Roles- are my students ready for the flip?

The role of the instructor in the flipped classroom is discussed at length in the literature. At its heart, the flipped classroom is a shift in the role of the instructor. The instructor’s role changes from “Sage on the Stage” to “Guide on the Side”1, a very different but equally as important and arguably more effective role.

My concern is the role of the student. I teach a first-year non-majors Biology course, and many of my students are not yet in control of their own learning, still expecting a teacher to impart knowledge. When I first heard of it, I thought the flipped classroom was most applicable to upper-division courses with more mature learners that are more independent. As I learned more, I found this is certainly not the case; in fact, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two leading proponents of the strategy, first applied it in their high school classrooms.

I am ready to embrace my new role, should I choose to flip my class. But are my students ready for their new role? The flipped classroom requires students to take control of their own learning, something that is seen as a point in favour of the strategy. Students that fail to do that, however, will be left behind. In a traditional classroom, many of my students are not completing assigned readings before class and are generally not in control of their own learning; these students are the ones who already struggle in the class. In a flipped classroom I predict it would be the some of the same students who would be unprepared; but rather than struggle, they would be left far behind.

There are ways to address the problem, of course. Students who haven’t done the at-home components can complete those in class, missing out on more useful activities and potentially letting down others in their group. Instructors may also use quizzes and/or assignments that rely on outside content. Carolyn Durley eased into the flipped classroom, increasing the “flip” gradually through the year in her high school classroom in Kelowna.

The flipped classroom is not only for experienced adult learners. Novice students can be encouraged to accept their new role, and some studies show that even weaker students embrace the change with the help of an effective and patient “guide on the side”.

1 King, A. (1993). “From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side.” College Teaching: 41(1): 30-35.


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