That “Flipped Classrooms May Not Work” Story

This USA Today article is unfortunately par for the course in educational journalism today. Phil Hill already has an excellent take on this story, but let me add my two cents.

  • It details the preliminary “impressions” of professors engaged in a three year study that will end in 2016. Despite having run flipped classes, they are in week three of that study.
  • It mentions that flipped models might not work for philosophy, because it’s difficult to come up with “real-world problems” to which one could apply philosophy. This despite the fact that philosophy classes (like many humanities classes) are largely already flipped.
  • It has no mention of sample size, methodology (other than the most basic information), controls, or quantitative findings.
  • It is not clear whether the teachers teaching flipped classroom had any training or experience in the methodology, despite having what looks like a depth of experience in lecture methodologies.
  • Hilariously, the article dates the flipped classroom trend to 2007.

What’s more depressing than this is the mass of otherwise intelligent people on Twitter seeing this as either supporting or rejecting nuanced claims. Come on, people.

Asking whether flipped classrooms “work better” is like asking which medication or treatment works best for someone’s psychological problems. Not a specific problem, mind you, just psychological problems in general. What’s the one best pill/treatment at any dosage for depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, and/or agnosia?

Well, what you’re actually treating matters. Medication dosage matters. Therapy method and frequency matters. Therapist competence matters. Regimen compliance matters.

What research actually checks is whether specific regimens are effective for specific problems in specific sorts of cases. When we see good outcomes replicated across a variety of situations, or great outcomes replicated within very specific situations, we label that regimen “promising”, which is where I think certain flipped practices are today. But the details in a thing like this are the whole point as far as research is concerned. So a story that removes the context, student profile, and methodology might as well not be written (or cited) at all.

2 thoughts on “That “Flipped Classrooms May Not Work” Story

  1. Your medical analogy is an apt one and one that hadn’t occurred to me before, but it works on many levels in education. There are many factors and nuances to educating people and it takes careful examination of all the different variables to assess whether or not something is working. And of course there is no one magic pill that will solve all the problems in education.

    It is this kind of reporting (and most “science” reporting that I see) that encourages people to dismiss or further embrace already held preconceived ideas without bothering to look more closely. Although I guess an argument could be made that society as a whole should be better trained to be skeptical of what they read, but that is another thing entirely.

    I’m just tired of poor reporting. We depend on media and journalists to help filter and explain information that most of us don’t have time to go vet for ourselves and it is frustrating to feel so little trust in them.

  2. Loved this.
    I’ve been thinking a lot about research and publications and conferences in the context of a world of media influence (too much McLuhan, Foucalt, Baudrillard in my salad days) and I agree wholeheartedly with everything you critique about the USA Today, but the # of eyes that see that singular USA Today article dwarfs everything I have ever written. And it’s those NYTimes, USAToday, LATimes and (to a slightly lesser extent) WSJ and Forbes articles that people put into their ladders of inference and perpetuate their preconceived notions. People who read me either stumbled there because I tagged a post well or likely share either my worldview or my field of EdTech. Unfortunately we have to take these articles seriously because they are the front line of public perception, which unfortunately drives more of the “future of education” bus than the scholars, researchers and practitioners in the trenches.

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