A luddite starts ‘flipping’: The beginning of a technophobe’s e-learning journey

At the end of year dinner organized by some of my students I won two awards, voted on by this years’ Vantage Arts cohort. The first was ‘Most Visited Professor’ (in office hours) and the latter was for the prof who made the ‘Best use of Technology’. Now, prior to announcing this latter award the MCs made clear that this could be an ironic, or comical award. Many student’s smiles and eyes immediately turned to me.   The winner was announced and I made my way up to the front to collect my ‘award’. I wasn’t offended at all, it showed a good sense of humour from my students and I am well aware that technology is not my friend (I myself would joke about my lack of abilities in class).

I struggled with nearly all of the computer/projector systems in my classes this year. To be fair every room I taught in had a different IT set up that required different cables and had a different process for sending things to the screen. Not what you need when you already hate technology. It probably didn’t help that two of my colleagues who also teach in the program are great with technology and did some pretty interesting stuff this year which made my efforts look pretty amateurish.

On top of this, I’ll admit it, I am just not a huge believer of ‘technology in the classroom’. There. I said it. Controversial.   A few concerns have placed me in this camp. I won’t bore you with them all, but here’s a few nuggets—particularly around the pressure to ‘flip’ my classrooms. The move towards a ‘flipped classroom’ largely (but not exclusively) involves creating videos of lecture material for students to watch prior to coming to class, thereby freeing up time from lecturing to engage in more active learning (AL) pedagogies. Now, I’m a fan and make use of a lot active learning strategies so this initially seems very attractive to me.

However, I currently intersperse ‘mini-lectures’ (between 5-30 minutes of lecturing) with a range of AL approaches (pair-shares, simulations, problem based learning etc). The lecture material is therefore fresh in students’ minds moving into the active learning. These AL techniques only work (in my mind) if students have the foundational knowledge to engage in them. If they’ve a) not watched the video in their own time or b) too much time has passed between watching the video and the activity, I feel I may as well throw the activities out the window. I’ll likely still have to do a quick run through of the material anyway to make sure we are all on the same page, so what’s the point of the fancy video productions?

Another one of my colleagues noted they were worried that students might become ‘obsessed’ with the videos, memorizing the content of the videos alone, and focusing on these before midterms and exams and not focusing on the active learning activities that accompany the videos in class. Given that it is the latter pedagogies where critical thinking skills develop, this concerned us. In creating videos we are in a sense reifying a very limited type of knowledge and given that this can be played repeatedly (unlike the AL activities) there is a concern that students will over-value these.

This all culminates in my (perhaps somewhat petulant child/cranky old prof personae) a belief that ‘one can’t learn about politics by staring at a screen’. You learn about politics by discussing, by ‘playing with ideas’ with others, by doing. I’d rather my students spend their time outside of class discussing politics with their mates in the café/pub than staring at a computer screen.  I suppose the lefty in me is also thinking about the growth of the neo-liberal university, where the goals of increasing student numbers and fees risks overtaking the goals of student learning and progress more generally. While it is perhaps silly to suggest that videos will every fully replace live academic bodies, I still wonder/worry about the repercussions on both students (and indeed the hiring of full time teaching staff) with the move towards technology and e-learning.

Now, despite my philosophical/political concerns AND (more importantly) my total lack of technological skills, I am taking a slow and cautious start towards a flipped classroom and greater integration of technology. With my newly hired Academic Assistant, I’ll be (voluntarily) working to slowly increase the use of technology in my classroom. Why you ask? Well, all of my above concerns are purely theoretical, and perhaps based more on my own fears and biases than experiences of technology not actually being pedagogically useful.* So like a good political scientist I will experiment, analyse and report back. I’ve decided to make use of three technologies this year

  1. A small number of bespoke videos produced specifically for my classes
  2. Integration of quizzes and opinion polls during lectures via our iClicker system
  3. Inclusion of twitter feeds in lectures to share information and gather student responses

Students should not expected to see all of these in all my classes, but I’ll be doing a pilot this year with some of these scattered throughout my various courses. Wish me luck, check back for updates and analysis and in the meantime enjoy (for the hilarity and sense of my current technological skill level), my first foray into making videos—the output of my initial training session with our wonderful Curriculum Manager, Brian.

*There is a wealth of research on flipped classrooms. Here are a few sources I have found useful:

Yarbro J, Arfstrom, AM, McKnight K and McKnight P (2014) Extension of a Review of Flipped Learning. Flipped Learning Network. Available at http://flippedlearning.org/cms/lib07/VA01923112/Centricity/Domain/41/Extension%20of%20FLipped%20Learning%20LIt%20Review%20June%202014.pdf

Enfiled, J (2013) ‘Looking at the Impact of the Flipped Classroom Model of Instruction on Undergraduate Multi Media Students at CSUN’ TechTrends 57(6) 14-27

Roehl A, Reddy SL and Shannon GJ (2013) ‘The Flipped Classroom: An Opportunity to Engage Millennial Students Through Active Learning’ Journal of Family and Consumer Strategies, 102(2), 44-49.

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