In 2005-2006, I was enrolled in a master’s program at Stanford University School of Education. The method most professors used seemed different from what I was used to and expecting. The usual classroom drill involves teachers being the “sage on the stage” instead of being a “guide on the side”. Unprepared students sit through the class listening, watching, and learning concepts for the first time. Most of what they learn is forgotten the same day or the next day. Later, when they read the books or do their homework, the content seems new, and they start from scratch. Valuable time spent in the classroom with a knowledgeable teacher is lost.
The flipped classroom
In the last few years, the concept of a flipped classroom has been gaining momentum. Instead of a teacher explaining the concepts, students learn the concepts, mainly by watching online videos, before coming to the classroom. They are fully prepared with the basic knowledge, ready to learn higher-level concepts and engage in fruitful discussions with the teacher and their classmates. Khan Academy, edX, Coursera, Udacity, and other MOOCs are making themselves valuable for a flipped classroom. On Bloom’s taxonomy, the students have already completed the “knowledge” and “comprehension” (and in some cases “application”) levels, and they are now prepared to develop higher-order thinking skills with “analysis”, “synthesis”, and “evaluation”.
My professors at Stanford asked us to do several things in different courses each week in addition to quarter-long team-based projects:
- Read research papers, 60 -80 pages a week.
- Form a team and work on a presentation that solves an existing problem in a novel way.
- Write a critique of each paper on a discussion forum and read and comment on at least two of other students’ critiques.
- Read one or two chapters of a book and discuss in the class.
- Prepare a short PowerPoint presentation, and upload to a forum. If picked, make a presentation to the class.
- Work as a team on an ongoing real-world project applying the concepts learned, and discuss in class.
- Write papers.
The common theme that emerges is reading research papers, writing about it, and applying the learning to real-world projects, every week, all before coming to the classroom. And sharing one’s own perspectives and participating in engaging discussions in the classroom. One of my friends at Stanford actually was not happy about spending a huge amount of money and not getting lectured by the professors. The rest of us were fine with the way we were taught though. The world’s best professors and researchers in the field of education must know better.
And it all happened because the professors had set the expectations quite high and they expected us to work hard and come to the class prepared. And we made sure we met their expextations.
Having worked in higher education for a few years now, it all started making sense when I repeatedly heard complaints from instructors that their students don’t come to the class prepared and they don’t read their books. The instructors firmly believe that their students don’t want to study so there is no point in asking them to prepare before coming to the class. I think this is a misconception.
I believe that the method employed by my professors can be used with any set of students. The instructors need to set expectations that the students have to read books, articles, or other papers and write a brief summary/analysis, do a multiple-choice quiz, or watch online videos before they come to the class. If the expectations are high, the students would aim higher.