Flipping research

“Flipping” a class (putting lectures and presentations online, then using class time for collaboration and discussion) is all the rage at the moment.  Everyone’s in on it now, from The Economist to The Daily Riff to Daniel Pink. I don’t see the big deal, since basically using a textbook is the same thing (read at home, then come to class). Maybe in the 16th century people were wowed by this idea. I’m glad it’s come back around – I don’t like using class time for relaying information you could find elsewhere. You want to know when the Battle of Waterloo was? Go look it up. It’s easy now to look it up, so it’s easier to justify not lecturing on the facts unless I’m presenting a different paradigm. I think I started doing that, what, fifteen years ago?

But I want to be more innovative, so I’m doing flipped research.

Here’s the idea. I’m referred to in education research circles as “just a practitioner”. I do stuff. I teach history at community college, and try web technologies to help me do that. I use learning management systems, video, slidecasts, whatever it takes. I’ve done everything from Webboard to WordPress to Google + hangouts.

But I’m not an expert in educational theory, nor in the entire edtech field that I’ve watched emerge (and achieve frightening proportions) over the last decade.

So now I’m doing something really cool: offering an open, online class to prepare faculty to teach online. It’s designed like a MOOC, but it’s not a MOOC because it’s not massive (90 enrolled, 81 blogs aggregated). I’m taking ideas from other people, including Alec Couros’s EC&I831 for the structure and the mentoring, Jim Groom’s ds106 for the aggregated blog and the element of insanity, George Siemens and Stephen Downes’ whatever-MOOC-they’re-doing-today for the large topic and distributed conversation. But I haven’t done much “reasearch”. I do read articles on learning management systems and MOOCs, but basically I’m … just a practitioner.

So now I’m writing a research paper based on what I’m doing, and it all feels like reverse engineering. I’m looking up studies on open classes and professional development for online faculty, and finding a few people doing what I’m doing. Some of the articles show findings that what I’m doing might be good; most end with “further research is required”. I’m doing that research, survey participating faculty, planning to note how approaches change on their blogs.

For a historian, this is so not what you do. You create a provisional thesis based on the reading of primary sources. I guess in this case, according to the educational research folks, the primary sources are the studies. They should have guided what I do, and I should have planned my class based on the findings of others. I should have been consciously aware of what everyone else was studying, not just doing. Instead of pulling cool ideas from Alec, Jim, Stephen and George, I should have read a bunch of studies on the ways of doing this and built my class with a solid theoretical and practical foundation.

But no, I just did it. I created the class based on my experience rather than my research. I’ll probably be kicked out of the historians’ club if they find out. And that’s what makes me…just a practitioner.

3 comments to Flipping research

  • Jean

    Great post Lisa! I just yesterday had a meeting with one of my mentor professors at one of the colleges where I teach. I had also attended their as an undergrad. He is going to take on a history of rock course in the Spring and wanted to meet with me to discuss my strategies. I was more than willing and, Frankly flattered beyond belief, especially since this professor had been one of my professors while I attended this particular school. so, long story short (too late) we began talking about “flipping” classrooms and I was sharing what I was doing. He had never heard of it but after hearing what I was doing said “Oh yes! That’s exactly what I want to do in the class.” It was a wonderful moment for me. I distinctly remember being in his class and making the conscience decision to become a college instructor based on his teaching and dynamic personality. Just though compelled to share that with you. 🙂

    • And he’s obviously the kind of teacher who wants to learn from people who were his students. A great role model. Love that you were able to share with him and help him out! 🙂

  • Jenny Mackness

    ‘…only a practitioner’ – Yes, maybe -although I think practitioner is something worth being proud of – not everyone can do it well – and to do research as well – that’s good – research-based practice 🙂

    I hadn’t come across the term ‘flipping’ in relation to all this before reading your post – but ‘flipping research’ – which I take to mean ‘thinking about it and how it might be done differently – is very refreshing – so ‘all power to your elbow’ as they say here in the UK 🙂