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Flopping the Classroom


flickr photo shared by volker-kannacher under a Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0) license


I can still remember my first blended learning class experience.

It must have been 2002 or 2003, and I was taking early coursework toward a Ph.D. in Information Science at University at Albany. My professor, Dr. Tom Mackey, had the students do a short reading outside of class and write a public blog post as a response to a question about the reading (Note: he also provided a rubric for the post). This was due at 5pm the day before the class. Then, we would have to read at least three other student blog posts and comment on two of them.  The comment could extend the idea or could be a question, but it always began with a positive statement and ended with a positive statement (A comment sandwich?). This method was great for getting comfortable with online collaboration and supporting each other, while practicing digital literacy skill and etiquette. As a student-centered method of collaboration, we all learned from each other and improved as we became more and more comfortable with our online writing and interactions.

The next day we would all come to class. That is where the real magic happened.

Imagine having a class where everyone in the class had already thought deeply about the reading, prepared written, public opinions or statements, and had considered some of the thoughts of others in the classroom and commented on them. Everyone in the class came prepared for discussion, but more importantly, had already engaged in critical thinking and reflection. It was impressive how the work we had done online in the public blogs now was benefiting the in-class learning, and making the entire class experience better.

These in-class discussions were some of the most enjoyable of my college career. Dr. Mackey facilitated thoughtful discussions and created a respectful environment where the students were prepared and eager to contribute.

I never really knew what to call this method of teaching and engagement in the classroom. Years later I would hear it called “blended learning”, but that didn’t really capture it. It seemed like it was more than just blogging. It was purposeful and utilized the technology of the day to enhance pedagogy and dialogue, in a very real way.

Flopping the Class?
Yesterday, I came across Derek Bruff’s post on Flipping the Literature Class. His post reminded me of my experience. I then saw Kyle Bowen’s comments on Twitter mentioning that maybe what was happening could be called a flop, in reference to some of the in class activities mentioned in Derek Bruff’s post and a play on flipping the classroom. I was curious about what a classroom flop could mean, so I looked up some definitions of flopping. One of these had to do with jumping over a fence. I liked the metaphor, so I ran with it.  I could see flopping as bringing some aspect of the course and making it public, or hopping the fence of the traditional classroom to bring some discussions/writing/commenting out onto the open web. The experience that I highlighted above would be an example of flopping the classroom. Based on my experience, I believe that deliberate activities like this can help students develop key digital literacies around public scholarship, digital identity, and digital citizenship in addition to enhancing the in-class discussion.

Public Scholarship
Sharing your thoughts and comments in a public sphere is different from sharing comments within a learning management system discussion or private blog. In one, your audience is the teacher and the class, and in the other, the audience is the world. In this way, you are engaging in public scholarship. By bringing your thoughts to the open web, there is the opportunity for the public to engage in the conversation in addition to your classmates. While in practice, public comments may not happen very often, I have seen this public scholarship be very effective in courses that actively include the class but also have an additional group of folks following along online (one example is DS106). There is an opportunity for other faculty to participate in the courses as well, by commenting on the student posts, especially if a course is team taught. Overall, the collaborative opportunities are greatly enhanced by making things public.

Digital Identity
Another aspect of this type of public scholarship is that these interactions become part of your digital identity that you actively create. The more you write and share online, the more comfortable you become with your writing and your online interactions. These are important digital literacy skills. By curating your own professional interactions online, you build the body of work that people searching for you online will find. As students practice adding their reflections online, and positively commenting on others thoughts, they build a professional representation of themselves interacting online.

Digital Citizenship
Finally, a digital literacy that can be developed in writing online is what I like to think of as digital citizenship. It involves giving other people credit for their writing and ideas through hyperlinks, and also gets students thinking about the appropriate use of images and copyright. Teaching students where they can find Creative Commons images, knowing and understanding usage rights, and learning how to appropriately give the photographers or artists credit for those images (I like Alan Levine’s flickr cc attribution helper  used above) are useful digital literacy skills. Learning these skills can help students understand the greater digital ecosystem and how to act responsibly with digital content.

In applying the flopping analogy, you are hopping the fence of the classroom and entering your thoughts into a public sphere, where all of these digital literacies can be modeled, taught, developed, and practiced. This was what we did back in 2002/2003, and in my experience it led to a transformative educational experience.

How can we as educators help to improve learning inside and out of the classroom, inspire engaging classroom dialogue, while also guiding students to curating their own digital identity?

Based on my personal experience, “flopping the classroom” could be part of the answer.

Credits: Thanks to Aaron Kendall and Neale Donovan for their feedback on this post.