‘Letting go’ to embrace the flipped classroom

Sara Warnes teaching

The flipped classroom is now synonymous in discussions and presentations concerning new ways of teaching. It struck me that the presentations we deliver focus on the practical, on the different ways we are embedding flipping into our teaching practice. Of course this sharing of experience is important and without it we cannot best learn ‘how to’ flip. However there is something far more difficult than the ‘how to’ flip and that is the ‘willingness to’ flip. In this blog I would like to shift away from the ‘how to’ and instead share my thoughts on the more intangible aspects of flipping. Aspects which we cannot learn from our peers, but instead have to thoughtfully explore within ourselves.

I started flipping in the summer of 2014 and since then have each year embraced and applied the concept more fully in my teaching practice. The simple reason being is that I have realised that the more learning materials that I can effectively deliver outside of the lecture setting, the more enjoyable the face-to-face time I have with the students is. This requires of me two things, one the expertise in how to effectively flip learning materials and two, a willingness to ‘let go’ of tried and tested delivery patterns and embrace new ones and this I consider requires of us great courage and self-belief.

To explain this notion of ‘letting go’ I turn to the metaphor of favourite recipes. I like to use the ‘go to’ recipes, the ones that I know won’t show me up but instead will show me off! Up until I began flipping this is what I did when selecting which teaching materials I would deliver in my lectures. I returned time and again to the materials that I was most confident with, the ones that I felt sure would not show me up and in doing so I realise that I was putting my own needs above the needs of my students. Experience has shown me that having the courage and self-belief to design and deliver a lecture in a different way, one where I have been able to stand more to the side than to the front, where I am able to observe students actively engaging with and applying their learning to real world contexts, is like trying a new recipe, the enjoyment and reward is so much greater than the tried and tested lemon drizzle cake!

Flipping requires a change in delivery platforms. We take learning materials that have traditionally been delivered in the lecture setting and effectively deliver them online. Taking these materials which require surface level understanding out of our lectures means that we have greater time in our lectures to do all the things our bright students enjoy and that is application, application and application. Students gain the basic understanding of the theory independently and come to the face-to-face setting ready to deepen their understanding, to make it meaningful in the contexts which interest them. This is where we add true value to the student learning experience. We become the supporters and guiders of this deep level learning, providing students with the opportunities through experiential learning activities to practice, discuss, debate, to work in groups and solve problems. Let us not forget that outside of the business school setting, life is confusing and often ambiguous, so we need in the face-to-face time to allow our students to experience this confusion and ambiguity. We need to purposefully construct learning spaces for students to think, consider, create and explore, we need to let go and enable our students to take greater control of their learning, allowing them to be active engagers as opposed to passive receivers of learning.

When we next reflect on the delivery and content of our course materials, let us do so through the lens of what our students need from us today, along with what they will need in the future. Let us commit to letting-go by putting to one-side our own needs. The question is are you willing?

Dr Sarah Warnes, Senior Teaching Fellow, UCL School of Management

Sarah presented at the Chartered ABS Learning, Teaching & Student Experience 2017 conference, sharing her thoughts in the session ‘The flipped classroom: a practical approach to going fully blended’.