Flipping Out

One of the hottest topics on campus this year is the role of technology and social media in the classroom setting, a question posed by Andover’s entrance into “digital age.” What has not yet been thoroughly acknowledged, however, is that, currently, the use of technology at Andover often seems forced and cumbersome. While digital tools may be useful in their own right, our classes simply are not designed to incorporate them effectively. It is not enough to hand out iPads and promote e-books; the faculty and administration must fully commit to taking advantage of modern educational resources, even changing curricula if necessary, rather than haphazardly throwing technology on top of traditional learning. One radical technological shift that Andover might consider is the flipped classroom model. Born on the Internet and raised by digital media, the flipped classroom epitomizes “21st-century learning.” Made possible by the ubiquity of online video, the model inverts traditional school pedagogy by reversing typical in-class and after-school activities. Lectures normally presented during class migrate to the Internet and are watched or read for homework. The next day in school, students complete the problem sets that would otherwise have been homework. Lauded for increasing student engagement, reinforcing concept understanding and promoting student-teacher collaboration, the flipped classroom is the education model for a new age. At home, students can literally rewind and pause their teachers to take notes or rewatch specific sections. This frees up class time for interactive exercises, projects and discussions and affords the teacher time to revisit tough concepts or meet with students individually for more personalized help. According to a recent “New York Times” article, schools pioneering the flipped classroom model have already seen inspiring success. At the Clintondale High school near Detroit, previously designated among the worst 5 percent of schools in Michigan and the focus of the article, the flipped classroom has had a dramatic effect on student performance. After the flip, students felt motivated to complete problem sets with their teachers by their side rather than give up on frustrating assignments. The percentage of freshmen who failed math and English dropped by more than 30, the school’s failure rate dropped from 30 to 10 percent, graduation rates skyrocketed to over 90 percent, and college attendance increased from 63 percent to 80 percent over two years, a pedagogical miracle. At Andover, certain classrooms have been making strides towards the flipped model. Kevin Cardozo, Instructor in Chemistry, has effectively flipped his classes with the creation of his online textbook, “Non Sibi High School.” The Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science Department has also recently begun a partnership with Khan Academy to create an online calculus course for the organization. Despite these advances, classes that actively utilize these resources are few and far between. In addition, there is no consistency in Andover’s use of technology, and no standards among departments and teachers. My iPad, which I was given for my Chemistry 580 class as part of a pilot program, serves as a glorified folder, and I waste time jumping between Dropbox and Google Drive, struggling to find the right handout. The uncompromising, zero-tolerance answer grading system of WeBWorK, a website used by many Math Department faculty for homework assignments, induces stress and headaches. Ultimately, Andover needs to develop a schoolwide model for technology usage and online learning. Perhaps the flipped classroom is not the answer, but we should nonetheless consider other technologies and learning models. To maintain continuity between teachers and courses, individual departments should meet and decide on how best technology can be used to teach their respective subjects. Perhaps the answer, for some departments, is not at all. Andover, like many of its peer institutions, is still transitioning into the “Digital Age,” but if we really want to consider the use of technology in the classroom, we can no longer think of ourselves as a traditional school that sometimes utilizes technology; we must be willing to go the whole nine yards. Only then will Andover become a true 21st-century learning institution.