Why It’s Getting Hip to Flip

Posted on Oct 16, 2013 | 3 Comments

It might sound like a gimmick: Do your class work at home and your homework in class. But this approach looks truly promising.

It’s called the “flipped” classroom, and several schools in Michigan and Illinois—with more imitators following suit—have made it a reality.

upside-down“Teachers record video lessons, which students watch on their smartphones, home computers or at lunch in the school’s tech lab,” Tina Rosenberg explained recently in the New York Times. “In class, they do projects, exercises or lab experiments in small groups while the teacher circulates.”

In the flipped classroom, teachers walk about and divide their attention among many students, rather than devoting a lot of time to a few. And students who would otherwise fail, or get stuck on a problem at home and give up, now get attention when they need it.

For teachers, Rosenberg noted, this means “going from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side,’” but many teachers prefer it. As for results: Failure rates at one of these schools fell by more than half.

We suspect Peter Drucker would have been slightly surprised by this innovation, because when he wrote of the classroom potential of computers, he seemed to view their most promising role as that of guide on the side. But he also would have been delighted by the opposite arrangement, as long as it led to the same desired result: better learning and more individualized attention for students.

One of Drucker’s biggest complaints about the classroom of his era was that teachers were used so ineffectively. “The teacher spends little time on teaching, and the students spend little time on learning,” Drucker wrote in The Age of Discontinuity. “While the teacher prods, cajoles and supervises one child in the class, the remaining 24 daydream. The teacher cannot spend much time with any one student.”

What Drucker wanted instead was to “relieve the teacher of all but teaching work” and give him or her “time to teach individuals,” adding, “This is, of course, the essence of the tutorial system, such as Oxford and Cambridge have used for a long time.”

And that is why the system of recorded lectures and individual follow-up seems so powerful.  In the school of the future, Drucker wrote in Post-Capitalist Society, “teachers, we can hope, will … increasingly have the time to identify the strengths of individuals, to focus on them and to lead students to achievement. They will, we can expect, have the time to teach.”

Do you think the “flipped” classroom is a potential breakthrough in education?


  1. Michael
    October 17, 2013

    I’m going to quote from something I wrote in 2006, before the “flipped” classroom was even a gleam in anyone’s eye:

    “These caricatures of ‘sage’ and ‘guide’ have little to do with what can really happen in a college class. They erase the possibility of a professor who talks (or professes, as a professor is supposed to do) and leads a discussion — orchestrating in real time, imperfectly of course, a multi-voiced improvisation on a theme. To my mind, that’s the most wonderful sort of class, one whose shape is unpredictable, sometimes awkward, sometimes delightful, and never to be repeated.”

    In other words, “sage” v. “guide” is a false choice. There are other ways to teach and engage students.

  2. Michael Leddy
    October 17, 2013

    Oops: Michael Leddy.

  3. Judie Forbes
    October 19, 2013

    An even better tweak is the way the old executive management PhD courses used to be run. The professor set the topic and moderated the discussion, recognizing that the expertise in the room exceeded his own. It was a great way to hear about the nuances of application of the topic management theory in various industries.


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