7. Teachers use video podcasts to turn learning “upside-down”—with promising results.

A new trend has emerged that takes advantage of the power of online video to make classroom time more valuable to students: Teachers are turning the traditional instructional model on its head by delivering the lesson to students as homework and then using class time for practice.

This new teaching and learning style, often called “flipped” or “inverted” learning, makes the students the focus of the class, not the teacher, by having students watch a lecture at home and then apply the lesson with the teacher in the classroom.

With inverted learning, students can absorb the material as homework and then practice what they’ve learned with guided help from the teacher if they need it. This new instructional strategy not only makes class time more productive for teachers and students but also increases engagement and caters to all forms of learning, its advocates say.

“Not all students learn in the same way or at the same pace,” said Dan Spencer, a science teacher at Michigan Center High School and educational technology consultant for Jackson County Intermediate School District. “Unfortunately, the way schools are set up, all students are forced to learn the exact same thing in the exact same time and in the exact same way. I wanted to find a way to change that.”

Spencer, who teaches three sections of chemistry and two sections of engineering every day, typically has anywhere from 15 to 28 students in a chemistry class period.

“The main idea behind the ‘flipped’ classroom is for teachers to be available when students need them most. If I lecture for 30 minutes … in my chemistry classes, that would leave me about 20 minutes to assign homework and let students start on it,” he explained.

At that point, he said, students were left to their own devices to finish their homework and come back the next day for something new. What he found was that when students left his class, many either chose not to do the homework or gave up as soon as they ran into something that didn’t make sense.

“Then we would spend the next day going over questions instead of moving on. So what I was doing was using up valuable class time to lecture and then leaving them to figure things out on their own. That seemed like a very inefficient use of class time to me.”

Spencer began to create screencasts of his lectures using TechSmith’s Camtasia software the day before. Those screencasts then became the homework—and class time was for doing “homework,” or answering questions and doing labs or demos.

Because many of Spencer’s students lack high-speed internet access at home, his district received a grant to purchase a classroom set of iPod touches, which Spencer checks out to students who need them.

Like Spencer, James Yoos, the Washington State Teacher of the Year in 2010, teaches science. Three years ago, Yoos decided to condense his lectures into 15- to 20-minute video podcasts, or “vodcasts,” that students watch for homework. They are expected to watch and practice with him when they are ready to learn the information. The power behind the vodcasts, he said, is that students only watch when they need the information or are inspired to learn more. Class time is then dedicated to practicing and applying the information using students’ preferred learning style.

Yoos noted, however, that this inverted style of learning requires students to “own their learning.”

“What I mean by this is that they [must] take responsibility for developing what they know. They can’t be passive recipients of knowledge—they must engage in order to succeed in this system,” he said. “But that’s what we want for members of our society, isn’t it?”

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Teachers turn learning upside down