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Empower your students and value your time with them

Flipped learning – where you give students a task to do before a teaching session and then use it as the foundation of the session’s activity – can have something of a bad press. What if the students don’t do the task? Doesn’t it take ages to set up? Why would you want to create even more work for yourself?

While these are valid questions, they can perhaps take up more space than they deserve. If you start small, flipping the classroom can be empowering for your students and satisfying for you.

Professor Ale Armellini, Dean of Learning and Teaching at the University of Northampton, has made radical changes at his institution to ensure that all courses taught at Northampton involve ‘Active Blended Learning’, a fully student-centred way of teaching.

Central to its success is the idea of scaffolding. We know that if the pre-session work fails, the whole process fails. Instead it's about realising that digital resources alone aren't enough (i.e. go and watch this video), it's about setting meaningful, sense-making tasks that help to consolidate learning and prepare students for face to face sessions. These sessions must then be explicitly linked to online activities that take place outside of the classroom to prevent the risk of being seen as optional add-ons. 

Dee Greig-Dunn, lecturer at WSMSE, has found flipped learning to be a powerful tool for engaging students, making them more interested in what they are learning. Complex ideas can be built up gradually, through students talking to each other.

Start small, with simple tasks covering basic, need-to-know information. Then you gain improved classroom time where you can facilitate activities that encourage students to analyse, debate, discuss, reflect, problem-solve and collaborate, and deepen their understanding.

Students need to be acclimatised to it too; it is a joint process, as Louis Langdown rightly points out. Part of the acclimation may well be recognising that you are engaging in flipped classrooms already without even realising it!

Lastly, too much of the attention on flipped learning focuses on the before and during as opposed to the 'what happens next'. It is often at this point we see authentic peer support: they have the knowledge, they have made or are trying to make sense of it, and then they experiment with its application together with classmates.

And you, crucially, are there for feedback and guidance when they do.