I’m pretty much a typical adult educator.

Like many college profs and corporate trainers in the 21st century, I teach myriad formats of courses to many different kinds of students. In the full-time Interactive Multimedia Developer program at Algonquin College, I’m teaching students who are also taking a pile of other web development and design courses. This group tends to be younger – millennials and GenY, though there are sometimes some who are GenX like me, and even some young Boomers too. I have two entirely online courses, and they comprise just about every age group. I also have a hybrid course (half online and half in class) which tends to attract people in and around my own age group and older. Top that off with the corporate training done through my company, which is typically a room of professional working types, and you can see that I’m dealing with a wide base of subject matter, but most importantly, a very wide base of learners and learning styles.

This presents a big challenge, especially when teaching things like computer skills and software. On the one hand, there are the millennials, who were practically born with computers in their hands. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the people in their 40’s and 50’s, to whom computers are sometimes still a fairly foreign concept. Of course, there are exceptions all along the way – I’ve taught plenty of younger folks who haven’t had a lot of experience with computers, and plenty of 55 year olds who could walk circles around your average 18 year old when it comes to tech. But generation gaps aside, my classrooms are extremely diverse. In a class of 40 students, some have never touched a digital video editor before, and some have been using tools like this since the 9th grade. And then there’s everyone in between. Teaching in the old model of lecturing, demonstrating (hands-on), and then sending the students off to apply what they’ve learned as their homework outside of class, does not meet the needs of everyone in the class. It simply can’t, because in a 3 hour class, there isn’t enough time to cater to everyone’s individual learning needs. As a result, I end up with a group who doesn’t get it at all, and struggles a lot in the application, a group who is totally bored to the point where they stop showing up to class altogether, and then everyone in the middle who end up sort of familiar with the concepts but not really.

In other words, the old model (lecture, demonstrate (hands-on), apply on your own) doesn’t work. So I’m flipping it.

I was first inspired to flip my classroom by the Khan Academy. They have been doing amazing work, providing video tutorials for students in a bunch of different subjects (many around Math and Science). Classroom time is not spent on learning new concepts at all – new material is learned as homework. Students can work through the videos at their own pace, pausing, rewinding, and repeating until they get it. They show up to class armed with their new knowledge, and are ready to apply what they’ve learned. The classroom is now a working lab. Class time is entirely spent on applying the concepts students have learned. The teacher is there to serve as facilitator, coach, idea bouncer-offer, and support. Instead of professors pontificating from the front of a classroom for hours, the profs are in the trenches with the students, working on problems and helping them apply their knowledge. Suddenly, the classroom is an experience.

The big up side of this is that it levels the playing field for learners. Now that everyone can learn at their own pace (instead of my pace as lecturer), it’s automatically more comfortable for everyone. Being able to pause, stop, rewind and review the material is an essential step to getting things down. The old model put the students in a position of familiarity – there was only ever enough time for them to get familiar with the concepts, because their homework time was limited to what they could balance with everything else going on. Now, their homework time is somewhat more finite – just enough time to go through and learn the concepts – and their classroom time is devoted to mastering the concepts through application. There’s more than familiarity. There’s the potential for mastery.

How’s it all going to work? Well, first know that I’m starting small. I’m just taking one course, my video production course – and flipping that, starting in September. I’ve done lots of research, but essentially, I’m just giving it a try and rolling with it. Over the next few posts, I’ll share some of the ways I’m doing it, from the nuts and bolts of creating the videos to integrating them to my curriculum.

Do you have experience with the flipped classroom model, as either a student or a teacher? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

[photo by zac]