I’ve been talking a lot with my colleagues about their teaching practices, as part of the NSF grant I’m working on. The inverted classroom (I used to call it the flipped classroom, but I’m going back to “inverted”) has come up a lot as a teaching technique that people have heard a lot about but haven’t tried yet — or are wary of trying. I’ve been wondering about the language being used, namely: Is the inverted classroom really a “teaching technique” at all?
My answer used to be “yes”. When I first started using the inverted classroom idea, I would describe the inverted classroom as “a teaching technique” that involves reversing where information transmission and internalization take place. Later I moved to saying that the inverted classroom refers to “any teaching method” that implements this reversal. Today as I was thinking about this, I think a better description of the inverted classroom is that it is a platform, not a technique.
Unlike, say, peer instruction or POGIL, the inverted classroom is not a way of teaching. It is an approach to the instructional design of a course that reorganizes where, and how, information transfer takes place and where internalization takes place. Both peer instruction and POGIL are examples of teaching methods that benefit from, or even require, something like an inverted classroom setup. But that’s what the inverted classroom is: A setup, or an option we select when installing the basic design ideas to our courses.
And like a platform in the computing world, the inverted classroom specifies the “hardware” and “software” architecture for the course — the systems used to house and deliver content, the grading protocols and rubrics, and so on — that allow the “application software” in that platform to run. Such “applications” would be literally applications, where students take what they learn from the outside work and apply it to new situations or sense-making activities.
So from now on when I talk to instructors about the inverted classroom, I’m going to try to impress on them that adopting this approach doesn’t mean you are going to have to buy into a new way of teaching — unless you are a straight-lecturer. Instead, this platform gives you the freedom to explore a lot of different ways of teaching, possibly multiple ways within the same semester or even the same class meeting. If the inverted classroom really were a teaching method, choosing it would be like choosing a single piece of software to use for all your application needs, like how some people seem to use MS Word for everything. But it’s probably more like choosing to use a Mac over a PC, or Linux over a Mac — it’s a question of what platform allows you to do your stuff in a way that works best for you (and in our case, for students).