Flipped Teaching Tools, Resources, How-Tos

Flipped Lesson: A Virtual Field Trip Through the History of Computer Technology

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Use Blendspace and a few Simple Techniques to Create Your own Flipped Lessons

Several times a year I teach an introductory information technology course for new students at The College of Westchester. While looking at my lessons and thinking about how to ‘upgrade’ some of them, I decided to flip the introductory material where we briefly review the history of computing.

The content below was created using Blendspace. Blendspace is great free tool that makes it a breeze to combine lots of different types of digital content into one cohesive set of lesson materials. I have embedded the Blendspace here, but it is also very easy to share it with a link.

To use the content, simply click on the “play” icon in the middle of the first block, then there is a right arrow to move through each consecutive pane. Note the text that I added to each section of content (in the embedded view, you have to click the square balloon icon on the right to see the comments, whereas if the content is opened via the link, the text notes should be visible in the upper right hand corner).

Learn more about teacher’s appreciation of Blendspace and LearningPaths, both great tools for easy creation of digital lesson content content, in this article. The article also includes ‘3 Minute Teaching With Tech Tutorials’ for each of these tools.

Steps to Help Ensure That Students Engage With Learning Materials

First, it is important to set the stage by discussing the assignment briefly. Students are shown how to access the content and we talk about what is expected of them. It also helps a lot if you can ask some good questions to raise curiosity and stimulate interest. In this case, questions might include, “When was the Computer Invented?”, “Who invented the Computer?”, or “Was the Computer invented all at once or was it the result of various technological developments?” Note that these don’t have to be questions that have direct answers in the material, but can simply be questions to stimulate thought.

Getting back to the flipped content … note that the second to last pane of this Blendspace provides a brief set of questions, easily answered using the flipped content. Students are required to submit answers to these questions. This is a simple way to help ensure that students watch, read, and engage with the content. There are few grade points associated with the assignment as well.

Students must download a document from the LMS where I deliver the assignment (we use Moodle), then answer the questions in the document, and save and upload it for review and grading. This is also usually their first introduction to using the LMS in this way, so it is also a learning opportunity in that regard.

Other approaches to getting students to think and provide feedback while consuming learning content include structured note taking (completing a partially populated notes outline for example), answering questions (embedding questions in videos is fun and is probably easier than you think), participating in online discussions, or completing a WSQ (‘Watch, Summarize, Question’).

Reinforcing and Building on Learning in Class the Next Day

Before the next class, the submitted questions are reviewed to see if there were any that posed problems, so that any frequent misunderstandings can be addressed when we meet.

In class following this assignment, we start off by walking through the content together, which helps to both reinforce learning, but also sets the stage for dialogue. I look for opportunities to draw students into conversation by asking questions like:

  • What did Herman Hollerith have to do with the company IBM?
  • What does IBM have to do with computing history and where are they today?
  • Which played a larger role in the development of the computer – the vacuum tube or the transistor?
  • What kinds of changes did the personal computer bring about in the work place?

We can also return to the questions I posed while explaining the assignment. All of these questions can really help to get a discussion going about important concepts like the pace of technological change, the way that successful companies rise and fall, how technological advancements build on each other, and so on.

There is also plenty of opportunity here to create various learning activities to use in the classroom to build on this. For example, researching answers to these questions in pairs or groups and then presenting findings. Another fun activity could be the creation of a timeline showing important milestones in computing history.

A Full Cycle of Learning Activities

In this simple lesson, we see a full cycle of learning activities around a topic play out. We have a rich set of content prepared, and we see the importance of preparing students for effective engagement with the flipped learning materials. By requiring some sort of feedback (answers to a few questions in this case), and associating a few grade points with that work, we help to ensure that students sink their teeth into the materials and don’t just absentmindedly scan it.

Back in class, we review the materials for reinforcement and draw the students into a rich discussion about the topic by having plenty of good questions to ask. We also use the responses to the assigned questions to help identify and address any misunderstandings. Lastly, we can use various hands-on activities to get students moving, thinking, and exploring the topic at a deeper level.

It is also worth noting that this first lesson is not overly challenging – it sets the students up for initial success, which is where you want to start, particularly with students who are new to college!

I invite other teachers to share some of their favorite flipped lessons here! If you would like to do so, just drop a comment and let’s make it happen!

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