But what WORKS? Vocabulary and Debate in Education

A recent post on Chronicle of Higher Education by Casting Out Nines blogger Robert Talbert addressed the need for some common definitions of flipped classrooms and flipped learning.  We have spoken about flipping the classroom here before, and since this initial post more and more WPI faculty have been experimenting with these models.  Many lessons have been learned, and there are many more to come.

One thing that struck me after reading Robert’s post was the idea that the very thing he was advocating for, common definitions around which productive debate could occur, would be incredibly useful.  This is not to say that we need a prescriptive model for “Flipped Learning” or even for a “Flipped Classroom” (e.g. all videos must be under 5 minutes), but rather that a set of principles behind these ideas would provide a scaffold for us to base our conversations and research around.  Perhaps our struggle is occurring in the vocabulary of the differences between a teaching technique and a change in learning methodology, as he suggests.

The interesting points that he brings up  prompted a comment thread such as I have not seen in a long time on a professional educator blog!  Passionate reactions from readers demonstrated that we all have opinions on what “works” in education.  Author Steve Krug addresses a corollary to this issue by discussing web design in his book, Don’t Make Me Think when he compares these debates to religion.  Because our beliefs are all strongly held, personal, and difficult to prove.  We have all been learners, so we think, no matter how hard we try not to, that everyone learns as we do.  And as Krug notes, “It’s not that we think everyone is like us.  We know there are some people out there who hate the things we love-after all, there are even some of them on our own team.  But not sensible people.  And there aren’t many of them.”

My thought is that many of the comments on Robert’s initial post are reflecting that mentality.  Because there is no lack of professional passion, to be sure.  When we try to innovate in the field of education, and make decisions based on data, it is still hard to leave these feelings at the door.  Robert has a great response in his follow-up post, and I am sure there will be more.  He focuses on the strengths and requirements of his students and, like him, I encourage us all to continue to think about the students first, and do our best to understand their perspective and needs.

On an even more personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Worcester Polytechnic Institute for all of the learning that I’ve been able to do over the last (almost) six years.  Tomorrow will be my last day at WPI, as I have accepted a position at another university.  This is a very difficult community to leave, precisely because of the tremendous commitment to students that I value so highly, and I was lucky to be a part of it for a short while.  I look forward to continuing to learn from all the work done at WPI, especially by the amazing group of people who bring you this blog, and wish everyone the best of luck.