Mobile Learning and the Inverted Classroom (#EDUSprint)

Flipped ClassroomNumber four on my list of five types of mobile learning is the use of mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, and such) as platforms for delivery course content. Frankly, I find that educational technology people often focus too much on this type of mobile learning, and I’ve argued that mobile learning involves much more than just content delivery. So as I continue my #EDUSprint blog series on mobile learning, I’m hesitant to give too much attention to “mobile learning type 4.” However, I think I’ve got an angle on this topic that will add something useful to the conversation…

I first heard about what some call the inverted classroom from Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur. He’s the one who coined the term peer instruction to describe a certain kind of in-class small group work that involves having students discuss and answer clicker questions. How does Mazur make time for this kind of active learning when there’s so much physics material to cover? He shifts the “transfer” of information from an in-class lecture to a pre-class reading assignment. This frees time in class for the “assimilation” of that information through peer instruction. Traditionally, the assimilation step occurs after class, as students struggle on their own with homework. Since the textbook does such a great job of introducing the course material, why not move the more-difficult assimilation step to the classroom where other students and the instructor are available to help?  (See Mazur’s 2009 Science article, “Farewell, Lecture,” for more on his experience with this idea.)

Mazur’s approach made a lot of sense to me, and I’ve been using it in my math courses for years now. It’s a common one in the humanities, where students are expected to “do the reading” before class (although not all of them do, of course) and discuss that reading during class. But in the science, engineering, and mathematics–not so much. The inverted classroom model is gaining ground, however, particularly through the use of pre-class assignments that don’t just involve reading one’s textbook. That’s where the mobile learning angle comes in: I’m all for delivering content on mobile devices before class to enhance the learning that happens during class.

Here are two examples of mobile-friendly inverted classrooms:

Robert Talbert, soon to be teaching math at Grand Valley State University, has used the inverted classroom approach for his linear algebra course. Robert creates screencasts that introduce important topics (either using a virtual whiteboard or capturing his computer screen as he demos a piece of software) that he posts to YouTube. Here’s an example:

See Robert’s YouTube channel for more screencasts. Robert’s students watch these videos before class, equipping them to come to class prepared to roll their sleeves up and start solving problems. I don’t know where and how Robert’s students watch these videos, but I do know that they’re mobile friendly. Point your smart phone’s QR code scanner here to see for yourself:

(I’m assuming here that you’re not already reading this blog post on a mobile device!) For more on how Robert uses the inverted classroom approach, check out his blog posts on the topic.

Keene State College math professor Dick Jardine also uses the inverted classroom approach, although he calls it “flipping” a class. (The “flip” terminology is also used by Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.) Jardine has his students access a variety of resources before class, including an online textbook and a collection of resources from the University of South Florida’s Holistical Numerical Methods Institute. That USF site has a mobile version featuring YouTube lectures, PDFs of PowerPoint presentations, and multiple-choice quizzes for self-testing. See for yourself:

Watch Dick Jardine talk about how he uses the inverted classroom in this series of short videos from the academic technology unit at Keene State College.

As with Robert Talbert’s course, I can see Dick Jardine’s students “consuming” these pre-class resources through their mobile devices whenever they have a spare moment–at the gym, waiting in line somewhere, whatever. That’s a great way to leverage the mobile content delivery idea.

Interested in more on the inverted classroom?  Check out the slides from a presentation Robert Talbert recently gave on the topic:

And here’s a Prezi I put together for a talk titled “Class Time Reconsidered” that addresses the inverted classroom idea:

See also Salman Khan (of the Khan Academy) on the inverted classroom in this TED talk he gave recently:

And finally, check out this short presentation from UC-Santa Barbara physics professor Roger Freedman on his use of lecture-capture software to invert his classroom.

What about you? What’s your experience with the inverted classroom? Do you see potential for this approach to work well with mobile content delivery?

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