It was only a matter of time before enough people saw the benefits of the flipped classroom and began to wonder what else in education might benefit from a good end-over-end.
With the students’ experience transformed, it only makes sense that the instructor join them. While the backwards classroom reverses the traditional order of ‘teacher lectures, students go home to study and practice,’ the flipped academic aims to inform first and publish second. Instructors, professors, and researchers, we invite you to try these seven ideas for rethinking your role in education in the hopes the “flipped university” will follow close behind.
Be willing to be a pioneer
We won’t sugarcoat it: until the rest of academia catches up to the “flipped” movement, early adopters may have a tough row to hoe. One of the biggest difficulties will be overcoming the systemic obsession with publishing. Not for nothing has the phrase “publish or perish” become synonymous with the average academic’s experience. The number of academic papers published annually is now well into the millions. Ironically, this insistence on publishing is causing the quality of the research to suffer. Of course you have to work within the requirements of your institution, but as far as it’s in your power, push your administration to consider other methods than publishing in evaluating your performance.
Flipping means taking a hard look at the academic’s role in society. Information is everywhere, it’s overloading people. If the information academia is putting out isn’t useful to people, it just adds to the noise. Now, there are two potential pitfalls here. The first is that all research becomes studies on how chocolate is actually good for us (and seriously, haven’t we maxed out on those yet?). The second is, who determines what is useful? We think a good rule of thumb is work that could conceivably lead to other breakthroughs, new ways of doing things, and/or innovative products and ideas. Conversely, you won’t find any flipped academics doing work that has been thoroughly covered (hello, chocolate) just because it grabs headlines and grant dollars.
Tenure is easily one of the most divisive topics in the educational reform discussion. Part of the problem is tenure too often goes hand-in-hand with the amount of grant money and other funding that a researcher is able to bring in, because it’s quantifiable and because, well, it’s money. The difference between the traditional academic and his flipped counterpart is the flipped academic thinks of this money as the potential for future success, not as success already attained. It may seem like a trivial contrast but it will keep you focused on the wider benefit to others, rather than the individual rewards you might reap.
Online education has taken academia by storm in just a few short years, and while many professors are enthusiastic about the possibilities, an equal number (actually more than half) are concerned or downright afraid of the implications of this new environment. Fortunately, as a flipped academic, you have nothing to worry about. You recognize that online education is a game-changer, but you also know that no one-way video lecture could ever replace you as a knowledge guide. It’s your job to give students the interactivity, the one-on-one dedication, and (this is key) the prompts to think outside the box that they can’t get from a MOOC. Otherwise, why are they paying for a brick-and-mortar college experience?
The centerpiece of the flipped classroom experience is technology, which is simply a new means for conveying the information. Instead of fighting the rise of online education, the flipped academic will accept it as just another way for students to learn but will also seek out other new methods of instruction. Well-known former McGill prof Norman Cornett, for example, is a prominent voice calling for the “radical” teaching style of education within community, meshing students’ experiences with their curriculum. At Harvard professors are employing a similar technique known as “peer instruction.” Still others are incorporating digital badges into their grading. Classrooms are transforming, and the flipped academic is going to change along with it.
The typical academic — much like the typical employee in any industry — would prefer to claim all the glory for an achievement to sharing it with others. It’s self-preservation and it’s totally understandable. Nevertheless, the ideal for the flipped academic is to welcome input from colleagues and members of the community for the purposes of finding the best possible answers. Think of this less as the forced, unproductive teamwork that The New York Time spanned as “the new groupthink” and more like crowdsourcing for good ideas. This goes along with the decreased focus on publishing and its accompanying personal accolades and increased desire to benefit the community at large.
Remember the old saying, “There’s nothing new under the sun”? Flipped academics actually have much in common with proponents of action research, a term coined in the mid-’40s by MIT professor Kurt Lewin. This pedagogical philosophy involves people working together to do research to address immediate real-world problems, with the hopes of improving the way people learn and gather information. In other words, Lewin was a flipped academic before the term existed. Action research programs are easy enough to find while specifically searching the Web for them, but that’s not the case on campuses. Usually they are relegated to niche departments like graduate education programs. To think like a flipped academic, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Just don’t settle for passive research; go where the action is.