Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

The Flipped Class: Shedding light on the confusion, critique, and hype

CJ Westerberg, November 11, 2011 2:43 PM


 ". . . he is a voice of the Flipped Classroom, not the voice of the Flipped Classroom."
-Aaron Sams about Sal Khan of Khan Academy

Setting The Flip Straight

by Aaron Sams

The term "Flipped Classroom" is being thrown around a lot lately in both positive and negative light.  We are delighted to know that we've lit a fire among educators.  The term is a bit ambiguous and does not fully do justice to all that is being done under the guise of the Flipped Classroom.  I hope to shed some light on the confusion, critique, and hype.

1.    There is no such thing as THE Flipped Classroom.  A quick history and its development/evolution.

The Flip has many faces, and the term "Flipped Classroom" has certain connotations that do not do justice to the amazing educational uses of screencasting technology.  When Jonathan Bergmann and I began promoting the idea of using screencasting as an educational tool in 2006-2007, we struggled to know what to call the tool.  At that time we settled on the name (and website URL) Educational Vodcasting.  While this name encompassed our model, it also left itself open to various applications of screencasting in education that was not restricted to delivering direct instruction through a video to be watched at home.

A year passed, and our model morphed from content delivery via video, to a flex-paced mastery system and the model fell under many names: Reverse Instruction, Blended Learning, Pre-teaching, etc.  Some adopted a similar model, others began utilizing screencasting technology to create short how-to tutorials for students and colleagues, others were using the technology to provide students with feedback about written essays, still others were using screencasting as a tool for remediation, re-teaching, and filling in gaps in understanding.  Teachers had taken a technology designed to teach people how to use software, and used it as an instructional tool in their classrooms.

And then the "Flip" word was used.  Dan Pink wrote an article for The Telegraph in which he mentioned educator and ed-tech guru Karl Fisch.  Karl had recently returned to the classroom and was using screencasting technology to deliver instruction to his students outside of class.  Pink referred to this as the "Fisch Flip."  Karl kindly credited Jon and I with inspiring him to adopt this model, and we immediately became affiliated with the "Flipped Classroom," and the name seems to have stuck. 

We were in the process of writing our book at this time, and decided to call it The Flipped Classroom, and in doing so we also stuck ourselves to the name.  We submitted our manuscript to our publisher in early February 2011, and in March 2011 Sal Khan gave a Ted Talk in which he referred to "Flipping the Class."

At this point, the Flipped Class model began to boom.  Proponents and opponents began to blog, tweet, and write about the "Flip."  For example, Frank Noschese, physics teacher in New York, became critical of and outspoken against the Flipped Classroom, especially the version of the Flipped Class that Mr. Khan was promoting. Another teacher in San Francisco, Ramsey Musallam, listened to critiques and began to integrate inquiry learning with instructional videos with his Explore-Flip-Apply model. 

 2.    The problem with the "term" Flipped Class.

It implies Version #2 (see below - 2007/2008) of our screencasting model: that which used to be done in class is now done at home, and that which used to be done at home, is now done in class. 

Here is a summary of the 6 models I have used over the past 6 years:

2006-2007 Live Recording
2007-2008 Flipped
2008-2009 Flipped-Mastery
2009-2010 Flipped-Mastery/Inquiry/SBG
2010-2011 Flipped-Mastery/Inquiry/SBG/UDL
2011-2012 Flipped-Mastery/Inquiry/SBG/UDL/WolframAlpha (open-internet tests)/PBL

In a nutshell, that IS "The Flipped Classroom," but it does not end there, which is why the term "The Flipped Classroom" does not do justice to the many models being used.

3.     The Khan Academy

The Khan Academy has shown up in the news lately and many associate the Flipped Classroom with the Khan Academy.  While the Khan Academy does represent a form of the Flipped Classroom, it is not the only way this concept can be implemented. 

Thousands of teachers across the world have been using screencasting and mastery learning for many years, and Khan's TED Talk in Feb 2011 brought the concept to the broader public.  He has received a lot of attention, he has received a lot of money, but he is a voice of the Flipped Classroom, not the voice of the Flipped Classroom.  Mr. Khan has provided a great service to the world with his videos, and should be commended for doing so.   However, the Khan Academy is merely one form the Flipped Classroom has taken in recent years.

4.     The Flip is in flux . . .  as is an educator's evaluation of any instructional practice.

Educators should always continue to evaluate the efficacy of an adopted model of instruction.  This goes for Flipped Class, Inquiry, lecturing, Unschooling, or whatever educational model you use.  I have been a teacher for 12 years, and I have modified my instructional practices every year based on my own reflection, feedback from students and emerging educational practices. 

This is why I have adapted my Flipped model every year. My Flip is in flux, which is yet another testament to the fact that there is no such thing as THE Flipped Classroom. 

Brian Bennett said it best when he said "The Flipped Class is not a methodology, it is an ideology."  His most recent blog post about this can be found Here.   Now, please allow me to paraphrase that statement sans buzz words: "using screencasting technology is not a methodology because it would be unwise to use this tool when it is not appropriate to do so,
it is tool in the toolbox of educators that prevents a teacher from wasting class time lecturing, (but it allows the teacher to maintain the use of appropriate direct instruction) and spends
class time meeting the individual needs of students."  What the class time looks like is a wild card dependent upon the teacher, the school, the school culture, current educational research, among other factors.

4. When promoting or critiquing the "Flipped Classroom," please be specific. 

The following came through in my Twitter feed just last night:
 "The 'flipped classroom' encourages educators to further ignore what the research tells us about the folly of homework."

This tweeter has a legitimate criticism of one version of the Flipped Classroom that assigns videos as homework.  However he does not direct this criticism to those who assign videos as homework.  Instead he makes an uninformed blanket assumption about the nature of the Flipped Classroom and fails to take into account those permutations that do not assign videos as homework.  In response to statements like this I offer the following suggestions:

Please share your stories of success, but be cautious of touting the Flipped Classroom as the answer to all of the woes of education.  Inspire others with your story, but be careful to identify specific ways the Flipped Classroom has changed your instructional practices.

Please be specific in your critique of the Flipped Class.  Be cognizant of the fact that the Flipped Classroom has many faces and cannot be placed under one umbrella.  A blanket critique of the Flipped Classroom does not address the nuances that are present in the various applications of the Flip.

The Moral of the Story

When you read anything about The Flipped Classroom mentally substitute "a class that uses screencasts as an instructional tool" for The Flipped Classroom and all will be well. 

As educators, we all benefit from constructive criticism, but the benefit comes only when criticisms are written to inspire teachers to improve their craft.  There is no benefit to students or to teachers when criticisms are written in ignorance and seek only to cut down and not to build up.  Benefit comes most usefully by addressing specific aspects of a method or model.  So please, do not make assumptions or blanket statements.  Please do disagree with specific points, do make specific assertions, and always do what's best for kids.


Aaron Sams is the co-creator of the flipped class model and the co-author of the book on the flipped class.  He has been an educator for 12 years. He currently teaches science at Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, Colorado. He was awarded the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence for Math and Science Teaching. Aaron recently served as co-chair of the Colorado State Science Standards Revision Committee.

websites: The Flipped Class Network;    Vodcasting and the Flipped Class


Originally published The Daily Riff October 26, 2011
Related posts The Daily Riff:

How the Flipped Classroom is Radically Transforming Learning by Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams

Are you Ready to Flip? by Dan Spencer, Deb Wolf, and Aaron Sams

 "The Flipped Class:  What it Is and What it is Not" by Jon Bergmann, Jerry Overmyer and Brett Wilie

 "The Flipped Class: What Does a Good One Look Like?" by Brian Bennett, Jason Kern, April Gudenrath and Philip McIntosh

Private School Math Teacher Flips Learning by Stacey Roshan


  • Мария Савельева

    Работа учителя не благодарный труд, не важно в какой стране вы живете, твои знания не оцениваются так высоко как в онлайн казино https://casinoplay.su на игровых автоматах, на себе лично проверила - работает! Развиваешься и хорошо зарабатываешь одновременно! А что тут сложного? покрутить барабан на бонусы?

  • Casey Manion

    I've recently learned about using the flipped classroom as an educator (still in college!) and I am glad to have found a little bit of background knowledge. I also like being able to link to so many resources from this article.

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