Thursday, April 04, 2013
Forget flipping the classroom, flip assessment
As part of our ongoing curriculum review we are thinking about how to encourage more active learning during staff contact hours. This is often referred to using the bracing North American buzzword, "flipped classroom". I'm uncomfortable with that term as it is rapidly becoming fossilized to mean "lecture recording", which I feel is possibly a worse solution than the original problem. So let's stick to calling it active learning, because that's what we really mean. And it's certainly not about technology solving all our problems.
Apart from the thorny issue of lecture capture, at first sight banning PowerPoint might seem like a reasonable approximation of active learning. Of course it isn't. PowerPoint is no worse than chalk and talk. Nothing could be more deadly than hours of recorded lectures. There have always been good and bad lecturers, and a good lecturer is one of the most positive experiences a student can take away from higher education. A diversity of styles is essential for a positive student experience and a positive staff response. Banning displaces rather than solves problems. It would be nice to think that a possible way forward would be incentives for good teaching - rewarding staff rather than negative management. I'm not naive enough to think that will happen, so the solution needs to be more formalized than utopian.
The most practical solution seems to be to fix our assessment problem, since I'm not convinced that we actually have a "teaching" problem. And the first step there is to stop assessment equaling recall. We are right to criticize A levels as the source of student dependency on assessment for engagement, but we then exacerbate the issue by over loading the curriculum and downgrading analytic and thinking skills. While we continue to be over reliant on examinations consisting of "essays" that are almost always nothing of the sort but simply lists of facts, and if we are lucky, diagrams, what goes on in the classroom is of secondary importance and changing it is not likely to change outcomes. That also means allowing students to experience jeopardy and to fail on occasion, a powerful learning experience. No one said flipping anything would be a comfortable experience.