Teachers and students in today’s classroom face many challenges, which were not issues in eras gone by. All-inclusive classrooms, an increasing Internet-Addicted population, shortened attention spans and the need for immediate gratification means the days of a teacher standing at the front of the classroom presenting lesson content to engaged and attentive listeners is all but gone. Students face increasing distractions from digital sources, as well as the need for immediate attention to answer each of their individual questions. The classroom teacher now has to find new methods to engage students, regardless of their individual issues, and make the course material relatable.
Two of the methods which will be examined in this paper are the Flipped Classroom, also referred to as Flipped Learning, and Animation. These methods both offer new ways of approaching material introduction in the classroom.“Flipped Learning or the Flipped Classroom is a strategy whereby a teacher assigns online work to be completed outside of class. This work frequently consists of videos created by the teacher” (Thompson, 2013).
The students receive an online assignment from the teacher, to be completed before the learning session. The teacher then reviews the online material and addresses student questions in a guided practice session during the learning period. There is quite a bit more to implementing a Flipped Classroom than just assigning reading materials or video reviewing as homework. “Ultimately, success with a flipped class is a combination of understanding the pedagogical goals and using the technology and method to support them” (Makice, 2012).
This type of approach is very useful with older students who are willing to do much of the lesson preparation outside of class, so time in class can be spent completing hands-on individual and think-pair-share activities to underscore the practical application of the material.
The technique involves assigning students to watch a video, or read online content, outside of the classroom. Students then come to class ready to practice the skills or discuss the material taught in the video. This type of technique can be used with most topics. Andrew Miller, CEO of Echo 360, explains “As learners, we humans only retain 10 percent of what we read and 20 percent of what we hear, but we comprehend 90 percent of what we say and do. If students are engaged with their learning enough to apply their knowledge to a project and explain it to others, learning metrics will assuredly rise” (Makice, 2012) The software required for instructors to create videos is available from many sources, some that are in the Public Domain with no cost, and others for which the instructor can purchase an individual license, or the school can purchase a site license.There are also online sources which house a very large collection of videos that are available from Public Domain resources, like the Federal Government National Archives and Records Administration which maintains a large collection of videos about History, Science, Technology, Culture, and many other topics. Using this technique, as well as the videos and online material also helps to keep the material in the subject being taught, up-to-date. Another advantage of this method is that it does allow for more interaction between teachers and students, as well as between a student and their peers. The student takes partial responsibility for their learning and thereby assumes more of an investment than if the material were presented by a teacher using PowerPoint slides.
Flipped Instruction has another added benefit. “A flipped classroom is also a great differentiated instruction strategy” (Hubbard, 2018). Ms. Hubbard (2018) suggests the first step to Flipping Instruction is to assign the reading and video review assignments to the students. For this assignment to have a purpose, rather than just be the same old homework assignment, “ask the students to answer some questions about the readings or videos to review in class. You could give all students the same question or vary your questions” (Hubbard, 2018). This is the point at which differentiation can be addressed. The videos can be made available in different languages for ESL (English as a Second Language) students, as well as Closed Captioning for Hearing Impaired students. For students who experience more difficulty interpreting reading and video material, instructors may give students differentiated question assignments. These would include possibly fewer questions that require less interpretation, but still allow them to participate in the material review in class. These questions can also be differentiated using multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or matching, rather than open-ended essay questions. The hands-on activities which are Instructor-led, can be differentiated for students with different education strengths.
One of the drawbacks of this technique is that it assumes that students have access to a computer and Internet access. Students may not have access to basic needs, let alone have access to technology outside of the classroom. This situation creates a Digital Division between the students who have the access to technology and those who do not. This Digital Divide creates an inequity between the students who have the technology and those who cannot afford it. Not all classrooms are equipped with sufficient technology for equal use by all students, and in some cases the technology is not in the classrooms at all. Another of the disadvantages to this method is that students need to be responsible to master some of the more basic lesson concepts on their own. If they do not, they will not come to class with the appropriate background information, questions, and the hands-on experiences will be quite difficult to complete.
The Flipped Classroom can be effective, but there are several things for instructors to consider. There is quite a bit of upfront time spent either creating or researching appropriate digital content for the lessons, as well as finding appropriate learning activities to use in the classroom. Also, “it is important to obtain buy-in from students the first day of class. Specifically, students need to understand the what, why, and how as they pertain to the flipped classroom” (Gilboy, et al, 2015). Students need to understand what the flipped classroom is and what is expected of them, why it is being used instead of a traditional lecture course and how they will be held accountable for completing activities before coming to class. Instructors should also remember that “video content should be no more than 10-15 minutes in length to help minimize boredom and distractions” (Gilboy, et al, 2015).
In addition to Flipped Instruction, many instructors have begun implementing animation as a way to supplement the material from their classrooms. Animation is something that could be used alone or as a part of the Flipped Classroom.Animation in Education is a way to make static lesson content come to life by adding motion to demonstrate a process, without having to use diagrams, over time. The animation can show the changes in particular parts of a process as they occur, such as photosynthesis or the flow of a computer program. “Since animated characters have become significant components of entertainment and advertising, using them in the classroom can become another tool for reaching students who have visual and kinesthetic learning styles” (Harrison & Hummell, 2010).
Animation is also a way to add to the depth of lesson content to reach learners of many different learning styles, especially those in the Spatial, Auditory, Linguistic and Intrapersonal styles. Activities that combine with Animation can be used for group activities to help solidify lesson content for Interpersonal Learners. The use of animation in the presentation of the course content has been gaining in popularity, as the availability of inexpensive free tools to create animations has increased. Teachers no longer need advanced experience using tools like Adobe, Maya, 3D Studio Max, or Blender 3D Modeling software. This software while available, could be free (open source) or quite expensive. Regardless of the price tag, all of this software came with a steep learning curve, and required quite a bit of time to create an animation. That is no longer the case. Software packages like Pencil 2D, Animation Paper, and Synfig now come with a much shorter learning curve, which enables novice users to create engaging animations in much less time. In 1921, Fredrick R. Barnard stated, “a picture is worth 1000 words”. This is as true today, as it was then. In the past images have been used in everything from “How To” books to printed assembly instructions. Whether it is learning about how to make a soufflé or simply putting together a piece of “some assembly required” furniture or child’s toy, the use of pictures has always provided supplemental information because there are processes that are easier to envision if there is a graphic included to provide further information. The rise in popularity of YouTube and streaming video services has taken this concept to the next level. The students of today’s classroom have been using YouTube and Google for most of their lives. It would seem a natural extension of this popular past time, to bring the use of animation into the classroom. Xiao (2013), points out, “Animation in the classroom is becoming more and more popular in education. From teachers to students, almost all people have the experience of using animation in PowerPoint.”
In the spring of 2001 Computer Science was taught, for the first time, in a non-majors course using animation. The course was designed for first-year students, who were not pursuing a Computer Science major. “Animation and Virtual Worlds at Duke University teaches students computer science concepts and programming through simple animation and 2D and 3D virtual worlds” (Rodger, 2002). This was a course that was required as an introductory course to computer programming logic and design. The course was designed for students with no experience and no interest in pursuing a computer science major. Rodger (2002) states, “this type of student may be more hesitant to learn programming. By presenting programming through objects visually and animatedly way, students found programming fun.” Rodger (2002) further reports that of the “fifteen original Computer Science non-major students enrolled in the pilot course, five enrolled in a second computer science course.” The use of animation made content previously not accessible to students, relatable and enjoyable. As Xiao (2013) points out, “As a complementary learning approach, animation always stimulates students’ interest in learning. The key point is to integrate the animation content into the teaching activities in the classroom.”
There are those who would dispute the advantages of animation in an educational setting. “Recent research shows that animations are not inherently effective in supporting learning. Indeed this research indicates that under some circumstances the effects of animation on learning can be negative. The educational effectiveness of animation depends on how their characteristics interact with the psychological functioning of the learner” (Lowe & Schnotz, 2008).
Taken separately, the Flipped Classroom and Animation techniques have the potential to reach learners of differing learning styles, as well as make old lessons new again by infusing them with up-to-date content. The combination of Animation and the Flipped Classroom combines the best of both practices. Many process-oriented content lessons are difficult for students to understand using the traditional lecture delivery method. The problem with this method of delivery is content retention, which is where a flipped classroom with animations may be an answer. As with most flipped classrooms, the students are first assigned an online reading module of the content that provides all the important and complex material.
At Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine, the students learn about the endocrine feedback system using animated videos comparing the system to a fast food restaurant. The animations simplify a complex process using material that is very relatable to the students’ everyday lives. The students then take a series of ungraded quizzes, which do not penalize them for failure, but provide feedback for students, identifying gaps in content understanding and retention. Printable notes were also available for the entire lesson. This lesson is available online for the students to review during their courses throughout the veterinary program (Washburn, 2017).
“Being able to teach dynamic processes with videos instead of static images provides a much clearer understanding of the processes. The students enjoy the change in format instead of just having another lecture, as well as the flexibility to work on it at home. They can go at their own pace and review it as many times as they want” (Washburn, 2017).
While today’s students face many challenges whether they are learning, emotional or home situations, instructors must constantly be exploring ways to present course content to many different types of learners. Technology is part of student’s everyday life, and it continues to grow at an alarming pace. Implementing strategies such as the Flipped Classroom and Animation, either separately or in tandem, allows students more options. This can help assist with understanding and retaining course material, before entering the classroom, allowing additional time to be spent on the hands-on skills that are such a big part of Career Technical Education.