Tensions of Flipped Classrooms

Flipped Classroom changes the original idea of a traditional classroom. The concept comprises of digital medium lectures at home for students and class time is used for practice, questions for the teacher, and student testing on the material. What I’ve encountered through researching the concept of flipped classrooms seems to be many tensions relating to the independence of students in this practice. First, learning in the hands of students might challenge them to develop a better work ethic for school, which might frustrate some. Second, student motivation seems to be a crucial question for conversations about flipped classrooms. Third, students’ families cannot always afford the digital mediums needed for home. This research analysis intends to explore these issues further. To do so is important because overall these contributors are generally for implementation of flipped classrooms. In all, these tensions about flipped classrooms are important to consider for how flipped classrooms are argued to create the chance for students to have equal opportunity for learning and success.

To begin this research about the uses and limits of flipped classrooms, I interviewed Jonathan Hsu, a doctorate student in education at Westminster College, applied the new flipped classroom method of learning to his high school advance placement (AP) statistics class. I asked Jonathan Hsu, “Did you feel as if the students were improving with this new methods of learning? He answered, “The students were not really used to being forced to learn the materials from videos. But I thought the students were learning to take learning into their own hands.” In Hsu’s perspective it seems students are being held more accountable for their responsibilities, especially in developing schoolwork ethics. Individuals need to be able to develop a proficient work ethic for continuations in their paths to professional careers.

In Hsu’s perspective then flipped classrooms had much value for the classroom. Furthermore on average, flipped classrooms have shown rapid improve to student learning—leading to higher test scores. Available online on digital medium are video lectures, made by teachers. Students have the opportunity to learn at there own paste; rather then, teachers cramming the information within a 45-75 minute in-class period. Lisa Nielson, Director of Digital Engagement and Professional Learning from the NYC Department of Education, helped me see another perspective on the idea of flipped classrooms. Nielson agrees on the benefits of flipped classrooms yet stresses to proceed cautiously. “Lecturing doesn’t equal learning,” Nielson writes, “The flipped classroom is built on a traditional model of teaching and learning. I lecture – you intake. While this method of teaching works for some learners, many others thrive with a model that takes a more constructivist approach.” Here Neilson seems to believe that flipped classroom methods are doing students a disservice in having them learn and make meaning from teacher led video lectures.

Furthermore, at primary and secondary levels of education, students should begin to develop a strong work ethic, and conversations about flipped classrooms bring this up, especially Sydney Elkin. Students developing a reliable work ethic are building skills of responsibility, discipline, and others. High school social studies teacher Elkin said, “Flipping does not solve all problems, though. Some students must still be constantly needled to do their work. And despite second and third chances on test that act as gateways to the next level, some students still fall behind.” Here it seems then individuals in a flipped classroom environment are almost forced to learn their materials at home; if not, then the student coming to the next class will have a hard time with practice—of what was learned in lecture that night at home. This is when students develop a work ethic. Students will learn to stay on task. I also asked Jonathan Hsu in our interview, “Do you feel as if there is resistance to this new flipped classroom?” He replied, “There is always resistance to new methods from the students. All parents like the idea; the students like the idea too. But, very soon the students will complain about the work they have to do at home because they are no longer able to just sit back in the classroom and pretend that they know what is going on when they don’t have a clue.” Through Hsu’s perspective then there was no resistance at first to this new method of learning from both parents and students. After time, students begin to build resistance to flipped classrooms because they are accountable for their work. Some might reason from this they have the potential to feel frustrated. Students can fall behind due to their work ethic according to Elkin. However, Jonathan Bergmann, a former colleague of Aaron Sams—known as one of the fathers of flipping, said students learn and perform higher on average. He said the change (from traditional classrooms to flipped classrooms) allowed time to check his students daily for their progress. Teachers checking on student progress will further student work ethics, keeping them from falling behind from at-home lectures.

When you leave learning in the hands of students through a flipped classroom, this leads to questions and concerns about student motivation. Aaron Sams, a Colorado chemistry teacher known as one of the fathers of flipping, said, “Some students, they choose not to learn, not to participate. A lot of people ask, ‘What do you do with the unmotivated kid?’ I wish I had a good answer to that.” I believe that this is a tough question asked by Sams. There are pointers and tips on the Internet to help with student motivation. Furthermore, I agree with Sams that there really is not one way to motivate unmotivated students. It comes down to the individual student—if they are motivated or not. But is student motivation the biggest limitation in flipped classrooms?

Nielsen, who also authored Teaching Generation Text and Director of Digital Engagement and Professional Learning, expresses in her blog post that she sees the benefits in flipped classrooms but to carry through with caution. One main reason to proceed with caution is due to students’ socioeconomic backgrounds. Not all students have access to technology at home. This makes flipped classrooms harder for students to learn through lectures on a digital medium when they don’t have access to the proper technology to be able to view the lectures. Elementary school teacher Sacha Luria faced a big obstacle when trying to integrate her classroom into a flipped classroom. She realized that her students had no computers at home and she only had one computer in the classroom. She and others used their own money to bring in six computers for her 23 fourth-graders. In her flipped classroom, students alternate between working on computers and working with Luria, herself. “This year was her most successful in a decade of teaching” she said.

Other teachers in high-poverty schools also report very strong results after flipped classrooms. Yet, a drawback of this situation could be the issue of students in these schools not having access to a working, updated, home computer, or reliable and efficient internet service to stream the videos. The problem here is that, no matter a student’s work ethic and motivation, not having access to present day technology because of limited finances could stunt their progress. Issues of poverty with flipped classrooms like these would be very important to consider, especially because principal Greg Green sees flipped classrooms to be worth it for students in high poverty schools: “Could even be enough to close the achievement gap between low-income, minority students and their more affluent white peers.”

In mind of all this research, I agree that flipped classrooms have seen a rapid increase in student improvement. Included in rapid student improve, I see this to enhance and help to develop student work ethic for working more independently and having more accountability. In regards to student poverty, I think Luria had a valuable idea with bringing more technology into the classroom, allowing students to use it to part take in flipped classroom learning. If I were a principal like Green, I would allow the method of flipped classrooms to be implemented for the chance of students from financially constrained backgrounds to possibly do as well as financially stable students. This might allow for students of all background to have equal opportunity of learning and success.


Work Cited

  • Butrymowicz, Sarah. “Promise of the ‘flipped classroom’ eludes poorer school districts.” The Hechinger Report. Columbia University, 12 June 2012. Web. 15 July 2015.
  • Nielsen, Lisa. “Five Reasons I’m Not Flipping Over The Flipped Classroom.” Web log post. The Innovative Educator. p., 8 October 2011. Web. 16 July 2015.
  • Williams, Courtney. “Flipped Class Method Gaining Ground.” District Administration1 (2012): 64. Education Source. Web. 16 July 2015.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *