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Flipped Learning: Be Actively Passive

by Janice Florent

person with hands resting on book with fingers interlaced

Flipped learning environments are dynamic, interactive, and engaging. Students are actively engaged in solving problems, talking with each other, working through a task, or creating a product. The instructor provides assistance and asks questions when necessary. The instructor might take a moment to gather everyone’s attention and provide an explanation or reinforce a concept, but then the energy would immediately “flip” back to the students.

"You want your students to be active; you’ve got to be a little passive." –Professor Timothy Bresnahan, Stanford University

At its core, the flip shifts the focus from the instructor to the students. The flip occurs because the focus is on what the students are doing, not on what the instructor is doing. If we relate this idea to the quote above, you could say the instructor is being more passive while the students are being more active. The instructor is being what Dr. Barbi Honeycutt, in a FlipIt article, calls “actively passive” because it takes a great deal of energy, attention and awareness to step to the side and support students’ learning in this type of environment.

In the article, Dr. Barbi Honeycutt goes on to suggest three ways instructors can be “actively passive.” Those suggestions are:

1. Embrace messy.

A flipped classroom is “messy” which means students are often working through problems or confronting situations where there might not be a clear answer or a perfect approach. If the instructor needs structure, control, and needs to know exactly what to expect at every moment in the lesson plan, then this will probably be the most difficult challenge for them to tackle.

This might also be the most challenging task for the students to tackle as well. Some students do not appreciate the “gray” area in the learning process. This is a teachable moment and one that the instructor can model for the students. This does not mean the instructor has to let go of control of the classroom. They still plan and organize, but should allow time and provide structure for students to practice, make mistakes, try again, and make connections about the course material.

2. Ask effective questions.

A flipped class is active. Students are always engaged in a task or working on a problem, and the instructor’s role is to support that learning process. When the instructor is serving as the “guide on the side,” it’s essential for the instructor to ask questions that generate a response. Avoid questions that have a “yes or no” response which doesn’t stimulate critical thinking or analysis.

3. Be quiet.

Students in a flipped class should be thinking, analyzing and creating. As they work, the instructor’s role is to let the learning happen. This means the instructor is there for the students, providing resources, and organizing the structure, but it also means stepping back and letting students work through the learning process without too much input from the instructor until they need it of course. For many instructors, silence in the classroom is awkward and they want to fill up the time by talking more, lecturing more, or sharing more examples. But sometimes students need quiet time to think, to process or to review what they’ve just learned.

If this has piqued your interest, you can read more in Dr. Honeycutt’s article “Be Actively Passive: 3 Strategies to Be Successful in Flipped Learning Environments.”

Photo credit: Patrick Fore | CC BY CC0 1.0

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