Flippable Moments: 3 Places Look Before You FLIP It


Don't try to FLIP everything. Look for these three flippable moments before you re-design a lesson or your course.

"Barbi, how do I know what should and shouldn't be flipped?" 

In almost every workshop I lead, someone asks this question.  It takes on other forms such as:

"I don't have time to redesign my whole course. What can I do?"

Or, "I don't even know where to begin. Where should I start?"

Or, "I have too much to cover in class. How do you balance covering the content and implementing these flipped strategies?"

Sometimes, the conversation goes in a different direction. I meet faculty who have been so excited when they first hear about the flipped classroom model that they tried to flipped everything.

They changed every lesson in their course to try to fit with the flipped classroom philosophy. They recorded videos of every lecture. They spent hours (and hours!) researching active learning strategies to add to their classes to keep students engaged and on tasks. They created new assignments, exams, and projects.

And most of the time, these faculty members are burned out and overwhelmed. They always tell me they wish they'd know about flippable moments before they began.

What are Flippable Moments?

Before I go any further, I need to clarify how I define the flipped classroom model.  My philosophy centers on the idea that the flipped classroom doesn’t just mean students watch a video of a lecture outside of class and then do homework during class.

In my work, the FLIP is when you “Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process”. To me, “flipping” a class means you reverse the way you design the learning environment so students are engaging in activities, applying course concepts, and focusing on higher level learning outcomes during class time. Sometimes this includes technology, but technology is not a requirement.

So, what do I mean by a flippable moment? 

This is the moment when you stop talking at your learners and “flip” the work to them instead.  This is the moment when you allow them to struggle, ask questions, solve problems and do the “heavy lifting” required to learn the material.

Finding the flippable moments in your course will help you focus on what to spend time and energy re-designing so you and your students can be successful in the flipped classroom. If something you're already doing in a lesson works, leave it alone ("If it ain't broke...").

Since content is available everywhere these days, and it is often free, we have to remember to teach our students how to uncover and discover information for themselves.  Search engines, online textbooks, online lectures, MOOCs, etc. have given all of us access to endless amounts of content.

Students can look up the content on their own and find the answer to a question within a matter of seconds.  What they can’t always do on their own is analyze, synthesize, and experience the process of engaging in higher levels of critical thinking.

This is when they need to do the messy work of learning, evaluating, and critiquing. This is when they need your structure and guidance, but not your answers. They have to make meaning for themselves. This is a “flippable moment.”

So, back to the original question:  How do you determine what can be flipped?

Here are 3 places to look for flippable moments in your course or lesson:

Flippable Moment #1:   Look for confusion.

Ask yourself:

“What’s the most difficult or challenging part of this lesson?” 

“Where do I anticipate students’ having problems or encountering difficulty?”

These are places in your lesson that would benefit from flipped strategies. Re-think how you present this section of your lesson and design an activity for students to engage in. 

Maybe they need a video to watch and re-watch several times before and after class to reinforce the main points. Maybe they need a group activity to discuss the material with their peers.  Maybe they need more time to practice and test their skills.

If this is a lesson you’ve taught before, then you probably know where confusion is likely to occur.  If you’ve never taught this lesson before, consider adding a classroom assessment technique to the middle or end of your lesson.

This will allow both you and your students to determine where additional work is needed to achieve the learning outcomes.

Location #2:  Look for the fundamentals.

Ask yourself:

“What’s the most fundamental, most essential, and most critical part of today’s lesson?”

“What MUST students know before they can move forward?”

If students absolute must know this content before moving on to the next lesson, grade level, or course, then it's worth the effort to FLIP. When you FLIP the fundamentals, you ensure students have had multiple opportunities to practice and test their knowledge to ensure mastery.

By adding new strategies and mixing things up, you can help students identify what they know, what they don't, and where they need more resources, practice, or support when it comes to mastering the fundamental material in the course.

Location #3:  Look for boredom.

Ask yourself:

“Are the students bored?”

You may be laughing or shaking your head as you read this one, but boredom is not going to lead to engagement or learning. If your students are bored, then they are not even going to try to participate. They are just going through motions of attending class, taking a few notes, and moving on to the next assignment.

Which brings me to the next question: Are YOU bored?

If you are bored, then you are probably just going through the motions too. You're just trying to cover the content until the class ends.

Maybe you've taught this same course for the past 10 years and it's not new or exciting to you anymore. Instead of continuing to talk at the students or proceed with the lecture as if things are fine, try to FLIP it. 

Change the energy in the room. Put students in pairs or groups. Pose a challenge. Ask them to solve a problem. Introduce a case study. Allow them to design or evaluate something. Give them the space to struggle, practice and imagine “what if?” so they are challenged and inspired. 

Then, your role is to step to the side and become actively passive as students take the lead. They will be engaged and excited and challenged. You will be re-inspired and enthusiastic again.

That’s the power of the FLIP.

Next Steps

Once you find a flippable moment and you begin to prepare your lesson, don't start with the question, "What am I going to talk about today?"

Instead, ask yourself, “What do the students need to DO to today?" 

This is the place where you should start. What can students do in class to achieve the learning outcomes? As the instructor, you can’t “unlearn” the material you already know, and you can’t go back in time and feel what it’s like not to know the material anymore (see Camerer's The Curse of Knowledge).

To learn what you know now, you had to do the “heavy lifting” yourself.   You had to analyze, reflect, and evaluate.  You had to make meaning for yourself. 

It’s your students’ turn now.  FLIP it to them!

Resources and Recommended Reading
Honeycutt, B. (2016) Flipping the College Classroom: Advice for Faculty. Magna Publications. Madison, WI.

Camerer, C., Loewenstein, G., & Weber, M. (October 1989). The Curse of Knowledge in Economic Settings: An Experimental Analysis. The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 97, No. 5. pp. 1232-1254. The University of Chicago Press. Available online: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1831894


Note: An earlier version of this article was also published in Faculty Focus