Is the modified Moore method an instance of the flipped classroom?

May 8, 2013, 8:00 am

I was really fortunate this past weekend to host Dana Ernst and T.J. Hitchman, two colleagues (from Northern Arizona University and University of Northern Iowa, respectively) at the Michigan MAA section meeting. They did a discussion panel on Teaching to Improve Student Learning that I organized, and we ended talking a lot about inquiry-based learning, which both of these guys practice. After Dana blogged about the session, he got this tweet:

Dana, Brandon, and I exchanged some tweets after that, and I think generally we’re on the same page, but here’s my reasoning about this question and, more generally, what does or does not fall under the heading of “flipped classroom”.

The main thing to keep in mind is the distinction between an instructional practice and a course design principle. This was the gist of my post a while back on the flipped classroom as a platform. The Moore method, and what people call the modified Moore method [PDF], is an instructional practice. It is the practice of giving students definitions and theorems and then conducting the class around having student present and critique proofs. There are some particular course design choices involved here, but those choices are all pointed at teaching the material in a particular way.

On the other hand, the flipped classroom is not an instructional practice. It is a platform, a particular way of designing how one spends time in a class that meets regularly, centered around the idea of removing some or all of the information transfer tasks outside of the class meeting and replacing the time that’s freed up with whatever the instructor feels like replacing it with. The instructional practice that fills that space in class is not dictated. The prevailing wisdom is that it ought to be filled with sense-making activities, but that can be done in a number of ways, including peer instruction, discovery learning, constructive computer lab work, or whatever, or a combination of things.

So we can’t really say that the Moore method, or any other particular instructional practice, is an instance of the flipped classroom in the same sense that we can’t say that a piece of software running on a PC is an instance of Microsoft Windows. The software is a particular application that runs on the Windows platform. The instructional practice is a particular “app” for teaching that lives within the course design platform chosen by the instructor.

So, could you “run” the Moore method on the flipped class platform? If we’re talking about a pure Moore method like R. L. Moore himself used, I don’t think it’s possible because information transfer is outlawed in Moore method classes — no books, no looking stuff up, and no lecturing. The flipped class involves moving information transfer outside the class, and if there’s no information transfer, there’s no flipping. As for the “modified” Moore method, it depends on the modification. If you modify the Moore method by giving some basic reading or lecturing to set up the proofs and presentations, then certainly this seems flip-friendly — put the lecturing or reading outside the classroom and now you have something that very closely resembles a pure Moore method in the class.

In fact it’s probably more helpful to think of the flipped classroom not as a single course design principle but more like a measure of where a course is situated on a continuum of designs. On the one end of this continuum you have a traditional lecture setup, which is 0% flipped. On the other hand you might have a class where all the information transfer is done outside of class, which is 100% flipped. In the middle you might have something like Mazur’s peer instruction (which is how I ran my recently-finished Linear Algebra courses), where there’s some information transfer outside of class but also still some minilecturing inside of class, so something like 50% flipped.

So, does all of this matter? I think so, because the flipped classroom has become such a heavy edu-speak buzzword that it’s important to distinguish the course design from the actual teaching that takes place. It’s not enough to say “I’m teaching my class with the flipped classroom“. In fact that statement doesn’t even make sense. You have to say something about the pedagogy. The flipped classroom is not about videos and whatnot — it is about making use of the newly-liberated class time to do something useful and effective with students.

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