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Flipping the Classroom from “Sage on the Stage” to “Guide on the Side”

True learning has never been tethered to the classroom. Flipping the classroom is a shift away from a focus on what the teacher says to an emphasis on what the learner does. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, it is time to learn how to design more efficient and effective remote learning experiences.

Many teachers and students in Christian schools still imagine a learning space as a classroom with rows of desks facing the expert in the front. The mandatory distance learning structures as a result of COVID-19 are causing them to experiment with remote learning.[1] But flipping the classroom is about more than institutional survival. Instead of merely experimenting with distance education, we can begin to understand that true learning has never been tethered to the classroom. Let’s use this time wisely by learning how to design more efficient and effective remote learning experiences long-term.

Consider for a moment those students who have sat in your lectures and passed your tests. They seemed to have learned something, but have they actually learned in a way that sets them up for success in life and ministry? To answer that question, it may be worth looking at how learning happens as revealed through brain research.[2]

When a student engages with a lecture, video, or article, synapses fire and connections between neurons form. But since synaptic connections are transient in nature, this “learning” is really only a form of short-term memory, which will disappear within twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Therefore, we need to keep in mind that our lectures and texts only have great learning or equipping potential.

Students build long-term memories through intentional thinking and processing over a period of at least twenty-one days. On a practical level, this means the success of our courses is ultimately measured by how well we encourage students to think deeply on a daily basis about our content.

With learning as our goal, flipping the classroom should be our means. Simply put, flipping the classroom is a shift away from a focus on what the teacher says to an emphasis on what the learner does. This is often portrayed as taking a guide on the side approach instead of a sage on the stage, lecture-centered approach.[3]

Flipping the classroom allows the teacher to move from the role of knowledge researcher to learning designer, mapping out a path that will lead their students on a journey of deep thinking—and learning.[4] Relevant digital technologies when used strategically are highly effective tools and resources in the flipping process. Here are three ways they benefit schools and students:

  1. Provides a consistent learning space: Designing effective learning experiences can be very challenging when students don’t have equal access to the same tools and resources.

    Imagine the difference between teaching one student how to change a tire with a tire iron and another with an impact wrench. Now imagine teaching a large group of students online how to change a tire, each one having different cars, different tools, and different environments. Designing such a course would be an overwhelming and demanding task. In remote learning scenarios, it is especially vital for teachers to intentionally design a degree of consistency to every learning space.

    Licensing and assigning specific software applications in a course, such as certain Bible software, design software, or word processing applications can assure that every student has access to the same tools and resources as they intentionally work through lessons over the length of the course. This not only eases the teacher’s workload but increases student-to-student engagement.

  2. Empowers students in real life. The online learning experience during this COVID-19 “lockdown” has given students time and opportunity to consider if the education they are receiving is actually equipping them as they desire. In fact, as remote learners, students can test the effectiveness of their education in their own context every day. As they do so, they either feel empowered or dissatisfied.

    Students feel empowered when they learn to use essential tools and resources that transfer to normal life and ministry. This means that teachers have to be more selective in identifying those key tools and resources with maximum value for students beyond the classroom.

    Requiring the use of industry-standard digital resources and tools creates a natural bridge between the course and everyday life. Skills learned and applied within the software can easily be reproduced from anywhere. This is especially true, for example, when schools customize the essential resource library within Bible software that students will learn to use in the course and will later carry with them into their ministry. Students will find far more long-term benefit from a carefully curated library of essentials as opposed to temporary access to massive research databases.

  3. Helps maintain quality control. COVID-19 has also created a scenario where students have more freedom but also more responsibility to study course material outside of teacher oversight. As a result, academic institutions might be concerned that some students lack the discernment needed to choose high-quality resources and tools on their own or that some students simply do not have a way to access what they need. In either scenario, choosing which digital resources students are to use in a course becomes an essential solution. And it’s especially feasible when the academic institution controls course design and required resources.

    When an institution controls consistency in the learning space through the same high-quality resources and tools for each student, schools also gain more control over methods for meeting educational standards.

As we reflect on the challenge of today’s academic climate and beyond, we can either view COVID-19 as an unwelcome and temporary shift in teaching methods or the chance to permanently flip the classroom to methods that help ensure long-term practical learning.

For theological schools, integrating the right Bible software in course design can provide Christian academia with the technology we need to transition with confidence. And it is just one example of how choosing practical and consistent digital resources can ease teacher workload in any school while empowering students with practical tools they will utilize beyond their academic life.

References

[1] Govindarajan, Vijay and Anup Srivastava. “What the Shift to Virtual Learning Could Mean for the Future of Higher Ed.” Harvard Business Review, March 31, 2020. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/03/what-the-shift-to-virtual-learning-could-mean-for-the-future-of-higher-ed

[2] This is a brief summary of the science described in chapters 20 and 21 from Leaf, Caroline. Think, Learn, Succeed: Understanding and Using Your Mind to Thrive at School, the Workplace, and Life. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018.

[3] King, Alison. “From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side.” College Teaching 41, no. 1 (Winter 1993): 30. On teaching the teacher to flip see Kehoe, Thomas, Penelope Schofield, Elizabeth Branigan, and Michael Wilmore. “The Double Flip: Applying a Flipped Learning Approach to Teach the Teacher and Improve Student Satisfaction.”, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice 15, no. 1, (2018): article 7. Available at: http://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol15/iss1/7

[4] Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 1998.

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