Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Flipping The Computer Science Classroom

I’m a bit of a “flipped classroom” skeptic. Let’s just get that our of the way up front. But I want to get my thinking out there in hopes that people will educate me on the whole idea.

To me it seems a lot like “read this chapter and we’ll discuss it tomorrow” but with videos in place of reading chapters. That seldom seems to work well in my experience. A few kids, maybe, do the reading while the rest expect to pick it up via osmosis or something. Or from class discussion. But most will miss out on a lot.

Yes, I know I hear stories of it working great but I don’t really understand how teachers get kids to watch the videos. What’s the secret? Do I have to be a real rock star presenter? If so, I’m in trouble.

The computer science class is different in many ways from other classes as well. In college we heard lectures and then went on our own to work on lab exercises. If the lecture was replaced by videos what would be the point of having classes? Just to ask questions about the videos? Maybe that works in college. College students are more likely to do the work at home (or dorm as the case may be.)

In high school we tend to have classes that are part lecture and part lab. A lot of the learning goes on in the lab time with students asking questions and getting one on one attention when they don’t understand things. At first glance this seems like a natural for flipping the classroom. Use videos that students watch at home and then have more time for labs. Sounds great. Well except for that whole “will kids really watch” and if they do will the videos be enough? And I have enough trouble getting kids to ask for clarification of ideas during in person lectures. Will they do it after watching a video?

I like the idea of videos for review. I’ve been recording some (see Videos for My C# Class if you are curious) and at least one student has viewed some of them. Stats show not many more than that. But that one student did tell me he found them useful and that he appreciated that I had put them out there. So that’s good. My hope is that a course set will make my life easier going forward. But depending on them to replace interactive lectures I’m not so sure about.

Anyone reading this using a flipped CS classroom? How do you get students to watch the videos? How to you handle your class time? What makes it work for you?


Garth said...

Student motivation would be the big issue. The typical HS student is not going to sit home and watch videos. After sports/speech/whatever practice the last thing they will do is watch a video that is probably not all that entertaining (unless Robin Williams is the teacher). This applies to any subject. CS would be even worse. Programming should be a lab course, not a sit and listen course. It should be collaborative, interactive, mildly profane (golly gee, why does this not work?), experimental, and frustrating. I do not think a video will satisfy quite as well as being in a class with humans.

Mike Zamansky said...


Funny -- I'm half way through writing a post as to why the flipped classroom thing is bunk - even beyond the "only the most motivated kids will watch" line.

Byteme said...

I am not a teacher but I think there are a couple of possibilities here to get kids to watch.

Use what some of the MOOC courses do - video followed by short quiz. To get credit you have to answer the online quiz. Even just basic logins and web stats can be used to track who watched what videos. Like lectures they may not be paying attention but it is better than nothing.

David Hovemeyer said...

Just an observation: peer instruction works really well in combination with flipped classroom. Students should come into class with some level of preparation for the material that will be discussed. (I.e., outside of class they watched a video, did reading, etc.) Peer instruction quiz questions allow you to test their understanding of the material, AND via their group discussions they will teach the material to each other. Each quiz question can be followed by a discussion/mini-lecture to correct any misunderstandings about the material. I've been doing this in all of my courses this semester (I teach at a small undergraduate college) and it seems to be working well.

More generally, I think the key to flipped classroom is to use class time on activities that allow you to assess the students' understanding of the material: labs, pencil and paper activities, group activities, etc. The danger of doing lecture is that it can lead to a false sense of understanding: students THINK they understand, but don't.

I agree that getting students to do meaningful preparation outside of class is a challenge, and I certainly haven't found a magic solution for this. For programming courses short programming exercises are an option, especially if they can be related directly to the reading/video.

Unknown said...

I flipped my middle school classes because I only have the students for 40 minutes once a week. I didn't want to waste class time lecturing. The students watch a video or two. They get five minutes for questions, and then they work on projects together. It is hard to enforce but I make them watch in class and they lose project time.

Garth said...

40 minutes once a week is an excellent reason to flip a class. I cannot imagine getting anything done in 40 minutes except maybe a little Q&A and some quick individual trouble shooting.

Unknown said...

There's a lot of evidence to support the flipped learning model. If we decide to 'watch a video' and then 'discuss it in class', then you're right, it won't work. the whole pedagogy has to change. The purpose of flipped learning is to provide students with the support they need. The underlying principle of FL is to allow students to explore lower order learning on the Bloom's Taxonomy (e.g. remember, recall, define, basic application). This provides the platform - in class - for the teacher to help develop higher order skills, understanding and thinking. All too often, we deliver a lesson and, for homework, say "Analyse this text" or some other higher order function. This might lead to reinforcing an already bad habit or ill-defined understanding. If the 'delivery' of the basics can be moved out of the classroom, we are there to develop - and correct - misconceptions in higher order functions.

Recommended Reading:
1) Flip Your Classroom by Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams
2) Who Owns The Learning by Alan November
3) Flipping 2.0 by The Bretzman Group
4) Why School? by Will Richardson