inspire, tell stories, and push ideas

Before every keynote or lecture I give I start by giving the audience a page like this that allows them to get involved with what I am talking about or to be off task.

I constantly tell my audience that if they are going to be off task then here are some links, some ways to be off task. If I can’t hold their attention that’s my fault as a teacher not their fault as a learner.

Is that right? We are quick to blame students for not paying attention but to be fair if I’m in a boring lecture I don’t care how old I am I’m not paying attention. Is that my fault as a student or the teacher’s fault? I believe that’s my fault as a teacher. You might disagree but I’ll own it that if my class is boring that’s on me.

So what should a lecture be used for if it is not to deliver content?

Inspire: I love inspiring lectures. The ones that make you stand up at the end. The ones that make you feel like going out and making a difference, the onces that you can’t wait to share with others, that you retweet, or reshare in some way. They inspire you to take action, to try something new, or just to smile and enjoy life. Lectures should be used to inspire. 

Tell Stories: I love a good story teller. Sir Ken Robinson is a good story teller along with pushing ideas he tells stories about as good as anyone….his ability to weave story telling and idea pushing together is what pulls you into his lectures. Use lectures to tell stories that inspire, that get a point across, that push me to want to learn more or to think deeply about a subject. 

Push an Idea: My personal favorite are lectures that push my thinking to the point where my head physically hurts. Have you ever been to a lecture where your thinking has been pushed so far past what you believe, what you thought possible, or what you can image is possible that it actually hurts? It’s happened to me a couple of times. These are also the type of lectures that have me scrambling to find…get this….content. Use lectures to push ideas.

So how do kids learn the “stuff”?

So where does the stuff come from? This takes me back to my ideas around flipped learning. Where the students are responsible to find the stuff and we learn it together in the classroom with a professional (educator) to help students put the stuff into context. 

What if your time with students ended in a 10 to 15 minute fantastic lecture that told a story of a person, or pushed out an idea that inspired students to want to know more. The students then for homework go and research what it is they want to learn more about around that idea, person, place, subject, etc. The next class period they come back with all this “stuff” they researched and we take the first part of the class to talk about the “stuff” and try to make sense of it as a class. We try to connect the dots, we try and find out how all this is connected to what we have been studying. Then we go out and research some more. 

We don’t need to deliver content, we need to inspire students to go out and find it for themselves. What inspires you to do a search? Why do you search for this or for that on the web? It’s because you want to know it….you need to know it. It pains you not to know it. That’s what we need to do and that’s the role of the lecture in today’s world. Not to deliver content but to inspire, tell stories, and push ideas to the point we want to go learn the “stuff” on our own. 

In my last blog post a couple days ago I talked about lectures not being a bad thing. 

Both Will and I make livings now lecturing to people. Lectures aren’t bad when used properly to motivate, inspire, or push thinking. So the flipped approach is not about replacing the lecture.

That quote has been tweeted a bit and it has me thinking about the changes we have seen in lectures and how they do not need to be should not be the sit and get sessions we remember from our time in school.

lecture
by Tulane Public Relations

In fact I think lectures are making a come back in some sense. We all love TED Talks which are nothing more than a lecture. But a lecture with something we all really enjoy….a time limit. 18 minutes is all you get for a TED Talk and because of that time limit it’s an intense 18 minutes. I know when I was giving my TEDx Talk I was watching the clock to make sure I was on time and within the limits as they will cut you off. 

Lectures aren’t the problem….Bad lectures are.

There is no reason a lecture today should not be interactive and engage the audience in the ideas being talked about. Or fast and engaging to the point where people don’t want to be off task. This is what TED does so well.

Will Richardson (I’ll keep picking on him for now) at his ISTE presentation lectured…and it was a great lecture. But what made it even better was that he used Today’s Meet a free chat room for those in the audience to share their ideas. Will did a great job of asking people to get involved, to give him feedback, and then he used the audiences input to change and adapt his talk. Taking time to check the stream, to engage with his audience. That is what a good lecture today should be. 

There is absolutely no reason why this can’t be done in a classroom. There are so many ways to engage your audience when giving a lecture that it should be just what we expect from a lecture in today’s digitally connected world. 

We also know more about the brain then ever before and know the brain needs processing time, or think time about every 10 minutes. Which is why whenever I’m giving a talk, about every 10 minutes I give the audience a 3 minute talk and process time. This also allows me to look at notes, chat rooms, tweets, or whatever system I have set up and reflect on how the lecture is going, see where I need to make changes and adapt to the audience. Again TED Talks are so good because they are no longer than 18 minutes and most are much shorter than that. Giving us that perfect chunk of knowledge that we can handle, process, and make meaning of.

I still find it fascinating how many times when giving a talk that this idea of back channeling is a new concept to so many. As if “sit and get” is still what is expected. It shouldn’t be!

Simple ways to back channel in the classroom:

  • Collaborative Notes: The simplest and probably most rewarding for students is to allow collaborative note taking by the class. Once you introduce students to this, whether in a lecture, in reading text, or just studying for a test it changes the note taking process forever…and I would argue for the better. Google Docs works perfect for this!
  • Chatroom: There are so many free ones out there or you can use a simple Google Doc and have students chat in the doc if you have that available. So many possibilities with a chatroom I don’t know why this isn’t more common.
  • Class Twitter Hashtag: I personally have never used this in a classroom but I know of others that have and as long as every student has a Twitter account (and they should) then this adds power not only during class but anytime students are connected they could be sharing, learning, engaging in the class.
  • Class Facebook Page: If you set up a class Facebook page students can chat, take notes, discuss, and stay connected long after the period or school is over. In fact just today on one of the class Facebook pages that I helped a teacher set up at ISB a graduated Senior posted he passed the IB exam and gave a shout out to the teacher thanking him for his teaching and helping him the past two years to find his voice and have a new respect for literature. Pretty cool if you ask me. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you are giving a lecture make it interactive….and no, a 100 slide powerpoint presentation is not interactive no matter how many times the letters fly in from the left, top and right. 

Lectures aren’t bad…..bad lectures are bad. Take time to make your lectures interactive, to put the focus on those listening and give them the power to interact with the content and with each other and you change the dynamics in a classroom really quickly. You put the focus on the learner not the content and that is never a bad thing.

Will Richardson wrote a blog post over at SmartBlogs that has been rolling around in my brain for a couple of days now and it’s time to put some of these thoughts down and see what you think. 

First I’m a big believer in the “Flipped Approach” not because it’s new, it isn’t, not because it’s about lecture…because it isn’t, but because it has educators talking and thinking about new ways of teaching….and that is aways positive. 

I do a flipped presentation that is my number one requested presentation at the moment but it’s not your typical flip presentation. I never talk about video, I never talk about “replacing lecture”. I talk about the classroom and what it looks like when content is everywhere. 

Will takes, what I think, is a very conservative definition of flipped learning:

For the uninitiated, the flipped concept suggests that we can now use technology to offload many of the more mundane classroom tasks — lectures primarily. It’s not hard to see the appeal, with the advent of Khan Academy and easy screencast-recording technology that allows any of us to give a lecture for homework and free up time for in-class problem-solving and discussion. But here’s the thing: flipping is nothing new, and as it stands, most flipping that I see doesn’t flip the most important switch that I’ve been discussing here — moving ownership of learning away from the teacher and more toward the student.

FlippingWhy can’t, what we’ll call a flipped approach, move to include ownership of learning for the students? I have talked about different ways I have worked with teachers in using a flipped approach in their classroom here, here and most recently here. The last example I linked to empowered students to take control of their own learning and write what they felt and learned that in the end got myself, the teacher, and the students in trouble with the government of the country I was in at the time (left out for obvious reasons…but you can figure it out). The teacher was threatened with jail time by the government and was asked to “leave politics out of teaching history”. In the end we had to pull down all blog posts written by students. Empowered learning? You can be the judge.

Here’s the thing we need to remember about the “flipped approach” if we think its job is to replace the lecture we need to rethink what it’s about. As many times as I have presented on this approach I’ve never had a teacher come up to me and say,  ”I lecture all the time and I know I need to change”. The fact of the matter is very few teachers actually lecture all the time. Lectures aren’t a bad thing either. Both Will and I make livings now lecturing to people. Lectures aren’t bad when used properly to motivate, inspire, or push thinking. So the flipped approach is not about replacing the lecture. 

To me the flipped approach is about thinking deeply about how we use the time we have with students. Maybe “flipped” is the wrong word…but it’s the word of the moment so if that’s what it takes to create change that’s what I’ll use. 

I constantly talk about one simple question that everyone should be asking themselves:

What is the reason we get together face to face?

When content is free and open, when everyone is should be connected, when learning is should be happening everywhere and anywhere, what’s the reason why 18,000 educators still made their way to ISTE12 in San Diego last week? There is not one concept or idea that was talked about at ISTE that couldn’t have been learned online.

Conferences still have a purpose…but it’s not content and knowledge. 

Classrooms still have a purpose…but it’s not content and knowledge.

As a high-school English teacher, I was flipping in the classroom in 1983, having my students read the literature at home and come into class ready to discuss it. That was flipping the curriculum, but it still wasn’t flipping the control of the learning. By assigning the lecture at home, we’re still in charge of delivering the curriculum, just at a different time. From what I’ve seen, flipping doesn’t do much for helping kids become better learners in the sense of being able to drive their own education.

Absolutely….you can’t expect students to become better learners unless we give them the skills they need to become better learners. In order to “flip the control of the learning” we need to empower students with the skills needed to learn.

What are the skills needed to be a learner today?

  • Know how to search effectively
  • Understand the power of connections 
  • Be able to skim efficiently
  • Be able to make connections between different pieces of data
  • Be able to communicate to a global audience
  • Be able to read hyperlinked text deeply
  • add your skill to the list in the comments

In 1983 the only skill Will was having student work on with his “flipped approach” was reading….and although that’s a skill that must be practiced, in high-school that’s a pretty low level skill for a homework assignment. If you are having students watch a video at home the only skill they are practicing is…watching? Listening?

The flipped approach, if nothing else, is making educators look at how they are using homework time and class time differently. That’s a good thing…we can only change approaches if we’re first willing to look at what we’re doing now and how we can use our time with students both at home and in the classroom better. 

Will and I agree on the larger point:

The larger point is this: This moment of huge disruption requires us to think deeply about our goals and practices as educators, and it requires us to think deeply about the language we use. Words matter. More importantly, our thinking about what we want our kids to learn and our changed roles in that process matters. I’m suggesting that right now, because of the Web and the plethora of new technologies, the best thing we can do for kids is empower them to make regular, important, thoughtful decisions about their own learning, what they learn and how they learn it, and to frame our use of language in that larger shift, not simply in the affordances for traditional curriculum delivery that the tools of the moment might bring.

Whether the approach is called personal learning, flipped learning, self-directed learning or (insert word here), I really don’t care. I agree with Will that where all this should be headed is exactly opposite from where it seems to be going today. 

The flipped approach isn’t a bad one if we define it as Will suggest and as I try to convey. The flipped approach is about empowering students with the skills needed to learn on their own, not empowering teachers with new ways to deliver content. 

You want to empower students to learn on their own? First we need to give them the skills to do so. Where are we teaching students the skills they need to be “empowered learners”? Let’s replace content standards with skill standards and assess those…then we can talk about flipping education as a whole.