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Flipped classroom 101

By Aaron Sams
February 5, 2015
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There's a lot of talk about the flipped classroom in education circles these days, but what it boils down to is this: Flipped learning is a teaching technique that uses video assets as the primary means of delivering direct instruction to an individual — rather than lecturing to a group — so you can use class time for more difficult cognitive tasks with the teacher present. You can find a more comprehensive definition on the Flipped Learning Network site.

Perhaps you have seen the video below floating through your social media feed or at a professional development session on flipped learning. My friends at TechSmith made it about four years ago as part of a series featuring teachers who use their products to flip (hence the little plug for one of their products at the very end).

Given all the buzz about the flipped learning — dare I say — movement, I wanted to address some of the common questions I receive about this video and about the flipped classroom in general.

How did you make the video at 0:48?

Jon Bergmann and I used a TechSmith product called Camtasia Studio, but many options are available for a variety of platforms, devices and skill levels. We have a page dedicated to tech tools on our Flipped Class site, and our friend Dan Spencer manages a Google Doc with the most comprehensive list of flipped class resources I know of.

How did you get the digital ink on the slide?

We simply activated the pen feature built into PowerPoint and used a Wacom tablet to draw. When in presentation mode in PowerPoint, just hover over the lower left corner of the screen to turn on the pen. If you are a Keynote user, the pen feature is not built in, but tools like Omnidazzle allow a similar inking ability. Tablets have made the inking easier than ever.


I see iPods at 0:31 and 0:39. What kind of tech did you have in the class?

I had a handful of netbooks that I received through a generous grant from a foundation in Colorado. I also joined a district technology committee and helped move us toward a BYOD policy. I realized that some students had more powerful devices in their pockets than I had available for class use, and I wanted to use those resources as best I could.

Um ... safety?

Yes, there are kids sitting on lab benches at 0:10, and you see hair that isn't tied back at 1:20. This is one of the interesting things about documenting anything in video: All your mistakes become archived and viewable to the public. Although this public exposure sounds negative, it can actually be a very positive way to give parents and your community a glimpse into your class without them having to take time off of work to visit in person.

I live in a high-poverty community where many students don't have access to tech at home. Can I still flip my class?

Yes! This is probably the most common question I hear from educators, and believe me when I say it does not need to be a deal breaker. But let me be clear. Do not flip your class until you first address equitable access to technology resources!

Here are a few solutions I have seen in use around the world:

  • Put videos on physical media (USB drives, DVDs, etc.).
  • Write a grant for a class set of iPods or other video devices.
  • Do the " "in-flip," " where students can individually access all videos in class in a more asynchronous environment.
  • Ask community restaurants and coffee shops to give a student discount on food or drinks so kids can use the Wi-Fi.

How much coffee do you drink a day?

A lot.

Although most of the questions I get about this video revolve around tech, let me assure you that the greatest benefits of flipping your class are not about using technology or students learning through video. The greatest benefit lies in using face-to-face time to provide each student with individualized attention rather than large-group instruction.

As you consider whether flipping is for you, I encourage you to seek answers for your questions and concerns before you rule the model out. You can find the answers to even more questions about flipped learning in our Flip Your Classroom series of books.  

What do you think? Is this a tool you could use? Watch the video!

Aaron Sams longs to be in the classroom every time he says he is a former chemistry teacher. He is now an adjunct professor of education at Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania. He is also co-founder of the Flipped Learning Network and and serves as an adviser to TED-Ed.