Jury still out on benefits of 'flipped' classrooms and video lectures

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 1:06pm

Watching mathematic courses on website Khan Academy prompted school teacher Henry Ha Chi-hung to create videos for his students at True Light Middle School, where he is also involved in an e-learning pilot scheme.

Since last summer, Ha has produced 10-minute videos for Form Three students, using the Explain Everything app on an iPad. The videos cover topics including using Dropbox, factorisation, and geometry concepts.

Ha is among a handful of school teachers in Hong Kong adopting the so-called flipped classroom model, which lets students learn about key concepts via videos posted on YouTube, before coming to class for further discussions.

In Ha's case, this means working on mathematical problems. "I can give students higher-order problems to solve in class. The model also suits students with weaker abilities. They can go through the concepts again and again beforehand and learn at their own pace. They have found the approach useful," he says.

Besides catering to diverse abilities, the flipped classroom approach puts students at the centre of learning. In Ha's class, students are divided into groups of two or three to work on problems together, and they make videos of themselves explaining how they found the answers. "It's like students tutoring themselves," he says.

Local teachers are not ready to lecture on YouTube, Ha adds. But the time is right to start promoting this new mode of teaching at schools and universities, says Professor Hau Kit-tai, Chinese University's pro vice-chancellor.

"It emphasises the idea that students can prepare, read, and study at home, so more class time can be spent on discussion of the more difficult problems," Hau says.

"Current technology, which includes storage for videos, [a high] internet speed, and ease of access to video streaming, is mature enough to allow students to watch short videos, or other educational materials, easily."

Hau expects general education courses at university and sub-degree level to share "a lot of common courses", as will secondary and primary schools.

Professor Bebo White, departmental associate (retired) of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre, Stanford University, thinks that some faculty members may feel threatened.

"If you are working towards getting tenure, you want to get into the classroom and teach. You don't just want to lead a discussion."

The rise of social media and mobile devices has nonetheless created a new environment for teaching and learning, and educators will likely experiment.

Tools such as Google's Course Builder allow teachers to create their own platforms. In the virtual community, maths, science and technology courses are more popular than the humanities, explains White.

But White has an open mind on the future of the flipped classroom, and of Moocs.

"Whenever you have a new technological idea, educators are among the first to say, let's try this. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't," White says.