Flipping the classroom when home access is a problem

By Jess Peterson
January 14th, 2016


A lack of reliable internet access at home can make flipping a challenge, but by no means an impossibility

Ed. note: Jess Peterson will co-present a related session, “Flipping the Classroom in Low-Socioeconomic Schools,” at this year’s FETC conference in Orlando, on Friday Jan. 15.

Ask any educator, and they’ve probably at least heard of flipping the classroom. There are articles for days about the benefits and rewards to be reaped from flipping. Plenty of teachers have given it a go, or at least considered it. Too many teachers have ruled it out on account of their students’ lack of access.

It’s true that our students come from all walks of life. We see the ones with the new Jordans or the latest iPhone, and their peers wearing the old hand-me-down sweater. All of them are our future. All of them are entitled to the best education possible. Only some of them are equipped with the means to achieve their fullest potential.

Believe it or not, flipping the classroom can actually help close this gap. If only the gap weren’t the main reason educators choose not to flip in the first place. So how can we reach kids who don’t have consistent access?

The Barriers of Flipping the Classroom

Life is full of barriers. Some of the most common barriers of flipping are:

  • Students don’t have consistent access to devices
  • Students don’t have consistent access to Internet
  • Students don’t have skills to use the technology

All of these can make flipping seem like an impossible, or even pointless idea. But the benefits of flipping are so appealing, that many teachers still (and should!) consider it. Fortunately, life is also full of solutions, or at least workarounds.

Understand the benefits

It’s important to ensure that everyone is on board. This includes school administrators, students, and parents. In order to do this, the benefits need to be made clear. This will create buy-in and will increase the chances of success for the flip. A parent might let their student borrow the tablet if they know it’s for homework. An administrator might wrangle a little extra funding to support in-class technology.

Some of the most significant benefits of flipping are:

  • Students work at their own pace (by pausing, rewinding, etc.)
  • Students spend more time in class working with others on engaging activities
  • Students get more individual attention from the teacher (because the teacher is free to circulate more)

Find out what access students have

This may seem obvious. Of course you already checked to see what access they had, and they don’t have any. But it’s important to consider a couple things here:

There are tons of different ways students can access videos outside of class.

Taking a survey is a great way to find out what access students have. Ask if they have daily access to YouTube, a computer, a laptop, a tablet, a smartphone, a DVD player, or a library. If they say they don’t, clarify. Ask them if it’s a device issue or an internet issue. Maybe it’s a transportation issue. Find out all the information you can, so you can move forward with the best solution.

Student aren’t always aware of their access.

Once you think you’ve collected all the information, think again. Sometimes students don’t realize that “access to YouTube” might mean “borrowing Mom’s smartphone for homework,” or “DVD player” means “XBox or PlayStation 4.” Maybe they just aren’t allowed on the internet, or can’t use the family laptop except on weekends. Explaining to students, and their parents, that it would be for homework will often be enough to receive a different answer. Of course, there will always be some who just don’t have access.

Workarounds for students without access

Let’s face it, workarounds aren’t perfect. But they’re a start. Here are options and ideas for flipping a classroom, even if students don’t have outside access:

  • Set up alternative locations (get volunteers to allow students to use devices at lunch or after school, library access, opening your room before/after school)
  • Show the video at the very end of the day, or at the very beginning of the activity the following day
  • Have students who watched the video be the “teachers”
  • Use a station so students can watch, while others begin the activity
  • DVDs/Flash Drives

It is up to the teacher (and students!) to decide what will work best for any given situation. And there are plenty more options out there. Whatever you decide, remember to stay encouraged, and get creative. The future is in your hands.

About the Author:

Jess Peterson is a teacher at Washington Manor Middle School in the San Lorenzo Unified School District in California. She has six years experience integrating technology in Title I schools. For the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, Jess received a grant which allows access to one-to-one Chromebooks for the students. Jess has been actively flipping the classroom and blending the students' learning environment since starting teaching, and continues to look for new ways to guide the students toward 21st Century skills and success.