Imagine the era that preceded the publication of the first textbook for a given subject. Teachers would individually devise their own teaching material and exercises, document these in their ‘class notes’ and subsequently deliver their classes. They would often copy material from their ‘class notes to the blackboard along with relevant illustrations and exercises. Students would in turn copy some of this material in their notebooks and work on the exercises set.
Then, some teachers came up with a bright idea. What if they published their ‘class notes’ in a book for the benefit of other teachers and students? A further refinement was the constitution of panel of experts to write a book consisting of a series of chapters covering the various topics of the syllabus, and design relevant exercises requiring students to apply the knowledge and explanations and, in some cases, even included the answers in the same book or in a teachers’ guide. In other cases, it was found that authors / panels in other countries had already published textbooks that were better in content and presentation than the best that could be locally produced. And these were adopted.
This reduced a lot of the drudgery of that teachers had to endure throughout their career and brought about some degree of standardisation. Teachers were of course expected to supplement the textbook by their own experience and adapt it to their specific circumstances. Most, however, used the textbook as it was and sometimes even skipped some of the explanatory sections that they considered superfluous and dived straight into the exercises. Sounds familiar?
We have now reached a similar turning point. The question that is being asked is whether the lecture or explanation / demonstration components of the classroom teaching should not be recorded beforehand, compiled as a playlist and distributed online to be viewed by students on their laptops, tablets or smartphones. Better still, rather than relying on individual teachers to acquire the required digital skills to record quality lectures which would not be realistic, why not get this recording done by a panel of experts who would both record original lectures and demonstrations while integrating third-party videos and other materials if required, and curate the best that has already been produced elsewhere (by Coursera, Khan Academy and others) and available free on the internet.
This playlist which can be downloaded, and thus made available offline, will become the digital textbook of the student accompanied, if necessary, by a student guide containing a summary of the main points discussed in the lectures and hyperlinks to additional videos and further learning material. The recorded lectures lasting about 10 minutes each will be integrated with online quizzes (using tools similar to the quiz option in Google Forms) that would be automatically corrected and that would provide instant feedback to students about their level of mastery and about sections that they would need to review. Students will go over the material as often as they need (without feeling embarrassed if they fail to grasp everything the first time) until they achieve complete mastery of the topic.
The next logical step would be to implement a ‘flipped classroom’ approach where students would view the online lectures and demonstrations / explanations and take the quizzes at home prior to attending classes. The classroom becomes a place where students work individually or in groups to discuss and solve problems, to work on / present their projects, to do written / practical work. In other words, what is currently homework becomes classwork and most of current classroom activities (lectures and explanations) become homework (thus the ‘flipped classroom’) with the teacher at hand to offer support, and to help weaker students. Rather than expecting teachers to become digital experts, we should encourage them to become supportive coaches. They would guide and supervise the classroom activities and ensure optimum group dynamics. Does this sound utopic?
It turns out that the model described above is already being implemented elsewhere at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. It has even been tried in a number of local institutions. In fact, we may even speculate that many students have tried it with success though probably not in a structured manner. What is now required is a systematic implementation across all levels of the education system. There is no doubt that this approach is likely to be pedagogically more effective. More importantly, it would ensure that our system is better prepared to cope with external events like cyclones, torrential rains or even pandemics while being better aligned with the current technological culture.
Published in Le Mauricien on December 1, 2020 - A case for a systematic implementation of the ‘flipped classroom’ at all levels - Le Mauricien