Introducing the “Distributed Flip”

So I think with the recent San Jose State news people may finally start to pay attention to the use of MOOCs and MOOC-like things to support blended learning, a match-up we’ve been supporting here for a while.

Good, and glad to see it. Although there is still this pesky little issue of what to call such things. The term “wrapped MOOC” is tied to the M-word in ways likely to be unhelpful in 12 months, and it can get a bit difficult at times to figure out what is wrapping what.

Amy Collier’s been talking about some of the stuff we’ve been looking at (and some of the newer stuff Stanford is doing) as “distributed flips”. When I asked her what was behind the name she told me that “You have a slide deck, you’ve got a presentation tomorrow, you’ve got to call it something.”

(OK, that’s a paraphrase. But it was along those lines.)

Initially I rebelled — aren’t all flipped classroom designs distributed in some sense? But the more I thought on it, the more it made sense.

In most flipped scenarios, content creation is distributed. Sometimes assessment as well. I create my course as a sequence, and then go out and find individually created content that suits my narrative and supports the flow of my course. On this chapter we’re doing standard deviation — grab Video X from Khan Academy. This one is on confounding — pull this material from OLI. But I, and I alone, own the flow. It’s my course with their pieces.

A distributed flip goes further. In a distributed flip content curation is distributed. Sequencing is distributed. Community may be distributed. There are in fact (at least) two separate streams of the course, each coherent in itself, with (at least) two separate curators, sequencers, creators, assessors working independently of one another. The person offering the face-to-face course has to sync up, at least partially, with the other stream or streams. But control over almost every aspect of the course can be distributed through multiple providers using a somewhat looser coupling than traditional digital materials.

What strikes me as particularly useful about the term is it sets up a discussion of the different ways parts of the class can be distributed across multiple providers. It also focuses people on the particular questions MOOCs raise when used in the blended format, questions that were with us before MOOCapalooza and will be with us long after MOOCapalooza has been absorbed into other efforts. It’s a term that pulls back the camera a bit and reveals the bigger picture, after a year and a half of tight focus on a small piece of that picture.

Of course, it doesn’t quite have that “word of the year” zestiness…..

amy_distributedflip

But we’re working on it (it’s a lot of letters!!!!!)

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16 Comments on “Introducing the “Distributed Flip””

  1. Derek Bruff says:

    I want to like this name, I really do, but I don’t find it helpful. When I hear “distributed,” I think of distributed computing, in which multiple computers in a network work together. That sounds more like how you describe the basic flipped classroom idea–pulling together content from multiple sources in one’s “network.” When you use a MOOC to flip your class, you’re not leveraging a network, you’re relying on one node in that network (the MOOC creator) for content, curation, sequencing, etc., as you note. What Amy calls the “distributed flip” doesn’t seem distributed at all.

    I also think that the “flipped classroom” idea is large enough to accommodate the use of MOOCs without any additional modifiers. Some people flip their classroom as you describe, Mike, curating content from multiple sources for students’ pre-class learning experiences. Others create all their own content–consider Robert “Casting Out Nines” Talbert’s screencasts for his math courses. Others don’t use video at all–Eric Mazur has been flipping his classes for more than a decade by having students read their textbooks, which are also curated and sequenced by someone else. All of these are flipped classrooms, because they all shift the content transmission stage of learning out of class and use class time for active learning. MOOCs just provide another option for the pre-class work.

    What seems to be different about using MOOCs to flip one’s class is that it’s harder to pick and choose which parts of the MOOC you want your students to experience. This can be hard when using textbooks, too, but faculty are used to skipping chapters and choosing different emphases than textbook authors. It seems to be a little harder to tweak how students work through a MOOC. If we’re going to modify the term “flipped classroom,” I’d like us to do so in a way that captures this notion.

    I’ll add that I’m not crazy about the term “wrapping a MOOC” either, even though that’s the term I’ve been using. I’m more comfortable calling MOOCs “super-textbooks” in this context, since flipping one’s class using a MOOC is, from a course design standpoint, fairly close to flipping it using a textbook. But I don’t know if “super-textbooks” is what we need here, either.

    • mikecaulfield says:

      Derek —

      Some people may think distributed computing when thinking distributed, but sometimes distributed just means distributed. One manner of distribution is the use of a network, and I could certainly imagine some cMOOC inspired applications that look very network-like. Another form of distribution is just to split the tasks across several entities. Or you could imagine the common case we’re seeing where there’s a central MOOC and multiple classes plug into it. These are all ways of distributing the traditional activities of a class between multiple providers.

      I agree that there is a lot of overlap with the use of textbooks — that’s why I’ve been arguing that MOOCs are essentially courseware, or more precisely courseware + cohorts, an idea I’ve been looking into in other contexts for almost four years now. Although what we’re finding recently is that global cohort notion tends to not survive the flipped model (partially for the reasons you describe).

      What is likely to happen (in fact, what is already happening) is that the courseware + cohorts model (at least in the flipped case) is being replaced with a courseware + community model with a local cohort. This is fascinating, because, of course, courseware predates xMOOCs by quite a bit, but for various historical reasons MOOCs have unleashed fresh interest in this model.

      Michael Feldstein, who I think has one of the best track records in education industry analysis of anyone I know, took up this trend on Friday, saying:

      “Both MOOC producers and textbook vendors are beginning to converge on a product model of courseware that is more of a complete curriculum than a traditional textbook but less of a stand-alone, autopilot course than a current-generation xMOOC. ”

      (Which, not to toot my own horn, was the point of my January post “Both MOOCs and Textbooks Will End Up Courseware“. OK, to toot my own horn a little.)

      So where does this leave us? Absolutely, as you describe, the level of internal integration of these course artifacts is a major feature. And what we found when we looked at these things was that lack of pick-and-choose modularity had several beneficial effects (students could benchmark against a standard, faculty had less integration time, etc) and certain drawbacks (basically, synchronization was a bitch). This is largely because we are still in a massive cohort model instead of a local cohort model. As we move forward in the distributed flip, much more of the cohort features will be moved into the local cohort, and the MOOC will become more courseware-like. As will textbooks.

      The reason why I think distributed flip works, again, is because this is the element we are tweaking — how control of the class gets distributed. The integration that you note is crucial, but the level of integration is I think a result of the distribution discussion (i.e. what gets done in a global context vs. a local context vs. some as-yet-to-be-determined context). So I think I largely agree with you on trends, but see different drivers of those trends — for me “distributed flip” captures those drivers.

      • derekbruff says:

        Mike, this tweet of yours yesterday (“one course, distributed sections”) really clarified things for me. If you have a single MOOC and multiple faculty around the country (or world) building courses around that MOOC, then you have something that’s been distributed. Cathy Davidson has called this “franchising” a MOOC, which is a problematic metaphor, but gets at the structure of such a system fairly well.

        The choice of point of view is important here, I think. If I’m a MOOC creator, and faculty all around are using my MOOC to flip their classrooms, then, yes, I’ve distributed my content across a network of faculty and courses. If I’m a faculty member flipping my class using someone else’s MOOC, I haven’t distributed anything–I’m getting all my outsourced material from one source. That’s why I can’t see “distributed flip” as a substitute for “wrapping one’s course around a MOOC.” The wrapping metaphor is about local course design, not about a network.

        I’m going to insist that you can’t “distribute” something without a network, one consisting of more than two nodes. If I make a mixed tape and I give it to you, nothing’s been distributed. If I make copies for all my friends, then I’ve distributed something. In “wrapping a MOOC,” there are two nodes in the network: the local instructor and the MOOC instructor. There’s no distribution involved. But from the point of view of the MOOC creator, if there are multiple other faculty using the MOOC, then we have distribution.

        I’m still not sure if “distributed flip” works, however. The term “flipped classroom” is like “wrapping a MOOC” in that its point of view is the individual instructor. We need a term that describes this network of instructors all using (and having their students participate in) the same MOOC. It’s an idea that has a lot of potential–it needs a name that describes it well! I’ll keep thinking.

      • mikecaulfield says:

        It’s funny, I was just thinking of that point of view question the other day, though I hadn’t put it terms this precise. You’ve nailed it here — it’s true, right now the distribution is mostly visible from a MOOC creator POV.

        I think though that one thing we’re looking at is the possibility that as this evolves, many of the instructors that are now consumers of the MOOC might become co-creators of it. One guy we talked to put it like this — he’d love to contribute a lesson on an advanced SQL topic if someone could provide extra instruction on XPATH queries.

        So right now it’s one MOOC, distributed sections. But if enough people felt like that particular professor, I think you could imagine a world where the distribution became much more complex. Maybe even network-like. This is why I think the idea of wrapping Communities of Practice around MOOCs is so fascinating.

        So I like to see it as a term with some headroom to grow (as opposed to “franchising” which locks us tightly into the current paradigm).

        But thank you for the POV comment, it’s a really important point that can get lost, and reminds me to highlight that currently this distribution tends to run one way. Tomorrow is another day.

      • Rolin Moe says:

        Lots to think about here…lots. I will echo my Twitter concern, though — in the MOOC language, Distributed Learning is defined from it’s artificial intelligence perspective rather than the educational model put into some favor in the 90s when computer conferencing was making the ed tech pioneers geek out. Perhaps your term marries both…it seems like it’s trying to do that. Maybe. There is an overarching question about how an environment situates in any flipped-style class, and that’s where the colonial debate starts to surface.

        And there is a question of the mechanization of the professional faculty into a tradesman job…the majority of higher ed teachers are content experts first, pedagogues second (or third. or fourth. or fifth. maybe sixth). The people who classify as pedagogues see it largely in synch with being a content expert, because learning is situated and knowledge constructed. So if you are stripping the content aspect into the higher ed textbook of a MOOC, I don’t know what happens with situated learning.

        You’ve given me lots to think about before AERA, though. Much appreciated!

      • Mike, I think you’ve brought things back to ‘heart’ of the matter and you say it well in the original post: “It’s a term that pulls back the camera a bit and reveals the bigger picture.” The value of the term is in the vision it promotes and the opportunities it begins to uncover and not necessarily in the way it informs specific operationalizations (whose shelf lives are likely to be pretty short anyway). I think we all agree that it’s pretty appealing to have a path for converting or repurposing xMOOCs with cMOOC-like concepts and purposes. Distributed flip moves my mind further down that path and so it’s valuable for me.

        Distributing control in MOOCs (especially xMOOCs) is going to be a ‘messy’, somewhat ill-defined, and emergent process (see e.g., the 200+ years of conflict over federalism and the 10th Amendment or pretty much any cMOOC). The ambiguity is well worth it to me if, in the end, we can leverage the content and ‘structure’ of extant MOOCs to facilitate local, organic, and unique learning communities while also connecting them (perhaps loosely) with a global learning community that shares similar goals/values.

        It may be useful to think of ‘wrapped’ as more of an xFlip and ‘distributed’ as a cFlip. It may not.

  2. Mikey says:

    MOOC MOOC MOOC MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOC!!!!!
    ‘Nuff said :-))

  3. btw, the damned moocer won. It seems that we’ve got a case of PUFP (potentionally unemployed flipped profs.) making a moocery of themselves. Next, shall we google what to call xeroxed copies instead?

  4. derekbruff says:

    Glad the POV comment helped clarify things for you, Mike. I helped do so for me, too! I’m reminded that you and I took difference POVs for the JOLT papers we wrote this winter, with you looking at things from the MOOC creator’s POV and me looking at things from the local instructor’s POV. And in that case, we were looking at the same MOOC!

  5. […] month, Mike Caulfield and I introduced the term “distributed flip”, in an attempt to call attention to the emerging trend of flipping a course by making use of […]

  6. derekbruff says:

    @Andy: I agree that these discussions of terminology are useful, because they help us explore the ideas behind the terminology. But I don’t feel that I can use a particular term *with my faculty* until I have a pretty clear sense of what the term means, and can communicate that meaning to my faculty. When I use the term “flipped classroom” with a faculty member, I have a precise definition in mind (this one) and I communicate that definition to the faculty member.

    I’m glad to kick around fuzzy terminology and emergent ideas with you and Mike and Amy, but when it comes to working with my faculty, I need more precision in my language. “Distributed flip” isn’t there for me yet, even thought I think the ideas it represents are exciting.

    • Derek:

      You make a good point about audience. I can realistically say “flipped” to about 50% of faculty and “wrapped” to maybe 10%. But there is 5% I would talk to about what I *understand* “distributed” to be because it might push us into new pedagogical territory, reveal new opportunities. Maybe you have a better batting average than me, but I have found that even if I present flipped in the exact manner that you do (which I have done using your definition), I would say that a good handful still “innovate” and do something in the middle (e.g., is putting an intro video up for each unit w/o much adjustment to in-class activities flipping? a half-flip perhaps?). I’m usually okay with that as long as it doesn’t violate other pedagogical concepts I value more than flipped. And I think that’s my larger point. Flipped, wrapped, and distributed are largely content delivery terms (although you could argue distributed intimates at more). They’re not really empirically supported, but the pedagogies that can be employed in these models are (e.g., cooperative learning, self-regulated learning, PBL, peer learning, etc). If we are to split hairs, then I say let’s split hairs about operationalizing the empirically- and theoretically-based pedagogies that make content delivery work for students (see my related post on this ). I’m okay if someone fudges a bit with their method of content delivery, but I am far less tolerant if, for example, someone “innovated” the main tenets of Social Interdependence Theory. Not only would they be summoning the wrath of the ghost of Lewin, but would also be going against over 40 years of theory and research on how to structure cooperative learning. In a similar way, what I appreciate most about Mike’s article is that it somewhat looks through distributed to the pedagogies it affords or can promote (e.g., communities of practice, cooperative learning, curation and the metacognitive and self-regulatory skills it requires, etc).

      Thanks for responding. Your point about audience is important and helps me reflect on when, how, and with whom I pull specific ID and pedagogical cards. This is definitely some of the “art” of ID and faculty development.

    • Derek:

      You make a good point about audience. I can realistically say “flipped” to about 50% of faculty and “wrapped” to maybe 10%. But there is 5% I would talk to about what I *understand* “distributed” to be because it might push us into new pedagogical territory, reveal new opportunities. Maybe you have a better batting average than me, but I have found that even if I present flipped in the exact manner that you do (which I have done using your definition), I would say that a good handful still “innovate” and do something in the middle (e.g., is putting an intro video up for each unit w/o much adjustment to in-class activities flipping? a half-flip perhaps?). I’m usually okay with that as long as it doesn’t violate other pedagogical concepts I value more than flipped. And I think that’s my larger point. Flipped, wrapped, and distributed are largely content delivery terms (although you could argue distributed intimates at more). They’re not really empirically supported, but the pedagogies that can be employed in these models are (e.g., cooperative learning, self-regulated learning, PBL, peer learning, etc). If we are to split hairs, then I say let’s split hairs about operationalizing the empirically- and theoretically-based pedagogies that make content delivery work for students (see my related post on this ). I’m okay if someone fudges a bit with their method of content delivery, but I am far less tolerant if, for example, someone “innovated” the main tenets of Social Interdependence Theory. Not only would they be summoning the wrath of the ghost of Lewin, but would also be going against over 40 years of theory and research on how to structure cooperative learning.

      What I appreciate most about Mike’s post is that it somewhat looks through distributed to the pedagogies it affords or can promote (e.g., communities of practice, cooperative learning, curation and the metacognitive and self-regulatory skills it requires, etc). I hope that their (Mike, Amy) descriptive research on distributed flip evolves to focus more on these pedagogies and how to leverage them in MOOCs (especially xMOOCs).

      Thanks for responding. Your point about audience is important and helps me reflect on when, how, and with whom I pull specific ID and pedagogical cards. This is definitely some of the “art” of ID and faculty development.

  7. […] in April 2013, Amy Collier and Mike Caulfield (now at WSU-Vancouver) introduced the term “distributed flip” to describe this very idea. I’ll admit that it took me a while to warm to the term. I […]


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