Flipped Classroom: Like a Laser Rather Than a Medieval Blunderbuss

Flipped Classroom
Prof. John Bessant, Ph.D., Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Prof. John Bessant, Ph.D., Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Together with a team of international colleagues, Prof. John Bessant, Ph.D., Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Exeter Business School, UK, and Senior Fellow at HHL’s Center for Leading Innovation and Business Creation (CLIC), conducts experiments on the ”flipped classroom” at HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management. In the following interview, he talks about the concept, the people involved as well as about good quality classroom teaching.

What is new and/or unique about the “flipped classroom” concept?

These days there is extensive discussion round the idea of ‘flipped learning’ and the use of different models, tools and technologies to support creating an alternative learning experience for students. This wave of popular interest raises some important questions around curriculum and delivery and, taken to extremes, might represent a significant disruptive innovation in the education space.

But in fact the ideas are not new – essentially they map on to well-established models of the way we learn. Typically this follows some kind of cycle involving experience, reflection, concept building and experimentation. What’s different is the way in which we make the model happen. Traditionally universities have used some version of delivering concepts (usually through a lecture) to be followed by students exploring and reflecting via various kinds of assignment. In the flipped model the students do much of the initial exploration using a variety of prepared learning materials. They develop ideas and concepts which they bring to the classroom to explore further and have reinforced or explained by the teacher. In this approach the teacher becomes much more of a ‘learning coach’.

This idea is certainly not new – Oxford University back in the 15th century was based on this kind of approach and the tutorial system which they still use provides one time-honored way of delivering a ‘flipped’ approach!

Perhaps one of the major differences is in the underlying assumptions. In the ‘traditional’ model a teacher will have to make guesses about what he or she will ‘broadcast’ to a wide variety of students in the form of a lecture. By contrast a ‘flipped’ approach would allow him or her to target more precisely their input, based on understanding different needs and concerns of different students. To take an extreme metaphor, it’s a bit like laser targeting rather than a medieval blunderbuss!

Another big shift lies in the delivery. Previously it would have been difficult to assemble a wide range of resources, adapted to different student’s learning styles, and make them available in an easy to access format. Now information technologies make this kind of customized, flexible learning platform easily available.

Do we need a new type of student or professor for this concept?

Once again the answer is ‘no’ – but we do need to rethink our roles and responsibilities. In the flipped classroom model the student becomes a much more active learner, taking responsibility for his or her learning journey and exploring the pathway under the guidance of the teacher/coach. This translates to a higher workload ‘up front’, ahead of face-to-face sessions in which the student’s questions and concerns can be more accurately addressed.

For teachers the challenge is to be less of a broadcaster and more of a coach. Practically it involves preparing learning materials and making sure they are configured to meet diverse learning styles and expectations. And in the face-to-face sessions the model is one of guided exploration rather than traditional lecture delivery.

So for both groups there are challenges and opportunities and certainly the need to practise new skills in coaching, in self-directed learning, in research, etc.

Looking into the future: Is the flipped classroom already the end of the story or do you personally expect other concepts to appear?

Once again, no – certainly not the end of the road. It’s the latest step on a journey and not a case of substitution so much as one of amplification. Flipped will not replace good quality classroom teaching in a place like HHL – not least because of the importance of interacting with other students and accessing high quality research-led scholarship from the teaching faculty. But it does offer ways of enhancing.

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