Questions about the flipped model of instruction

I’ve been reading a lot about the flipped model of classroom instruction, where students watch instructional videos for homework, and then do the practice and problem solving during class time. Here’s a video of the process being explained by Aaron Sams.


Some of the questions I have are pretty much the same as the ones posted as responses to the YouTube video so I’ll just quote them:

I’m curious as to what you do with kids who don’t have the internet or a computer at home? I see someone else asked this question below, but I don’t see where that was answered. This seems to be just another way to divide classroom success socioeconomically. Rubyfreckles78 

What if you don’t believe in homework? What if you believe a child’s time outside of school should be their own, to explore the other adventures life has to offer outside the formal academic arena?katiramom 

"What to learn, how to learn it, when to learn it and how to prove to me that they learned it". I can see that the times of learning has changed but is it not still teacher-cetred in this respect? Yes, a different modality – online and video (great!) but what underlying structural changes in terms of power and student-centredness? "We’ve changed the place in which content is delivered". In what ways are the pupils negotiating content?audhilly

This is great, Aaron. Unfortunately, some school districts–like that one I work in–do not allow their teachers to access Youtube.l2spanishteacher

It seems to me that there is no good answer to the first question. Students without parents at home, who are homeless, or who do not have access to technology at home to view these videos are out of luck. They’ll have to stay at school to watch the videos in the library.

As for the question about homework, this to me is the biggest question I have about the flipped model. It assumes that the time kids spend outside of the classroom should be taken up watching videos. In essence, the flipped classroom model assumes that the instructional time schools are given is insufficient for kids to learn the material. Perhaps we there is simply too much content for kids to learn effectively?

The third question is mostly about pedagogy. Should kids learn in a teacher-centred way, or a student-centred way? While our curriculum is bloated and filled with content, it seems impossible to switch to a more constructivist model, particularly in the upper grades. Constructivist teaching methods take more time than more traditional methods of teaching (but hopefully lead to deeper understanding). 

The fourth question is similar to the first question as that both of them are about access. Clearly the solution here is for the school to self-host the videos, but if this becomes a common instructional strategy at your school, the costs incurred to host what could be thousands of videos is enormous. Now we have an issue that the schools with the money to afford the hosting (or at least the policies in place to allow YouTube and other video hosting sites) are a further advantage to the poorer schools.

Some more questions I have are:

  • What does this approach look like for someone who is a novice to teaching?

    One of the valuable pieces of feedback a novice teacher gets about their instruction is the questions students ask during class. Students will often share misconceptions they have about whatever is being taught, which helps improve the teacher’s delivery for the next time. While I think an emphasis on lecture based instruction is not the best possible pedagogy, it certainly is an easy place for novice teachers to start during their career. Flipping the classroom could reduce the feedback the teachers get on their instruction, but see my next question.

  • How do students ask questions?

    Students need feedback during learning as well. One of the points of practice problems, and of problem based instruction, is to maximize the number of opportunities for feedback during learning for students. Lecture based instruction typically fails in this regard, and so many instructors have switched over to discussion based instruction. The flipped classroom model, without a way for students to actively ask questions, moves instruction back to a purely lecture based format. One way to counteract this a bit would be to provide space for students to ask (& answer) questions underneath the video lecture as comments, but then the job of the teacher will be to moderate and join into these discussions. While students can obviously record the questions they have (which is a useful learning strategy), this requires organizational skills and self-management skills not every student possesses.

  • How much time does it take for teachers to make these instructional resources?

    Preparing for classes and assessing students are the two tasks, other than administrative paperwork, that take the most time for teachers during the course of their day. Preparing high quality instructional videos has certainly become much easier for teachers to do, but it is also time-consuming. Sal Khan might be able to create 8 videos a day, but teachers do not have their entire day available to devote to making videos, and would like to produce videos which include images and animations to clarify some concepts. We could rely on the videos from sources like the Khan Academy rather than making our own videos, but we’d need to search for and preview all of the resources we use, which in itself is time-consuming. There is also the additional time spent during our evenings responding to questions students might have about the videos.

  • Will class time be used more productively?

    Aaron’s video above shows some great examples of what I think should be happening in more science classes. The students look like they are getting more chances to experiment, and more chances to interact with and actually do science. Is this what happens in every flipped classroom? If students really understand the concepts being taught by the end of a unit, how can we tell if it was the instructional video, or the time spent actively experimenting that made the biggest impact on their learning? One comment I had from a student was that although his teacher assigned videos for homework, he rarely watched them, but made sure to actively participate and learn during class time. He loved the flipped model because "it meant [he] had less homework."

Although I have these questions, there are some things which I really like about the flipped model of instruction.

  • It forces teachers to really think about their instructional strategies and the potential questions students might have.

    You can’t create these videos without putting some serious thought about what you will be teaching for that lesson. This particular type of teaching is much more difficult than turning to page 27 in the textbook and selecting some questions for students to do.

  • Students can potentially access a variety of different explanations for different concepts from teachers all over the world.

    Not every student has access to a specialist in their subject area. In British Columbia, for example, there are many teachers teaching math outside of their specialty. I can remember tutoring math when I was in grade 11 in the PE teacher’s classroom (who was not a math specialist, or trained to teach math) and frequently helping the teacher understand the math he was "teaching".

  • It provides more class time for more student centred instructional strategies.

    This is the best reason to implement the flipped classroom model since many teachers aren’t ready to give up on teacher led instruction. Students need more time processing the concepts to which they are being exposed. If they do this at home, as is unfortunately too typical in many classrooms, they struggle. In the flipped classroom model, that struggle can happen with their peers and an expert facilitator.
  • Students can now more easily opt out of rote memorization.

    Richard Feynmann, one of the best physics lecturers of all time, investigated Brazilian science education, which was heavily dominated by memorization, and discovered that almost no one from this system actually understood science. Since students do not learn well from memorizing information, one can conclude that lecturing is not sufficient to produce students who understand concepts at a deep level.

Does anyone have any answers to these questions?




  • Great questions David… and I certainly don’t have answers to all of them (and I’m not sure any of my answers are the “ideal.” I’m using aspects of the flipped classroom in my physics course, but videos viewed outside the classroom are not designed as the “first line” of instruction. Instead, we try to allow the students to investigate physics principles in class using hands-on activities such as labs, challenges, and even simulations in some cases.

    Students then attempt to expand and apply the concepts they’ve developed in the classroom to a wider range of phenomena. This transfer task allows us to test and solidify the concepts and models they develop. Then, once we’ve come together to agree upon and “formalize” the concept or model as a class, we dive into small group and individual problem-solving, with the instructor available if absolutely necessary, but emphasizing students teaching students.

    So then where do the videos come in? Teacher-created videos are used for short 5- to 15-minute reviews of key concepts and demonstrations of problem solving methodology, targeted to students who missed the regular class as well as formal concept presentation and problem-solving strategies AFTER students have developed the concepts and models in the classroom. Students create videos to demonstrate their understanding and transfer of classroom concepts to real-world applications, especially useful when it’s not appropriate or practical to take the entire class to the real-world application.

    I have students ask questions using an online discussion forum (, which encourages their writing about physics as well as teaching each other as they respond to each others’ questions. It provides them a method of getting their questions out 24×7, and also allows them to begin expanding their learning community beyond just their own class and the walls of the school. It takes some training and time, but I find it extremely valuable when I get to the point of having students teaching each other — many times more valuable for those answering the questions than those asking them!

    Our school does block YouTube, and district server space, though available, doesn’t give me the level of control I want/need in order to do my work effectively. So I purchased my own server space and put up my own site, which was surprisingly more affordably and straightforward than I had ever anticipated.

    How much time does it take to create these videos? More than it should. Using these strategies minimizes my time at the front of the classroom lecturing, but it certainly doesn’t reduce my workload. I have no doubt I put in as many hours as any teacher at the school — mornings, evenings, weekends, summers… but I love the feeling and atmosphere in the classroom once everything starts clicking. When the kids are in the room, I look like the laziest teacher in the school. I walk around, I get to know my kids, I occasionally re-direct or re-focus, but mostly I just ask probing questions, and occasionally find the best thing I can do is get out of the way and just listen. When I have 30 kids in a room, and I try to teach all 30, it feels like a struggle. When I have 30 kids in a classroom, and they’re trying to teach each other, it’s nirvana.

    Access is an ongoing challenge. However, I’m convinced in this day and age that students need to be computer-literate, and our school provides tons of resources for kids. I’m at school at least an hour before and after the bell rings each day, and I have six computers with Internet access in my room they can use anytime. In addition, or school library has extended evening hours with banks of computers with Internet access… so for those who don’t have access at home, the school is one resource they can use. I teach in a “walking” district, so transportation to the school shouldn’t be an issue for anyone. Not as ideal as having Internet in every home, but the resources are there for the student who wants to succeed.

    It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly not the “ideal” model of the flipped classroom as presented in the videos and Powerpoint slides I’ve viewed, but it’s another tool we can use to help ourselves be more effective teachers. To my mind, the most important thing I can do in my classroom is point the students in a direction for exploration, and then stand back and allow them to build their own understanding. I find the short videos an excellent way of summarizing and boiling down key concepts and problem solving strategies when all that “messy inquiry stuff” needs to be pulled back together and cleaned up.

    I can’t wait to read the other responses you receive — you ask some great questions, and I wonder if there is ever any right answer… more likely, we all need to get to know ourselves and our kids well enough to establish a method of instruction that meets their needs congruent with an effective teaching style we’re comfortable with.

  • Hey David,
    This is a great post and it summarizes some of the biggest questions most people have when they think through what it would take to run a flipped classroom. Like Dan above, I’ll try to address some of the questions, but again, my methods are NOT universal (nor should they be)…they’re just what works best for my learners and me.

    1. Internet Access – There are simple ways around this. The easiest one I’ve found is to just give the learners “hard copies” of your video files. We have 1 to 1 netbooks in our school, so I have a USB drive with the current unit’s videos. If they don’t have internet at home (or just unreliable access) they can come up and copy the files to their machine. If you don’t have 1 to 1, I would really encourage them to bring their own device and let them download the videos at school. Another option is to burn a few DVDs that students can loan out. I only burn 3 DVDs unless someone asks me specifically for one, and even that happens very infrequently. Keep in mind, this is assuming you’re using videos at ALL…and I would not recommend or even suggest that all content can be taught with instructional videos.

    2. Belief in Homework/Who is Centered? – You definitely think much harder about the work learners are doing in your class. You need to have a mindset shift if you begin to use constructivist ideas or even just video instruction. The class doesn’t revolve around the videos if you are implementing it correctly. The class time is MUCH more important. Like Dan said, I’m using mine more for discreet ideas, algorithmic procedures, or just concept REVIEW…not front-loading content. Sometimes, I do assign one as a pre-lesson, but that doesn’t happen very frequently. You need to develop a philosophy of what “homework” is and when it is appropriate and when it isn’t.

    3. Novice Teachers – I would NOT recommend this to someone in their first year of teaching for exactly the same reasons you cited. I didn’t flip until my second year, after I had experience and a better understanding of what teaching is. I knew my content better because of the questions I was asked each day, and I was able to develop my philosophy in a more holistic sense. So no, it would be a poor idea during the teacher’s first year UNLESS there were someone, in their building, using the same methods so they could collaborate, discuss, and build together.

    4. Time – When I started flipping, it took a LOT of time. I spent much of the summer prior to that first year writing and recording materials for students. I do my best to stay one unit ahead, which is very time consuming. Flipping a classroom does NOT mean you can be a lazy teachers. You will work just as hard, if not harder, than you did pre-flip. None of us should be lazy…but flipping and remaining lazy will accentuate it more and cast a negative light on a system that can work.

    In general, flipping does NOT require videos at all, so access to YouTube, etc isn’t a major deal in some cases. Be proactive about talking with administration and IT to see if you can work out a compromise. Flipping is a philosophy. If you decide that it is best for your students, then you can work to find ways to make class more interactive and meaningful. Some people use videos to find that class time, others don’t. These are all great questions, but they can’t all be answered with simple, universal responses. A flipped class is unique to each teacher and their class…take the best of what you see in each and try to apply it to your situation and run with it.

    Some good articles and websites for information:
    The Flipped Class: Myth vs Reality articles (3 part series) –

    My flipped class philosophies and thoughts –

    Ramsey Musallam’s Flipped Class resources –

    The Flipped Class NING –

  • My main issue with the flipped model is the seemingly implicit notion that watching videos is a better way to learn than reading a book. I think this is silly for most students in most subjects. To quote Robert Morrison’s explanation of the Gutenberg Method,

    Compared with reading, listening is a horribly inefficient way of getting information. Think of how little news you actually get in a half-hour “news” broadcast on television. Why, in a half-hour you can read half the New York Times and you can skip or skim what you already know or aren’t interested in.

    I happen to be a lover of theater. Every so often, my wife and I go on a binge and gorge ourselves on theater the way some people gorge themselves on bacon sandwiches. And theater, at its best, is enormously stimulating and thought-provoking. Still, even at its best, compared with reading, theater is a spectator sport. Reading makes demands on you. You must work at it. And because of the work you do, reading stretches your mind.

    Replace “theater” with “vodcasts” and you pretty much have my position on the flipped model, or at least its usual very narrow definition.

  • David Wees wrote:

    One of the problems is that there is actually very little material written for students. Often textbook explanations appear to be written for the adults teaching the course, rather than students learning from the textbook. It wasn’t until I was in university that I felt capable of attacking a textbook and learning from it directly, rather than through the proxy of the teacher. How many textbooks assume the reading level of the student is that of a fairly advanced reader?

    We learned through oral tradition for millenia before we had the written word, so it’s not the act of listening which is the problem, it is passive listening. Oral tradition presumably required a dialog between the teacher and listener, one which, as you point out, is not present in (most) theatre.

    As I understand it though, flip teaching isn’t just about watching videos the night before. It could potentially include any instructional materials the student is able to access outside of the classroom, like simulations, games, etc… including a textbook. My thought is, students aren’t like to access these materials unless they see them as valuable, and as a tool for what they are learning in class.

  • R. Wright wrote:

    One of the problems is that there is actually very little material written for students.

    Surely there is at least one student-readable textbook on any given pre-college topic. I am very aware of the awfulness of the vast majority of textbooks, but all you need is one.

    It wasn’t until I was in university that I felt capable of attacking a textbook and learning from it directly, rather than through the proxy of the teacher.

    I think a large part of the reason students (even in college) don’t feel comfortable reading any textbook in order to learn is that they are trained not to, from an early age, by the lecture system. Videos breed the same kind of intellectual dependence — they push the material at the students, instead of asking them to pull it out themselves. But also, they’re just plain inefficient.

    We learned through oral tradition for millenia…

    Yes, and no doubt pretty poorly, as in an incredibly extensive game of telephone.

    As I understand it though, flip teaching… could potentially include… a textbook.

    I have no objection to “flip teaching” using a textbook; in fact, I am doing just that right now for an introductory statistics course, and it’s going quite well. But I can’t remember the last time I opened a webpage about “flipping” that didn’t seem to consider vodcasts to be a defining component of the teaching model.

  • David Wees wrote:

    Having examined many dozens of textbooks at various levels, I’ve yet to find one which explains material at a level that all (or even most) of the learners in my classroom can access. It doesn’t mean that such a textbook doesn’t exist, but I just haven’t found it yet. I’m including the textbook I’ve written in this collection. One of the flaws of the written word is that it can’t interact with the learner and answer questions, which is why we have combined the written word with our oral traditions. The written word helps prevent the telephone game effect, and the oral traditions allow for personalized explanations. No disagreement here that video lectures are as problematic for this exact same reason, which is why I’ve included in my questions above a clarification about flipped teaching & question asking.

    I’d actually like to have more opportunity to explore a completely different style of teaching, one which moves away from a focus on dydactic knowledge, and more of a focus on student exploration. The biggest restriction to doing this at this stage is our emphasis on a prescribed set of standards for students. These standards are propped up by colleges with expectations of what children should know arriving at their doors, and parents worried that children will learn nothing from a less directed curriculum, and educators afraid of students tackling concepts with which they are not themselves familiar.

    However, there is this great host of knowledge that exists, and we need some way for learners to access it, particularly learners at different levels of understanding. I feel like there should be some balance between student driven exploration of knowledge, and accessing centuries of previous exploration. Most people who struggle with reading are able to listen & understand complicated explanations. It seems to me that, provided the videos aren’t expected to be the way students learn, videos could be a way to bridge this literacy gap, so that students can understand complicated calculations and apply them as needed to their exploration.

    I haven’t worked this all out yet, which is why I have questions rather than solutions.

  • Ramsey Musallam wrote:

    The literacy argument made in the last paragraph above is a powerful one, and I feel really adresses the reality of what would be “ideal” vs. what “works” for many students. Either way, all points are extremely valid. Another lens to look through the text vs. video debate is one of Multimedia Learning Theory (Mayer, 2005). Specifically, the aspects of Mayer’s cognitive architecture model that is derived from Paivio’s (1986) Dual Coding Theory. If an instructional video is made correctly, I feel the producer should pay attention to what things should be said and what should be written, striving for a good balance and less overlap. If the producer says everything that is written (as is our instinct) the same message is fighting for access to the verbal or the visual channel. Conversely, if certain things are written and certain thing are said (Modality Principle), the instructional video can be a powerful mechanism for manipulating our working memory architecture in a way that maximizes each channel, and decreasing the chance of cognitive overload. Although I completely agree that reading is a much more active process, when it comes to complex problem solving/worked examples, etc., as seen in many math/chemistry texts, I can’t help but argue that an instructional video maximizes both channels and is a more effective means of information transfer than a solely visual (text only) approach.

  • David Wees wrote:

    Interestingly enough, the same principles apply to text. We break text into paragraphs to make it easier to read (chunking), and we use bullet points and images to make it even easier to read.

  • Ramsey Musallam wrote:

    Excellent point and I have not ever took the time to look at text through that lens. Totally true, and a majority of what I like reverse instruction for, is via quick efficient vids, I have a lot of class time to teach students how to properly interact with text, chunk up stuff that is not “pre-chunked”, etc. However, this conversation has gotten me thinking about a few things:

    1. In Aaron’s recent presentation at ACS 2011, he mentions that English teacher’s have been doing reverse instruction forever. This was an excellent point, and emphasizes the pedagogy before the technology. Perhaps English teacher’s have the most wisdom about how to appropriately implement a flipped classroom? Just a thought.

    2. Sylvanus Thayer (Father of the West Point Academy) first used reverse instruction with Engineering students in the 19th century as a means of using class time for student simulation, practice, PBL, etc. I am 100% sure that the medium he was using for information transfer was text. This is wroth revisiting and learning more about as we strive to broaden the definition. The article can be found at the bottom of

    3. Per Brian’s comments below, I have always felt a bit icky about only providing the vid as the means of direct instruction. Even though vids come in the middle of a learning cycle where students have already worked to construct their own models, a part of me felt like I was doing harm in not emphasizing the text. This year, I have assigned the vid, but also the corresponding pages in the text, as long as they complete their online reflection, I will accept both. Interestingly, a few kids have chose the text option, but most the vid. Probably because it’s easier, not sure if that’s good or bad. I guess it all boils down to how the subsequent class time is used…

    4. The major assumptions of Mayer’s multimedia learning theory are; 1) We have two channels to process info 2) the working memory is limited in it’s capacity to process information and c) we are striving to actively process information in our working memory. Keeping these in mind, to me, it makes sense why a vid is easier for a student to access information through both modalities. (i.e., enter working memory), and also allows for the benefits of text as well (interactivity, chunking, etc.). However, although I feel a vid has a definite edge efficiency of access, the third assumption, active processing, makes me wonder. As was mentioned in an earlier post, when students read critically, they are engaged on a different level. Perhaps this creates a more engaged active process in students and yields better results in the long term.

    Perhaps the ultimate solution to a medium for information transfer in the flipped classroom is an organized coordination of reading and vids? Ok, enough brainstorming. Thank you for providing this forum and such great ideas to chew on!


  • I just wanted to throw in a thought here…

    I can’t remember the last time I opened a webpage about “flipping” that didn’t seem to consider vodcasts to be a defining component of the teaching model.

    I do agree with you on this one. There ARE still a multitude of websites that focus only on the video component to a flipped classroom, which is extremely narrow minded. I, along with many others, have been working hard to combat this perception that a flipped classroom must use videos in order to be successful…this is not the case.

    Most literature classes, to me, would be defined as flipped classes. The teacher assignes some reading, the students go home and do it, then everyone comes back and has a discussion or exploratory work on what they read previously. We are trying to emulate that in other content areas. You and David have already discussed the difficulty in expecting learners to go home and be able to successfully read a textbook for information, especially in science or math. In these cases, a video is simply a better method of delivering content at home.

    The other point we’ve been trying to make is that a video podcast is a good stepping stone for veteran teachers to move toward a “flipped” classroom, whatever you interpret that to be. It is very hard to shift from being up front teaching to wandering around the room discussing…every day. The videos should not be the end of the road, and that is the message that we’re trying to spread more and more.

  • Eric Marcos wrote:

    Hi David,
    Over the past few years, I have been slowly shifting more and more toward a full flip-model. I’m not completely flipped yet, but I’m getting there. As mentioned above, videos are not what define a flipped classroom. Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann ( are great resources on the flipped classroom model. Even though I started a student video site and video tutorials are used in and out of our class, I also have used other items such as readings and observation assignments.

    My general thoughts regarding this question:
    I’m curious as to what you do with kids who don’t have the internet or a computer at home… This seems to be just another way to divide classroom success socioeconomically.
    Although maybe not convenient, all students can have access to the material (and not just because they can visit the public library). Alan November has been telling me for years to make our student videos available on CD/DVD. And what if the family has no CD/DVD player? I have heard of schools (Aaron/Jonathan/Dan Spencer?) who told me that they lend out devices to students. I have not had to lend out any devices yet because many of the students who do not have Internet or a video player come after school and use our classroom student computers.

    Your questions:
    How do students ask questions?
    Perhaps Cornell Notes could help? If a student is viewing a video, they could jot down notes and generate questions in the left (“Cue”) column. They could even summarize the video in the summary section at the bottom of the notes.

    What does this approach look like for someone who is a novice to teaching?
    Good question. I think it depends on whether there are any other teachers using the flip model in their school.

    How much time does it take for teachers to make these instructional resources?
    I find it fun, so I make time. But I also mix in our student videos, so I “let” them do some of the work!

    Will class time be used more productively?
    Well, to me, this is part of the reason why I like flipping. It does enable the class time to be more productive.


  • I’ve followed this conversation on many fronts and in many places. What seems to be sure is that the way education is done in a practical sense has changed a great deal over the past decade – at least it seems, in most high schools. In college, it is still expected that a reading ( or video, or web search, or play or film, or whatever…) be done before class and that activity in class will expect the students to come with that knowledge and be ready to participate in some active process. It’s clear to most of us who teach first year college courses, students are less able to do this than in the past. For many (if not most) college students, the first semester and year is spent training them to actually do prework for class. It’s becoming clear through these discussions that this may be due in part to a lack of expectation in high school. It’s good to see there is an active movement to expect students to prepare for class and that class is then used for more active learning.

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