Can the flipped classroom disrupt the existing lecture-based teaching model in institutions?

HE institutions, from architecture and business to pedagogy and content delivery, have been designed for the classroom-based lecture model. However, rapid technological change now means that lecture capture technology is becoming widely available and lecturers can easily record their presentations so that students may view them anywhere, anytime. Millions of audios and videos of OERs have been produced by subject experts and are freely available at iTunes U for teachers and students to use and re-use in their teaching and learning. And students can search and find most of the information they need on Google, YouTube and social networks via their mobile phones or laptops. As a result of this ever-increasing student access to technology and online learning content, institutions and educators are being forced to rethink how student learning can be facilitated to make class time and activities as relevant and valuable as possible. A term “flipped classroom” has been articulated by some education practitioners, to describe a reversal of the traditional teaching method that gives students video lectures to watch in their own time at their own pace at home and then go to their classrooms for discussions, coaching and interaction with teachers and between peers. The idea of the “flipped classroom” has been brought to the public by the popularity of Khan Academy and its founder, Salman Khan’s TED Talk on reinventing education via using videos.

There is an ongoing debate on the concept of “flipped classroom” and its implications for education, in particular, most recently in the US school sector. A growing number of success stories have been shared by advocators and practitioners but some confusion, critique, and hype also need to be addressed. As with any technology related educational practices, technology itself is only a tool that can be used to address some problems and challenges in education. In this case, the flipped approach offers a simple solution, for using technology in teaching and learning, that helps educators move from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘side-by-side learners’ in the classroom. To many educators, however, the idea behind “flipped classrooms” may not be new and it could be interpreted and implemented in different ways in different learning contexts.

In general, it could be argued that technology has failed in its promise to transform education, especially, when PowerPoint and whiteboards have come to dominate classrooms, reinforcing the lectured–based class model. However, the “flipped classroom” may provide a new way to think about the role and relationship between technology, teacher and students. In essence it would allow the classroom to be used for interactive discussions and collaborative activities while using technology before, after and outside of the classroom. In this way, technology can be employed in radically different ways to support educators to explore new pedagogical approaches to meet individual student needs.

Eventually, the rapid and continuing developments in the areas of lecture capture technologies, OER, digital textbooks, search, social network tools and mobile devices will change students’ learning experience within and outside the classroom. The flipped approach provides a good example of how technology might be used to disrupt the existing education model and traditional education practice. However, to make real change for a better education system we need also to ‘flip thinking’ at all levels of education sector, from practice, method to process and business models, in order to take full advantage of these disruptive technologies in institutions .

#cetis10: Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions

My colleague Simon, John and I will run two sessions on Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions at JISC CETIS conference next week. David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, urged that universities need to find cheaper and more flexible ways to teach in “tough times”. The Browne review sets out a great political imperative for institutions to think about new funding streams and innovative approaches to widening participation. There a growing criticism of inefficiencies in Higher Education, including the costs of teaching and of producing learning materials and resources.

So how can we respond to these issues, in the light of political and economic reality, and in terms of the contribution from learning technology? In the first session, we will look at “technology, politics and economics”. Different political and economic assumptions, attitudes or views are likely to give different solutions to our question. In this session, we proposed five models of higher education in order stimulate the debate and discussions.

  • State funded – HE could be a service provided free by governments funded from tax revenue to enable all citizens to develop their talents and interests to a higher level, and to benefit the national economy
  • Free-market – HE could be a business where HEIs charge full economic fees to students in return for giving them knowledge, skills, professional training and qualifications, networks of contacts, and prestige to use later in working life
  • Business-run – Higher-level education and training could be provided by businesses for their employees, as part of a process of managing their talent pool, and as a way to attract and retain the best employees
  • Charity funded – HEIs could be charities dedicated to spreading learning and its benefits to as many people as possible, including the poor and disadvantaged across the world, using volunteer staff where possible
  • DIY U – HE could be a self-organised system through which individuals decide on their higher learning needs and collaborate with other learners to achieve them using freely available resources where possible.

The participants will be asked to form groups around these positions or suggest other positions for group discussion. We expect that a rich picture for the vision from each position will be presented and some bullet points to cover the practical aspects of learning technology developments that could help to get there, and the role of JISC / CETIS.

In the second session, we will focus on “community and learner support” to explore how technology can help in the processes of learner support at different stages, either directly or through facilitating communities which can support the processes. In each case, who would be the members of the relevant community, and how can technology work for them?

Social software and e-portfolio tools are prime candidates to help with community and learner support, but how can this be done effectively? Can other learning technologies help as well, towards the goal of cheaper and more flexible HE provision that is still effective?

We would like to invite anyone who is interested in the future of Higher Education to share your ideas and thoughts in those sessions. We would like you to think about how cheaper, flexible, effective institutions could function, in terms of technology, politics and economics, and how low-cost, flexible and effective community and support for learners could be provided, how could we practically get there, and how could JISC and CETIS contribute?

Institution strand of UKOER programme meeting

Last week, seven OER projects from the institution strand of UKOER pilot programme gathered together at Nottingham University to share the outcomes of the projects and common issues they are trying to address which I found very useful and stimulating. The meeting started with OER showcases in which each project presented two resources they have made available through their project. Some of the examples are available on the project websites and JorumOpen. Here is the list of the projects and the features of the resources that were presented:

  1. BERLiN (University of Nottingham) – a 6 credits PGCE international course and resources created in the Second Life;
  2. Unicycle (Leeds Metropolitan University) – virtual maths, a 6 credits course;
  3. Open Exeter (University of Exeter) – a complete modular for self-paced learning;
  4. OpenStaffs (Staffordshire University) – Individual images for reuse and repurposing;
  5. OTTER (University of Leicester) – a framework for transforming teaching materials into OERS;
  6. OpenSpires (University of Oxford) – Oxford seminars and public lectures-based resources;
  7. OCEP (Coventry University) – diverse content types, such as Second Life machinima, looking into how one set of resources could be used in different ways.

The meeting also provided an opportunity for projects to share experiences and discuss issues on reward and recognition for producing OERs, developing sustainable OER models, resources discovery and copyright clearance, etc. There were several themes raised during the presentations and discussions:

  • Quality control: how should institutions control the quality of OERs provided by lecturers? On the one hand, quality is very critical from the marketing perspective since these resources are showcases of universities’ courses. On the other hand, if the goal of OERs is to promote sharing, reusing and repurposing, then the quality of the resources should be judged by the end users rather than institutions.
  • Centralised and distributed models: it has been reported that some projects have adopted a centralised model which means that staff have been employed by the project to provide technical and other supports for procuring and releasing OERs. However, there are concerns about whether universities would continue fund this support when the project finished. One of the projects adopted a distributed model for which no additional staff has been recruited and the responsibilities for producing OERs have been located to representatives from different faculties. It is hoped that these people would continue to do so after the OER programme ends.
  • Shrinking credits: there have been concerns about producing 360 credits equivalent teaching and learning resources at the end of the programme. Some projects found they are struggling to meet this requirement. One of the reasons mentioned was “shrinking credits”. For example, a lecturer may promise to provide 30 credits course materials, however, when the course materials turn to OERs, it might turn out to be much less than 30 credits. This is understandable, when we talk about credits which involve content, teaching and learning process and assessment. In this sense, if it is content alone, credits may be not the most appropriate way to measure the OER projects. However, it is agreed that the UK OER programme does expect to make significant amounts of teaching and learning resources freely available.

According to The New Media Consortium the Horizon Report 2010, open content is expected to reach mainstream teaching and learning within one year or less. In this case, what these institution projects have learned from the UK OER pilot programme would be really valuable to this movement.

Free and Open as a Business Model in HE?

Last week, my son told me that he and his friends had decided that each of them must learn a programming language and make videos to teach other people on their website. He said that he would like to learn JavaScript first. I gave him a book on JavaScript which I bought some time ago and let him to have a look at. He followed the instructions and started to write his very first code. He sent the “cool stuff” he had just made to his friend. His friend loved it and asked him how he did this. My son told him which book he used and promised to bring it to the school next day. A few minutes later, this friend sent him a message “Haha…, downloaded the whole book in five minutes.” My son moaned “who would buy it for 30 quid if you can get it for free?” I was amused by how quickly this 11 year old boy got what he wanted from the internet without spending a penny.

According to Chris Anderson in a podcast, “the great Internet: Free for All” (see Lorna’s blog), people under 25 years old believe that everything on the internet is going to be free whereas people beyond that age may not. He argues that free may be the better way of doing business as opposed to charging users for goods and services in the future. The notion of this new business model is to give away 99% of your products to most people for free but charge for 1% of products for profit from a small number of dedicated users. This results in the majority of users benefiting from free products and services and the charged users being happy with what they have paid for.

How would this industrial economic model affect and apply to higher education provision and the HE market? Can a university give away 99% of its courses for free and still make a profit? What new services and functions should universities provide to attract students when all the course materials are freely available online? What different business models are needed to diversify their income sources? Influenced by the success of Open Sources Software Movement, MIT OpenCourseware, OU OpenLearn and many other universities around the world have started to provide free access to courses for students, educators and self-learners. However, sustainability and scalability have become a big challenge for most OER initiatives once huge foundation funding goes away. Can free and open become one of core business models in HE in the same way we have seen in software, music and the game industry? Perhaps, the HEFCE/Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources Programme provides a good starting point for institutions to think about these questions and develop new approaches for higher education provision in the digital age. It is important that institutions will need to identify their own business case and explore new business models to make Open Educational Resources more sustainable/scalable. Lou McGill and her colleague have conducted a study which examined various business cases for sharing learning materials and provided some possible future business models for institutions to engage with open educational resources. This report is available at

Social Learning Zone, PLE and Cooperativeâ Curriculum Designing for Change

I attended the opening of the Social Learning Zone at the University of Bolton last week. Everyone was impressed by the exciting œone stop shop facilities for students in the campus which brings together a traditional library, 24 hours access to a computer room and a café. In the social learning zone, students are able to bring books in from the library, have access to wireless technology to use their lap-tops and mobile phones and can discuss projects with fellows or tutors in a relaxed environment. As the Vice Chancellor, Dr George Holmes, stated in his opening address: ˜Students at Bolton are the very heart of the university¦ Academic staff develop their understanding and critical thinking that expands the minds of students to create new knowledge. But without the facilities and infrastructure, the pulse is less quickened. The Social Learning Zone that we are in today provides that environment.

The social learning zone is another step forward for the university to shift from an institutional approach to a more learner centred approach to learning and to take into account how students like to work nowadays. To me, this initiative is in line with another two ongoing technology related projects at the University of Bolton.

One is PLE project in which learners can configure different services and preferred tools to develope their personal systems (Personal Learning Environments) in order to bring together informal learning from the home and the workplace, as well as more formal provision by education institutions.

The other is the newly funded JISC curriculum design project which adopts a ˜cooperative model to develop a professional curriculum within the community that meets the needs of the learner and their organisation and supports work-based learning and inquiry-based learning.

It is clear all these programmes are designed with the intention of changing methods of traditional teaching and learning in the university and exploring different ways to increase the effectiveness of teaching programmes. In particular, they aim to enhance the learners learning experience. However, the learning environment, technology and even new curricula do not really bring changes on their own, so what is necessary for desired changes to take place?

Given the complexity of educational change, this will be a much longer and more complicated process and needs to consider organisational, cultural and pedagogical issues within an institution. For example, how do we define knowledge and learning? How do we assess outcomes of learning and in what way do we acquire accreditation? It also needs to take into account wider economic and social change. As Graham Attwell in his article suggested, œit is not educational technology per se that will shape the future of education but wider usage of technology in different spheres of society including in production and work processes and in changing processes of knowledge creation and development that will challenge traditional models of teaching and learning. Thus it is the way we use technology which will shape the social interaction of learning and may lead to profound changes in educational processes and institutions.

Technological innovations have not revolutionised educational institutions yet. However, the current trend towards social learning and personalised learning through networking, social software and tools in higher education has meant that the emphasis has shifted away from promoting effective teaching towards developing an improved understanding of how students learn. There is no doubt that the universities which will thrive are those which treat students more like consumers and adapt to the new just-in-time technology with student-centredness and on-demand approaches to the delivery of education..

I am really interested to know how the social learning zone will be used by students and lecturers at Bolton to develop new learning opportunities and skills and create new knowledge.