Flip the Classroom or Flip the System?

I’m a big proponent of using new technologies in education. I’ve used new pedagogies like Flipping the Classroom to achieve more differentiation. Use social media for anytime/anyplace learning. Videogames and web 2.0 tools broaden the pedagogical palette tremendously. And social media has allowed me to reach out to other teachers, researchers, school leaders, policy makers and politicians to gain new insights and influence education on a national level. Without social media I wouldn’t have been able to publish a book (with Rene Kneyber), Het Alternatief,  which tries to offer a new way of changing education. Both for students and teachers new technologies offer tremendous opportunities.

Education worldwide is at a crossroads. One the one hand there is the tendency for more standardization, privatization, deprofessionalization. All summed up in what Pasi Sahlberg has called the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). On the other hand we see a renewed focus on equity for all children, a broader holistic view of education and teacher voice as an alternative to out of control accountability. New technologies play a pivotal role in this. Not just because of their disruptive nature perse, but also because of their empowering nature.

But a focus on technology itself is not enough. We can only have real meaningful transformation if we focus on the needs on the relation between teachers and their students. Empower teachers, parents and students to make meaningful change and technology will automatically come up in the context of local needs. That is why we need to Flip the System. What happens in the classroom between students and teachers should be supported by the system, instead of teachers supporting the system.

We need to know why we use technology and we need to know why we do what we do in general. What is education for? That seems like an obvious question, but it is rarely asked and leads to superficial policies which are out of sync with classroom needs of teachers and students.  Thousands of iPads being pushed into classrooms in Los Angeles is very telling example. Individual schools operate in different contexts and might have completely different pedagogical outlooks. Why then choose for a whole district to have iPads? Usually because of managerial focus: teaching will be more efficient, cheaper and the educational process easier to manage, which in most cases turns out to be a mirage. Or the decision is based on good salesmanship on the part of the tech company. Or because iPads are being equated with innovation and pedagogy. Which of course it is not, I love my iPad, but it is nothing more than a tool.

It’s a brave new world out there. A sentence which holds both promise and threat. Take learning analytics for example. By digitizing and moving educational activities online we now have the power to gather huge amounts of data on our students. But if you read white papers of the tech industry this data equates learning and can even replace schools. Data is never the real world, the capabilities of adaptive learning are highly overrated and don’t take into account the importance of serendipity in education. Learning Analytics has the possibility to turn education in a standardized nightmare. On the other hand in the hand of a well trained professional this data is a powerful tool and huge opportunity for strong feedback on the learning process.

Source: Learning with E’s

The key lies therefore with the teacher, or better yet, teams of teachers deciding on how to shape education from a shared pedagogical vision. That means teachers also need to have a new set of skills. Teachers need to be designers. Balancing content (learning goals, cross-curricular, connected) pedagogy (direct instruction, project based learning) and technology (Web 2.0 tools, Maker tools, social media) into meaningful learning. Teachers need to be curators, picking up on new trends, research, pedagogies, technology, content and seeing how they can be put to use in a new context. Central to this is harnessing your own Personal Learning Environment and Network. A web of (digital) tools, on- and offline networks and people. That’s how we design and learn at my own school, UniC. It empowers both students and teachers.

source: Learning with E’s

Clearly schools, or teams of teachers, have to decide locally if, why and how to implement new technology. Only then can it be in sync with the needs of the school.  But also schools need to operate in a context. Designing means iteration and building on lessons learned. That can only be done in a meaningful way if the design is in the hands of teachers.  And by designing and researching themselves teachers acquire the skills necessary to implement new forms of education. Design, professional development and research form a coherent whole in design communities.  Instead of going around it in a top-down and compartmentalized way, without a buy in of the educational community

The question is, are our educational systems ready for this? Most aren’t. The necessary conditions are usually absent: real ownership, the power to set team and individual goals, being in charge of your own professional development, time, over the top accountability, to name a few, all stand in the way. So we can discuss implementing new technologies and pour huge amounts of resources into getting iPads into classrooms, or we can change the way we work and really achieve a transformation. To flip the classroom we need to flip the system.

Flipping the system is a necessary precondition and I hope you will join us finding an answer on how to achieve this. We are in the process of editing a new international book and help build and international teacher leader network. If you want to share your story, contribute, or like to know more please go to: www.flip-the-system.org and http://www.unite4education.org/ and follow #flipthesystem on social media



So where to start? On new technologies and pedagogies and educational policy read the following blogs:

www.hackeducation.com by Audrey Watters

Ol Daily by Stephen Downes

Learning with E’s by Steve Wheeler

Plan B by Donald Clark


And the following books have really helped me as a teacher to sharpen my vision and in my eyes are a must-read

Biesta, G. (2014). The Beautiful Risk of Education (p. 178). Paradigm.

Biesta, G. J. J. (2010). Good Education in an Age of Measurement: Ethics, Politics, Democracy (Interventions: Education, Philosophy, and Culture) (p. 160). Paradigm.

Fullan, M. (2012). Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge [Paperback] (p. 100). Pearson; 1 edition.

Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School [Paperback] (p. 240). Teachers College Press; 1 edition.

Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (2012). THE GLOBAL FOURTH WAY : THE QUEST FOR EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE (p. 215). Boston: Corwin Press.

Hattie, J. (2013). Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn (p. 368). Routledge.

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology [Paperback] (p. 272). Routledge.

Willingham, D. T. (2012). When Can You Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (p. 272). Jossey Bass.


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