Don’t flip your class…yet

Evidence that you are getting old:

  • You watch the Grammy’s and don’t know many of the performers.
  • You say, “These students used to be so much better.”
  • You think the flipped classroom is a big deal.

Let me focus on just the last one.  Older folks are making the decisions in your district.  They are easily amazed by all the new-fangled gadgets.  Interactive whiteboards and response systems!  Wow!  If you touch the board, stuff happens!!  If you tap “A” on the little thingy, the answer shows up on the board!!  We gotta have that!!  Will the teachers use it?  Does it improve scores?  Will the glitz wear off leaving you with a “the emperor has no clothes” sort of thought?  I don’t know, I just know it is really cool like the stuff I saw on Star Trek as a kid!  And so your building has lots of seriously expensive and seriously underused tech stuff.

Now comes the flipped class idea.  Wow!  You can use this stuff to make a video?  Then you can post it on that internet place?  And kids have things they can watch it with?  That is so amazing!!  Why I bet these kids today will just love that sort of thing.  They loves their computers and I just know they will love watching us on those little screens!

The debate about the value of flipped classrooms is raging.  Does it just reinforce ‘the sage on the stage’?  Do students do their video-watching homework?  Is it right for all kids?  Does it put students in charge of their own learning?  And so on.  I won’t get into the debate here.  I will just say this: you aren’t that good.

That is a rough statement, perhaps even rude.  But think about this: actors get paid well for a reason.  They can do something that few people can do—they can be very impressive on a screen.  Very, very few of us can command attention in a digital format. All media (radio, TV, podcast, webinar) require much more than in-person communication requires.  When you digitize a live presentation, the nature of the small screen/small speaker makes a great presentation seem good; a good presentation seem blah; a blah presentation seem dreadfully boring.  Who in your building has the chops to pull this off?  Way less than you think.  One out of twenty?  One out of fifty?

And think about this: editors and special effects and foley artists and soundtrack people get paid well for a reason.  They can do things that few people can do—they can enhance a presentation.  No one wants to watch a teacher talk for an hour.  No one wants to listen to ten minutes of looped jingles you added from GarageBand as a soundtrack.  No one wants to watch you write on a dry erase board or watch a Camtasia screen capture.  It is cruel to ask students to watch some of the things being created, and if many teachers switch to flipped classrooms, forcing our kids to go home and spend an entire evening watching the junk we create will be beyond the bounds of reasonable.  YOU go watch an hour of some the stuff out there and see how YOU like it.

I started out teaching students how to be better oral communicators.  Lately, I have been getting calls to work with adults, also.  Schools and universities are contacting me not to show the faculty how to teach oral communication to students, but to show the faculty how to be better communicators themselves.   These institutions realize that to be effective educators, we all need to be more effective speakers.  They realize that in an era where digital media showcase oral communication skills, we need to seriously improve those skills before we attempt to use the new communication tools available.

I suspect the buzz about the flipped classroom will wear off and the fad will fade.  Maybe I am wrong.  I know I am not wrong about this, though: Don’t even think of heading down that road unless you first absolutely master oral communication.  Yes, this stuff is all new and wow-inspiring, but to pull it off, your speaking needs to be wow-inspiring also.  Start there.

About Erik Palmer

The #1 language art is speaking. By far. I'm committed to promoting the teaching of oral communication in all of its forms.
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