Whatever Happened to the “Flipped” Classroom?

The answer to the question is: the once-innovative practice remains popular in the rhetoric of instructional reform in both university and K-12 classrooms but it is devilishly hard to pin down exactly how many professors and public high school teachers have adopted and used the practice regularly in their lessons. Many U.S. high school teachers and professors—how many I do not know–say that they have “flipped” their class lessons but what such classrooms look like in practice is anybody’s guess.

A Wikipedia definition of “flipped” classrooms captures the gist of the innovation in both public school and university classrooms:

A flipped classroom is an instructional strategy and a type of blended learning, which aims to increase student engagement and learning by having pupils complete readings at home and work on live problem-solving during class time. This pedagogical style moves activities, including those that may have traditionally been considered homework, into the classroom. With a flipped classroom, students watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home, while actively engaging concepts in the classroom, with a mentor’s guidance.

An instructional innovation that got its name decades ago (see Wikipedia‘s history of the innovation), “flipping” one’s lessons has gained adherents among groups of high school teachers and college professors as another way of engaging students in absorbing information, practicing skills, and participating in classroom activities. For those teachers and professors who want more student-centered instruction occurring in their classrooms, the idea of “flipping” classroom teaching–has great appeal. *

Beginning in the early 2000s, the idea has gained increased mentions in educational literature. Two former teachers–Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams–have been cheerleaders for the practice in their books, articles, and speechs (see here).

Keep in mind, however, that teachers and professors talking about “flipping” their classroom or even mentions in the educational literature does not mean that those instructors have actually incorporated the innovation into their daily lessons. Moreover, teachers and professors who put the idea into practice inevitably produce much variation in their lessons across their classrooms.

What does a “flipped” classroom look like in practice?

That’s the model of “flipping” the classroom. But that model varies a great deal in practice. On the Internet, for example, many teachers and professors have described what they do when they “flip” their classroom (see here, here, and here). I also found one student’s account of a “flipped” classroom in 2022. And there are YouTube segments on high school students and teachers engaged in “flipping” their classrooms ( see here, here, and here)

Are “flipped’ classrooms effective insofar as student performance on standardized tests?

The short answer is “maybe.” Like so many over instructional practices, researchers have a most difficult time isolating the practice from the many factors that influence what teachers and professors do in their classrooms (e.g., instructors’ training and experience; students’ motivation and attitudes; courses of study). For example, some evidence suggests that “flipped” classrooms may have more positive effects upon schools largely populated with middle- and upper-middle class students than in schools where low-income youth are the majority of enrollment.

Consider those above factors and the kinds of studies done insofar as the questions asked, sample sizes, and methodologies. So no surprise that those studies (including meta-analyses of existing ones) that have been done on the linkages between high school “flipped” classrooms and student scores on standardized tests (the dominant metric since the mid-1980s) yield mixed results (see here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Since most professors and teachers do not search out what classroom innovations work best, rather they choose from a menu that makes the most sense to them given their beliefs about teaching and learning plus school and district guidelines.

Given the mixed results insofar as student outcomes of “flipped” classrooms, this innovation in high school and college classrooms–approximately how many teachers and professors include it in their repertoire of approaches remains unknown–will be around for many more years.

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*Paul Kirschner, Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of the Netherlands, has explored the origins of the “flipped” classroom also (see here).

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