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In a traditional class, the teacher uses the time to pass on information or material to the students in the form of a lecture or any other audio-visual form and then give them home assignments. . The teacher is the ‘sage on the stage’. Now many teachers are turning this model on its head, asking students to watch videos of classes before coming to class and then use the session to discuss and apply the knowledge or work on assignments. This is called ‘flipped classroom’. In October 2012, during a training session at ITM, Mussoorie, we had given participants a book on using Emotional Intelligence. There were also a couple of other papers for reading. What we did was have a 30-60 minute slot the next morning to discuss the application of that material to their workplace. This turned out very productive and generated an animated discussion on the material which we had to cut short due to our tight schedule. A lot of learning took place which wouldn’t have been possible in the traditional way.
This idea existed since several decades where teachers would give pre-reading material for their courses. Very often, it was difficult to enforce the reading especially if the class was large. Now that it is so easy to put videos and slides on the internet, and also have discussion forums and networking, it has suddenly become very easy to use a flipped classroom. In fact, many students would actually want to come to class if there was something beyond what they could get freely by ‘Googling’.
Many studies have indicated that student success rates are higher with flipped classrooms.
Not a panacea for all problems
Flipped classroom is one way to promote learning and interaction in students.
It is dependent on the access to technology, the size of the class and the competency of the teacher to engage in an active discussion. It may sometimes depend on the nature of the topic or subject. It needs an ability to guide individual students if necessary.
Like all other ideas it should be customized to one’s own situation and style. It cannot be used too often lest students get bored!
You can have a few flips to begin with!
I have been using this model for the last 20 years of my teaching at UC Berkeley. I give a 10% grade on this activity and students tend to learn better, retain longer, participate more in a flipped classroom. Of course, the teacher must also be equally knowledgeable and enthusiastic and can use some motivators like chocolates! – Pratap Chillakanti, Founder, Lensoo Inc
A couple of years ago, a lady approached me for some help. She was an MSc (Computer Science) Gold Medalist from the OU College of Science and wanted to teach. She wanted my help in giving a demo class. It turned out C programming was her favourite. In the course of our discussion, I asked her to write down the algorithm to find the biggest of three numbers. She quickly wrote it. Then I asked her to extend it to 5 numbers or ten numbers. She found it hard. Then I asked her if she could tweak one of the sorting algorithms to get this biggest number. She had to scratch her head. When I asked her why C Programming was her favorite, she said her teacher was excellent. And why was she excellent? She explained each and every program on the board. Did you ever execute them? – Not really. And did she ask you tricky questions? No.
Given that the lady was a Gold Medalist meant she wasn’t dumb. But mere explaining concepts and making students understand doesn’t automatically give them thinking skills. For example, even in the simple case above, a sorting algorithm needs to be stopped after finding the biggest number instead of proceeding to sort the entire array.
When I observe classes, I noticed the same thing. There are bad teachers who are not able to even explain, but the better lot are only ‘explaining well’. Most often they are working a couple of simple examples to illustrate a concept or meticulously going through a derivation. I accept that this is required as a foundation for thinking further. I also understand that several students will appreciate this effort because they find it hard to understand. But my question is about those who are capable of higher order thinking –like analysis and synthesis – what do we have for them in these classes? And if we are assuming that those students will automatically be able to do ‘tricky’ thinking by themselves, we are proved wrong by the example of our Gold Medalist.
Exactly this point has been raised even by our FOM this month, Dr Hemalatha. It is necessary to expose students to problem solving, diagnostic thinking, extending a given line of thought etc.
Just as it is our duty to reach the student who is finding it difficult to understand, it is equally important to have something challenging for the bright and the brilliant and not lose them to the flaws of the system where earning a Gold Medal is not related to your thinking skills.
Leaving the philosophy aside, promoting thinking in class is not difficult. And it can be done alongside the basic things that need to be done for other students. This is called differentiated teaching and I have probably written about this before. If not, you can Google it.
Questions like why a particular step is required in a program or what happens when a statement is deleted or how to modify a given program to do something else, or how to find errors in logic can be posed to students in class. Parallels can be drawn in almost every other subject or discipline.
The pre-requisite for this is the faculty’s expertise in the subject and the ability to facilitate a discussion with an open mind. In such scenarios, there are always multiple solutions and the students may have a better answer than the faculty could think of. Hence the need for an open mind and humility.
Students will always appreciate a teacher who facilitates an intelligent discussion and accepts a mistake. But it will be a bad show if the basic facts or competence is lacking in the teacher.
I attended the ten-day Vipassana camp near Medak from Jan 9th to 20th 2013. I had read all the strict rules on their site and heard from others, but I had been wanting to attend this program since quite some time. Even the center spends quite some time in reiterating the rules and making sure people are willing to follow them. The two rules which appeared very difficult are the silence and getting up at 4AM! I was also quite shocked with the ‘popcorn’ and tea ‘meal’ at 5PM after which we didn’t eat anything till next morning 630 breakfast. Well, these were the easiest parts of the program as I realized the very next day. The toughest part was sitting down for meditation – almost 11 hrs per day with breaks of course! And by the fourth day we had a mandatory ‘adhisthaan’ sitting without moving for three sessions of one hr each.
I didn’t have any miraculous healing or divine experiences with such intense meditation, but I had several insights into my behavior.
What is Vipassana?
It is actually a simple technique of observing yourself, all the sensations, (which are actually formed by the union of mind and body) and observing with equanimity, objectively. As we train our mind on the sensations, it also develops equanimity in life situations – because every situation is in fact experienced at the physical/mental level.
It is not a religion. It was an ancient Indian practice, forgotten and then rediscovered by Gautham Buddha.
It was like sitting in a pre-primary class; repeating a small lesson endlessly! On the first day we had to focus on our breath, on day 2 it was the sensation of breath, then each day we progressed – on the triangular nose area, then the area below the nose, then inch-by-inch body from head to toe, then from toe to head, then parallel and then whole body. Each step is to be practiced for the whole day of meditation.
The perfect model for scale
Vipassana is taught in more than 125 centers world wide and all the centers run identically and using the audio tracks of Acharya SN Goenka ji. The instructions are simple and given in multiple languages. They are repeated for five minutes at the beginning of every session.
The day concludes with a video discourse of about 90 min by Goenkaji (again in three languages).
The discourse is only about the method and some background on why it is needed. It does not engage in any philosophical discussions – in any case all of us are in silence and its only a video.
The discourses are very rational, applicable to every human being and convince us that the technique if practiced can lead us to a life free of misery.
Goenkaji has the right mix of inspiration, knowledge and humor.
The role of the local teacher
Initially, I felt that the teacher who was leading the meditation, wasn’t contributing much to the process. Her role was only to switch on the tape and meet each of us ‘one-on-one’ to check if we got the technique right. (We could talk with the teacher). But later I realized that it was the perfect model. The teacher is not supposed to add any opinions or experiences to the instructions given by Goenkaji. Further, by not engaging in philosophical or intellectual discussions, she leaves every participant to observe and get her own insight.
The benefit of silence
The first foundation for a life of dhamma is to follow the ‘panchsheel’; the ten days of ‘rules’ are basically to adhere to these panchsheel. One of the panchsheel is not to speak lies. And the silence is to prevent us from speaking lies – even the white lies!
I have attended several spiritual workshops and conducted many training sessions. One immense benefit of this silence was that we didn’t get carried away by the experience sharing that typically happens between participants. Another benefit that is more to do with ‘logistics’ is that people didn’t give unsolicited suggestions or feedback on how the program should be organized, when lunch should be served or when we should take breaks.
The program is tightly run on a nice time table, there is no need to talk, good food is served and I enjoyed the whole of it – except the body aches due to sitting.
3 weeks after the program
It’s just about three weeks after the program. I am practising at least 2 hrs of Vipassana per day and I am seeing several benefits.
I am able to remain unaffected by people whose presence used to irritate me. I think I have become a little gentler in my relationships. As my daughter aptly put it ‘you are not getting ruffled’. Well, for beginners that’s a big achievement. One of my weaknesses was to get very emotional, do something impulsive and then get into a guilt trip. I see a light at the end of the tunnel now. For more details read: http://www.dhamma.org/