You Don’t Have to Use Technology in the Flipped Classroom: 25 Unplugged Strategies Developed by Faculty

You don’t have to use technology in the flipped classroom. You might not realize this since nearly every conversation about flipped learning emphasizes technology.  

Video recorded lectures, podcast interviews, in-class response systems, voiceover PowerPoint slides, screencasts, collaborative spreadsheets, interactive whiteboards, infographics, USBs, DVDs…it seems there’s a tech tool for any kind of learning activity you can think of for your flipped classroom!

If you’re going to think about how to flip without technology, one of the first tasks you may want to consider is how you define the flipped classroom.

In my work, the FLIP means to Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process. In my framework, I encourage you to move the lower level learning outcomes outside of class and involve students in achieving the higher level learning outcomes during class time.

This is the opposite of what we typically do in the college classroom. The FLIP requires us to re-think how we structure our lessons and to carefully consider the role technology plays in those lessons.

In his book Teaching Naked, Bowen (2012) explains, “…technology itself doesn’t create engagement. Traditional lecture courses can be improved by the judicious use of technology, but the primary benefit of technology-mediated content delivery, communication, and assessment outside of class is the additional time it creates for more active and engaged learning with prepared students inside of the classroom” (185).

That is the essence of the FLIP.

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Before we continue this conversation, let me say that technology is an important part of education and faculty development. When we integrate technology into our courses, we create new opportunities for students to connect with each other, engage with the course material, and assess learning.

I use technology when I teach a class or facilitate a faculty development workshop. However, over the past few years, I have been looking for something different from all the software, hardware, and devices.

I started looking for tools I can use that don’t require a password, a subscription, or a wireless internet connection. That’s when I started thinking about no-tech, or “unplugged,” tools and teaching strategies I can use in my classroom to engage students. I'm not talking about banning devices or unplugging everything all of the time. Just for part of a lesson. 

Why FLIP Without Technology?

With all of the focus on technology and teaching, why consider using “unplugged” flipped strategies in your classroom?  Here are three ideas to consider:

1. Limited Access:

One of the challenges of the flipped model is students’ limited access to technology outside of class. By using unplugged strategies in class, all students can participate in the activity without worrying about acquiring technological tools to complete a task.

2. Time & Expense:

Since I’ve been in the middle of the flipped classroom conversation for a few years, I have been overwhelmed with all the choices we have when selecting technology tools for education. I’ve tried many (so many!) different tools only to find they are too expensive to upgrade or they take too much time to learn.

Using unplugged strategies may or may not include additional costs (depending on what strategies and tools you choose), but part of the fun is finding ways to use everyday supplies in new ways to engage students.

3. Cognitive Overload:

When we talk to our students while they are also reading a slide, we are potentially overloading the brain’s capacity to comprehend the information and retain what is being presented. The brain is trying to process verbal instructions while also interpreting text on a slide.

Research shows that retention increases when we provide both audio and visual information, but we have to be careful not to present too many slides with too much information (Madda, 2015; Adesope & Nesbit, 2012).

Using unplugged strategies forces students (and us) to focus only on the task they’ve been assigned without having to decipher between interpreting both written and verbal information.

What Unplugged Strategies Can You Use in Your Flipped Class?

When I work with faculty, one of my goals is to inspire creativity in teaching. I hope educators who attend my events leave with new ideas they can use and adapt to their own classes to increase student engagement and improve learning.

As a faculty development professional, the main way I do this is by flipping faculty development and putting faculty in an interactive and collaborative environment where they are challenged to create something. In the spirit of practicing what I teach, I flipped a faculty development session at the Teaching Professor Conference in June 2017. 

Approximately 100 faculty members attended the session titled, “Unplugged Flipped Learning Activities to Engage Students.” In this session, I challenged the participants to “get back to basics” in their courses by unplugging the devices, turning off the projector, and using unplugged tools.

The five tools we used in this session were: dice, index cards, a roll of paper, sticky notes, and a deck of playing cards.  



To help them get started, I divided the audience into groups and gave each group an “unplugged” tool and a case study. Their task was to complete the case study and then create two more teaching strategies using their unplugged tool.

We rotated the tools to allow each group an opportunity to review each case study and practice using each tool. Here's what they created!

Here are five faculty-created unplugged strategies you can use to engage students and improve learning in your flipped classroom:

Flipping your lesson with dice.

Prepare a stack of review questions prior to class. Sort the questions by level of difficulty. Then, during class, ask each group to roll a die. The number they roll corresponds to the question their group must answer. For example, if they roll a 1, then they get a level 1 or “easy” question. If they roll a 6, then they get a level 6 or “very challenging” question.

Flipping your lesson with index cards.

Give each student (or group) two index cards. Ask them to write one test question on each card. They can write an easy one and a difficult one. Or they can write a multiple choice question and an open-ended question.

Then, give students time to exchange cards with each other (or with another group) and try to answer the questions on the cards. At the end of class, collect the cards. Choose several of the student-generated test questions and include them on the next exam.

Flipping your lesson with a roll of paper and markers.

Give each group a roll of paper (or a flip chart) and markers. Assign each group a topic that involves a series of steps. Ask each group to write down the steps in order using only their roll of paper and a marker. You can either give all groups the same topic or give different groups different topics, depending on your goal.

Flipping your lesson with sticky notes.

Give each student a few sticky notes at the beginning of class. Then, ask them to anonymously write one thing they’ve heard about this course. (Examples: What’s the most difficult part of the course? What advice have students been given? What was the best part of the course?). 

Then, ask students to post their sticky note on a wall in the classroom and browse some of the other comments. Use their comments to start a discussion about the course, expectations, and advice for success.

Flipping your lesson with a deck of playing cards.

Give each student a playing card as they arrive to class. Then assign a case study or article to read which requires students to choose a “pro” or “con” role (or “for and against” or “in favor of vs. not in favor of”).

Tell them if they have an even-numbered card, they are to present the “pro” side of the issue. If they have an odd-numbered card, they are to present the “con” side of the issue.

As you think about creative ways to engage your students, consider using an unplugged flipped strategy in one of your lessons to mix things up and try something new. Challenge yourself and your students to put away the phones, laptops, and tablets and connect with each other in a different way.


You may find you connect with each other even more when you disconnect from the devices!

Download your free bonus article featuring 20 more unplugged strategies!

(If the pop-up box doesn't work for you, contact me to get the article)

Do you have other unplugged teaching strategies you’d like to share? Tell me your ideas in the comments below!

References & Additional Resources:
Adesope, O. & Nesbit, J. (2012). Verbal redundancy in multimedia learning environments: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology. Vol. 104. No. 1. Pgs 250-263. Available online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232469670_Verbal_Redundancy_in_Multimedia_Learning_Environments_A_Meta-Analysis

Bowen, J. (2012). Teaching Naked. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Honeycutt, B. (2016). 101 Unplugged Flipped Strategies to Engage Your Students. Raleigh, NC: FLIP It Consulting.

Madda, M. (January 19, 2015). Why your students forgot everything you're your Powerpoint slides. EdSurge. Available online: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-01-19-why-your-students-forgot-everything-on-your-powerpoint-slides


Looking for more "unplugged" strategies? Get the book!

101 Unplugged Flipped Strategies to Engage Students
(available in print, digital, and Kindle formats)

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