Albany Senior High School/Flip it: Reverse instruction to make best use of teaching time

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What is Reverse Instruction?

Have you ever experienced the unique and rare moment when, after doing something the same way for year and years, you have an epiphany and wonder, "why am I doing it this way?" ...  I stumbled across an interesting article in THE Journal a little over a year ago and had a moment like I described above. High School chemistry teachers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman (from the podcast above) .... were the first people, to my knowledge, to suggest the idea of "reverse instruction." Together they began to record their lectures and post them on iTunes. The students downloaded them to their computers and mobile devices and watched them at home, at their convenience. When in the classroom Sams and Bergsma spent their time interacting with the students individually on "homework" assignments. When a student got stuck, they were there to help. They flipped the classroom to make it more flexible and dynamic, matching it with the needs of the students.

Last year I began implementing reverse instruction into my high school Anatomy & Physiology class. It was the third time I had taught the class and I knew that I spent a lot of time lecturing. For most of my lectures I had already created PowerPoint presentations. I began the labor intensive process of putting them on the web for students to view. For some of them I created screencasts with voice narration. Others were simply Google Docs presentations shared on my classroom wiki. For each unit I provided a lecture note outline that I required students to fill out.

With class time liberated from lectures I was able to incorporate more hands-on activities, projects, and helping students better understand confusing and challenging concepts.

I would not say that my first year was a complete success. I have not mastered the art of reverse instruction, but I've made progress. Here are some of the lessons that I've learned:

  • Make sure that you clearly and carefully explain the purpose of reverse instruction to students. This is a radical idea for students as well as teachers. I did this in a class "commercial" which I show at the beginning of the year
  • Stress the importance of the lectures. Students cannot "zone out" and simply copy down the notes in five minutes and be done. They must be actively engaged as they view the lecture notes, writing down questions and fitting in the new information with what they already know.
  • Hold students accountable to the lectures. I did a credit/no credit lecture notes check at the beginning of each class period to ensure that students were actually viewing the lectures. Another idea (which I haven't tried yet) is including a secret word or number somewhere in the lecture and asking students to write it down in class the following day. They only way to find out what the number/word is, is to watch/listen to the lecture.
  • Beware of technical problems. YouTube is a good way to share videos, but my school blocks YouTube. I ended up posting my screencasts as both YouTube videos and Google Docs presentations.
  • If students don't have internet access at home (this is becoming less and less of a problem), you will need to pre-load your lectures onto an iPod, print out your slides, or burn them to a CD.
  • Create a portal for students to go to watch your lectures, download lectures notes, and converse with one another. Google Sites and Wikispaces are both viable options for this. I've used them both. Posting lectures on iTunes is also an option. It is free (you have to provide the hosting), but takes a little while to setup and configure it correctly.
  • Use Google Docs! If you're like me, you are always updating, tweaking, and improving your lectures and presentations. Making sure that the most updated copy is available for students can become a nightmare. If you use Google Docs to share all of your presentations and handouts, when you make a change, all of the public copies are automatically updated throughout the web. What a time saver!

Now that you've freed up class time, you need to use it productively. This can be a challenge. You've spent all of your time and energy developing your lectures and now you don't have the time/energy to develop new, innovative, interactive classroom activities. This is where I need to improve. It takes a while!

Reverse Instruction Resources:

Research study on college students downloading habits of online lectures (PDF).
Teacher Vodcasting Network (Ning)
Educational Vodcasting site created by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman
Twitter user? Follow the hashtag #revlearn

Helpful Reverse Instruction Tools

Camtasia Studio: the best screencasting software on the web. Free 30 day trial, $179 for educators.
Jing: a web-based screencasting service. There is a free version (limited filetypes) and a subscription version. Made by TechSmith, the same company that makes Camtasia.
Google Docs: a great way to create presentations and share them with students. You can even upload and convert PowerPoint files!

More Web links: