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« Found on the web: 10/25/2011 (a.m.) | Main | What young people can do, and why it's relevant to ICT »

8 Observations on flipping the classroom

One of the more unfortunate buzzwords to appear in online education circles and the press is “flipping the classroom”. This means that instead of lecturing students in lessons in school, the teacher records the lecture as a video and uploads it to YouTube – or recommends other people’s videos to the students. The students watch the videos for homework, freeing up the lesson for interactivity, project work and so on.

Would you REALLY want to watch this every night?!I not impressed with this brilliant “new” idea. Why not?

  1. It’s not actually new. When I did my post-graduate teacher training course in 1974 at Brunel University in the UK, the university library had thousands of videos and tape-recordings you could watch or listen to in study booths. The videos comprised not just lectures but televised interviews and documentary films. That was 37 years ago!
  2. Do teachers actually only lecture these days? Lecturing to students is usually (and rightly, in my view) regarded as an undesirable thing in schools. Sometimes they have a tendency to talk too much and ask too little, but that can be addressed through professional development on techniques found in assessment for learning. The answer to too much talking to, or talking at, students is not to institutionalise it in the form of video lectures but to reduce it.
  3. I would say that the best teachers realise that students don’t learn best by being lectured to, but that talking to students to give them facts or guidance is clearly necessary. In the best classrooms there is a good balance of different activities, including “lecturing”,and that kind of variety lends a sense of pace to the lesson, and helps to make it a good and enjoyable learning experience for the students.
  4. The Brunel anecdote in #1 illustrates a very important point: if you expect students to watch lectures outside normal school hours, you can’t rely on their having access to the technology. The school needs to ensure it has the resources and infrastructure to support such a change.
  5. The idea is unscaleable from the students’ point of view. In a typical English secondary (high) school the students will have 5 lessons a day. If each of those lessons becomes a video lecture to watch in the students’ own time, they will need to spend 5 hours a night watching YouTube. Is that feasible? Is it desirable from a health point of view? Is it even desirable from an educational point of view, given that the best homework activities require students to do something, not simply read, watch or listen.
  6. It’s unscaleable from the teachers’ point of view. No teacher in their right mind is going to teach a  full timetable and record all their lessons as lectures. What would  be a feasible proportion of lessons to record? I’d say zero, unless the school is able to allocate time for them to do so. It’s unreasonable to expect teachers to work full-time during the school day, and full-time outside school too!
  7. That leaves recommending other people’s videos. The only way I, when teaching, found it useful to do so was to tell students things like “Watch this video from 4 minutes in to 12 minutes in, then watch the second half of that video.” Other people’s videos (or lesson notes, or books, or radio broadcasts, or podcasts) are rarely completely suitable in themselves.
  8. Even it the idea were feasible, scaleable or useful, you still have to deal with the fact that lecturing to an audience is different to lecturing to an empty room and a camera. Even if nobody asks questions or makes comment, a good speaker will pick up on the mood of the audience, changing the direction where it seems efficacious, making the odd flippant comment to lighten the tone, or whatever.

In my opinion, the most brilliant thing about flipping the classroom is how well it illustrates that often when you examine in detail a so-called great idea you find that it’s not so wonderful after all.

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Reader Comments (17)

I appreciate your point of view and understand your concerns but I think you're off in some of your perceptions of the flipped classroom. First of all, flipping is not about videos. It's about creating a class that differentiates, returns to classical learning, and gives teachers the time they desire to work one-on-one with their students. It's about increasing student engagement, and giving students the support at the time they need it most. Read this bost from my friend Brian Bennett: or this post from me:

Your assumption that its videos every night is just not an accurate description and it shows a lack of homework on your part. For example, in one person's flipped classroom, the videos are not even required. They are given as a variety of resources for the students to use to learn the material. In another flipped classroom, there are usually 3 videos a week to watch. Furthermore, in another flipped classroom there are entire units where there are zero videos to watch. I don't know of any flipped teachers who have videos that are one hour long. They are usually around 15 minutes, which is probably shorter than most homework assignments other teachers give on a regular basis.

Flipping is not for everyone. There is not one right way to teach. There is not even one way to flip your classroom. Check out for the different models of the flipped classroom. Yes, this requires a lot of up front time and planning on the part of the teacher, but the rewards the teacher and (most importantly) the students receive from this model is worth anyone's time.
October 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrett Clark
I have a few thoughts on this (as a flipper):

1. The flipped class is NOT about the videos nor do all classes even USE videos. Yes, you're right, video instruction has been around for 40+ years. The use of the video isn't the relevant part of the model. The class time that is gained by removing the lecture component (when it can be done effectively) is far more valuable than any single lecture that is recorded.

2. All of my videos are 10-12 minutes and focus on one, discreet topic. I can hardly sit and listen to a live lecture for thirty or forty minutes, let alone a video lecture for an hour or more. I know I can talk all day and all night about some topics, but that's bad pedagogy whether done live or virtual. And again, that is if you even utilize video in your implementation.

3. The video I use is for review and remediation. They help me differentiate for learners that are athletes, band members, or for those that have chronic absences, jobs, children, etc. They are not used for direct instruction because again, lecture is not the best pedagogy. I do not require learners watch a video. I DO, however, use them as a tool to reinforce topics as needed.

4. Since I am not standing at the front of the room as a sage, I am spending my time in continual formative assessment, class discussions, labs, investigations, POGIL, PBL, and many other acronyms that can be thrown into the ring.

The videos are a very basic part of the class. It is not the entire story.
I wrote a post on this the other day you can see here:

October 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Bennett
I think there are a few misconceptions about the flipping concept.

Misconception #1: That the video assignment needs to be an hour long. ~Most key concepts can be covered in a 10 minute video, not an hour. And it appears that most teachers using the flipping technique are NOT assigning hour-long lectures.

Misconception #2: That the video assignment must be in "lecture" format. ~There are MILLIONS of professionally-made videos already out there on the internet that are informative, enjoyable to watch, and NOT a lecture. (see point #3)

Misconception #3: That teachers have to create their OWN video/lecture to assign. ~Again, there are millions of resources already out there. Our website,, along with several others, are devoted to finding those videos and making them quickly available for teachers to use in class and as homework.

Misconception #4: That flipping infers "lecture" as the best form of teaching. ~When in fact, teachers who are using the flipping technique are trying to remove the "lecture" or even the video time in class so that they have MORE time to spend with individual students and hands-on teaching.
October 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWatch Know Learn
Thanks, Brian, both for a reasoned response and a link to your article. As you say, the popular descriptions of the flipped classroom do emphasise the video aspect. But if the flipped classroom is as you've described, then what I should like to know is: why is called the "flipped" classroom and not, say, the "augmented" classroom? Because what you've described is, in fact, ways of enhacing and supplementing the lesson in order to ensure that learning proceeds at the highest pace for each learner.

And here is another question: given that what you've described in your comment is what good teachers always do and have always done (if I may take the liberty of placing myself in the "good" category, for instance, I was doing all this even 30+ years ago with the technology available at the time), why is it regarded as something new and innovative -- so new in fact that it even requires a new name?
Thanks, Kerry for the clarifications, and also for the reminder of the excellent watchyouknow website, which I have known about since, I think, its inception and which I have recommended to many teachers.

I did mention a couple of times the fact that the teacher doesn't have to create their own video (see intro and point #7). Regarding the 10 minute video idea, that's fine, but surely as a supplementary and complementary resource to what goes on in the classroom, not a replacement? Most articles about the so-called flipped classroom seem to regard the explanation part of the lesson as having to be done outside the classroom. I think a good teacher will explain it in the lesson, and then refer students to supplementary resources for further information or future reference. Surely what needs to be removed from the classroom is EXCESSIVE lecturing, however defined, but not ALL of it: you need to ensure that the students have all received the same explanation and had a chance to have their questions answered before moving on to other sorts of activity.
@Brett thanks for commenting, and for the link to Brian's blog post and your own excellent blog post on the flipped classroom. Before going any further I think you're being rather unfair when you declare that I haven't done my homework. This comprehensive article - - certainly emphasises videos and lectures, as does the press in the UK: see, for example, or

Be that as it may, even videos of 15 minutes are too long in practice, for the simple reason that many schools in the UK have a homework model in which only 3 subject homeworks are set each night, with each one supposed to take no longer than 30 minutes. Watching a video for half of that time is quite a big overhead, and in my opinion would need to be proven to be cost-effective.

But again, leaving aside all these details, I will ask you what I've asked Brian, which is simply this: if the flipped classroom is as you've described as opposed to the way I've, if you like, caricatured it, then it's what good teachers have been doing for ages, long before the term "flipped classroom" was thought about and, perhaps more to the point in this context, if "They are given as a variety of resources for the students to use to learn the material." then what exactly is being flipped? All you're saying, it seems to me, is that the student is not reliant only on the teacher's exposition, but has a variety of resources to draw on.
Hi Terry,

Thanks for your post. This is a classic false dichotomy in my opinion. We are assuming that it must be either a "flipped" classroom or a, erm, "right-way-up" classroom. What if the "flipped" classroom concept was used alongside other, more traditional teaching strategies? Why does it have to be either or? Why not both?

In my opinion, educators tend to get mired in ultimately pointless arguments such as whether we should flip classrooms or leave them the right way up; whether they should use tablets or books, pens or keyboards… The problem is that, in real life settings, it’s hardly ever a question of "either/or" but rather of "as well as".

I, for one, would like to see a more more positive debate in which there are fewer "instead-ofs" and more "in-addtition-tos", fewer "ors" and more "ands". A debate in which teaching and learning is allowed to free itself from the constrains of false dichotomies.

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJosé Picardo
Hi Terry-
Just following up with your question. As far as the "new" factor, I think it's "newness" is coming along with the ease we can flip with now that technology has advanced. Before now, it was an expensive process to record, edit, and share content ANYwhere, let alone the internet. But now, I (or anyone) can record their face with just a cell phone and send the file to YouTube with about three clicks.

Piggybacking off of Jose's comment, I think the supplement of video-at-home IS the innovative part. Until 5 or 6 years ago, no one had really bothered to record content in schools on a wide playing field. Some more affluent institutions (MIT Open Course, Stanford, which led to iTunesU) were, but no one at the high school level. Maybe its unfair that Jon and Aaron are getting credit for the move, but A) I'm not qualified to argue that, and B) having worked with them personally on many occasions, they are not fame-hungry nor are they worried about their images. They just tried something that seemed to catch on with learners and they ran with it.

Again, I can't comment on the name...perhaps we should blame Dan Pink in his "Fisch Flip," referring to Karl Fisch, a flipper living in Denver. You can read the article here: . The name seemed to stick, and now, its what people recognize. Yes, it is a blend of styles, but the name isn't important. Whats important is that it works for my learners and its something I want to share with people. I am no offended if they don't ever use it, but I'm here to help those that are interested in learning more.
October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Bennett
No doubt the use of videos is a great option for students and teachers.

Check which presents the best educational videos available on Youtube in an organized, easy to find way to watch and learn.

They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of irrelevant search results.

The website also enhances the experience using other means such as recommending related videos, wikipedia content and so on.
There's also a spanish version called
October 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlivepaths
Thanks, all. I agree with all of you. My take on this, having heard what people have said here and on Twitter, is thyat the so-called flipped classroom is little more than old wine in new bottles. In that regard I agree with Jose that getting hung up on names and "either/ors" is pointless. However, I do take Brian's point tht video creation is now MUCH easier for schools than it used to be, which in itself is a game-changer.

But I still think that a good teacher will use the lesson time, the technology available and the experience etc that the kids bring with them into the classroom to create an excellent learning experience. We don't need to invent terms or rubrics like the flipped classroom, but I have the greatest respect for thgose like Brian who have adopted it and adaapted it to good effect.

Thanks for the video website link, livepaths. Haven't come across that before; it looks good.
I feel the same way about "flipped classrooms" as an "unfortunate buzzword." I know I had courses where I was expected to read before class so we could do something with that knowledge when we got there. Yes, it's nifty to have technology to deliver content... but it makes me want to throw things when an article lauds the idea of using the technology and sort of forgets to discuss just why and how that particular delivery is effectgive. Forgive me for wondering whether or not such an impertinent question has even been considered.
I do hope there are good videos out there... but good heavens, there's some painfully mediocre stuff out there, too... everything I've looked at (granted, just two or three samples) from the Khan Academy fits this bill. (I blogged about it here and here and here and
February 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSue J
... meant to add that one of our math instructors is doing a true-to-the-description "flip." He uses Camtasia to go through his lecture as if he were in the classroom, with his pdf files on the screen and working through the problems and explaining the concepts. Students are expected to watch them independently (and we have many labs where they can do that on campus). there's further discussion and explanation in class time.
This is a class where students would be spending a *ton* of time on homework anyway... the student I talked to thougth it was okay (but it was still math ;))
February 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSue J
Thanks very much, Sue. I'm afraid I have to admit to not having yet looked at the Khan Academy stuff. Although I pride myself on not forming an opinion until I have seen something for myself, as soon as I heard that it consisted of a load of video'd lectures I thought (a) how is thins different from the stuff I was looking at 35 years ago? (b) how does a lecture help the "average" (just read your blog post!) pupil? I;s good to know that there are other people besides myself who appear to regard it as yet another example of the emperor's new clothes!
THe more I've looked, the more disgusted I've gotten. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and sample size ... but when I checked out his multiplication video and he said that "two plus itself times one" is what 2 x 1 means... I was speechless.
And this is something the Gates Foundation is dumping money into -- but I suppose it is consistent with an attitude of "Get a ton of product out and market well -- quality doesn't count if people *think* it's The Big THing!"
March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSue J
The one thing that Terry and I agree on is that it takes a lot of work to create the "flipped" part of this concept. I decided to go with the flipped classroom last year and I loved it, as did most of my students. But it took a lot of time to create my own videos. But once they have been created, then you've got them forever.

I also agree with Sue somewhat and her opinion of Khan Academy. Khan's videos, as well as many on Youtube, just don't fit what I'm teaching very well. Other's videos either go too far, not far enough, or they are just crazy boring and too long.

I'm not the best flipped video maker in the world, but I feel my own videos meet the needs of my students much better than what others have created.
July 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve M
There's a bit of a movement to suggest to Sal Khan and the Gates Foundation that just perchance they could consult people in the field of teaching math about effective ways of teaching it. Link is here:
My question is: given a million and a half dollars, why spend that on the trappings and put shoddy content out there?
July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSue Jones
Thanks very much, Sue. That is a pretty damning story, thank you for the link.

Readers: Sue has a very interesting maths-centred blog at Do check it out.

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