Flipped Classes: Omit Housekeeping Mechanics from Recorded Lectures to Lengthen Their Shelf-life

A historic picture of a classroom from the 1800s, inverted, so that the pupils are head-downwards.When a Facebook friend asked for tips on teaching a large class, I inventoried what I’ve learned about the flipped classroom.

For the classes I teach on a regular basis, sometimes online and sometimes in-person, I’ve had many opportunities to develop stand-alone resources that I reuse. For example, I’ve recorded some stand-alone audio lectures on literary works I teach often, such as “Young Goodman Brown,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” and Death of a Salesman. I also have some videos on digital storytelling, journalism basics, literary close reading, and interpreting the Shakespearean sonnet.

The point of the “flipped classroom” is to record passive lectures for students to review on their own time, so that we can spend more time in class on interactive learning. (I do this selectively, not routinely.)

When I first started flipping classes, I made the recordings simply by capturing what I would have said in a regular classroom. That means I made frequent references to what we covered in past classes, what were were gearing up to do in upcoming assignments, and current events. The next time I taught that class, the content was still valid, but the class-specific details meant I couldn’t re-use the recording. So, some features of good in-person instruction don’t transfer well to asynchronous learning.

Putting a wall of separation between the content of the course and the housekeeping / mechanics made a big difference. I learned that for web pages long ago. Over the years I have developed (sometimes with help from students) fairly detailed web pages on short story tips, writing effective dialogue, “Show, Don’t (Just) Tell,” MLA Style, and email. I can re-use those resources in multiple classes, because I’ve crafted them to carefully avoid making reference to details about upcoming assignments, what we learned last week, or current events. I write those pages in such a way that other people can seamlessly include them in their own syllabus. Now, some of those instructional pages are the top Google hit out of millions of hits for the topic. (I Googled “email tips” just now, and the page I co-authored with a student is first out of over 2 billion hits.)

For an online class, I do record a fresh “welcome to the course” video lecture each time I teach the class. And I do post detailed written descriptions of each assignment. But mixing class-specific details in with the content makes the lecture go stale quickly.

So, for instance, when I teach Hawthorne in an online lit survey this fall, my goal is to have one nicely-produced illustrated lecture on Hawthorne and his historical context, and separate, more off-the-cuff audio lectures on each of the short stories I’ll be assigning. If the next time I teach this course I want to swap out Young Goodman Brown for something new, I can keep the the general Hawthorne lecture, and fairly quickly record a new audio lecture that assumes the students have just watched the more polished Hawthorne lecture.

It seems so simple now that I look back, but I had to figure it out on my own.

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