Community Spotlight: Flipped Classroom, a Community of Education Innovators

Lectures at home and homework during classroom time? Sounds like the education world turned upside down, right? Over at the Flipped Learning Network, that's just what they're trying to do: bring innovation to education by "turning learning on its head." Utilizing technologies such as screencasting and virtual textbooks, teachers of flipped classes attempt to reach every student like never before. 

Educators into Flipping their Classrooms gather together at the Flipped Learning Network's Ning Network, Flipped Classroom, where Jerry Overmyer, Mathematics and Science Outreach Coordinator for the Mathematics and Science Teaching Institute at the University of Northern Colorado, oversees the community of over thirteen thousand members. Jerry took some time to talk to us about Flipped Classroom and how to manage such a large community.

Tell us a bit about Flipped Classroom.

JERRY OVERMYER (pictured right): Our community is for educators interested in flipped learning. It is called the flipped class because what used to be classwork (the "lecture“) is done outside of class and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class. However, the definition has evolved to describe any situation in which technology is used to time shift the delivery of content.

What made you start a dedicated online community?

JO: Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams started this instructional method of recording their lectures and putting them online and having students work on their homework in class. I attended one of their workshops in Woodland Park, Colorado with about 30 other teachers. I went to visit their classes a few months later and they said they were receiving too many emails. I work at the MAST Institute at the University of Northern Colorado as the Outreach Coordinator, so I offered to start a social network site to help organize teachers interested and to relieve their inboxes.

What other options did you consider?

JO: I also considered Google Groups, but Ning seemed to be the most user friendly and have the most options for creating an online professional learning community.

Have you achieved your original objectives?

JO: I think we all thought that the site might have a few hundred members. We are continuously amazed that our membership is over 13000!

What do you think contributes to this awesome growth?

JO: I think the growth can be attributed to many technological advances. The main one would be the ease in which teachers can create and share online videos.

How do you measure success or the ROI of the time and effort you put into cultivating your community?

JO: As educators, we just want to make education better for teachers and students. I feel that the work of Jon and Aaron and other flipped learning pioneers is having a profound positive effect on teaching and learning.

Have you heard success stories from members about how the community has helped them solve learning problems or introduce Flipped Learning into their classroom?

JO: The community has been very successful on two fronts. First, our most popular Group is First Time Flippers and we have a very nurturing community of teachers helping teachers with the pedagogical challenges and possible pitfalls of starting flipped learning. Second, we have some very knowledgeable techies on the site who are eager to help with tech questions. We have over 30 official moderators who have been very helpful.

How did you find your moderating team?

JON BERGMANN (pictured right): We realized the network was getting unwieldy and folks started not using it.  We realized that to keep the conversations going we needed moderators.  Thus we used the message broadcast to ask for folks to moderate.  We also give them a reduced price at our national conference.  But mostly, they are doing it because they believe in the flipped class.

JO: I initially sent out an invite through Message Broadcast as a call for moderators. I had about 40 people respond which was a perfect amount. I then had them fill out a Google Form and gathered information about their expertise and time commitment. I looked at all our Groups and active Discussions and assigned everyone one or two topics to moderate. This started around the beginning of 2013. In late February I went through to check the activity of the moderators. If they had no activity, I sent them an email and a few of them resigned saying they just didn't have enough time, and a few of them were just answering direct questions. I checked again in May and again had a few folks resign, but have also added more moderators. Each moderator is in charge of one or two Groups or Forums. I also have a few moderators as "wild cards", meaning they are to just chime in where they see fit. The moderators do not remove or reorganized content. I am looking at a way to do this and would love suggestions.

How else has your community helped the Flipped Learning mission?

JO: The community has a great partnership with the Flipped Learning Network and the MAST Institute. It has been very helpful for flipped learning leaders to keep a pulse on the constant growth and transformation of the movement.

The Flipped Learning Network hosts many events. Do these extend into the community?

JO: It's very symbiotic. The Ning helps to promote the Flipped Learning Network, which in turn sends more people to the Ning.

What features of the Ning Platform are most important to you and your members?

JO: Discussions, Groups, and Broadcast Message.

JB: We use the message broadcast to keep our members informed of things happening in the world of Flipped Learning.  It has been a great tool for us to tell them about conferences, workshops, publications, etc that are coming out about Flipped Learning.

Do you have any advice for other groups similar to you who are considering building an online community?

JO: I actually have a pretty funny story about starting the site. I knew that if I had Jon or Aaron send an invite to a network with less than 20 members, that no one would join. I used the analogy of an empty restaurant. The food may be great, but we all tend to avoid empty restaurants. It's just human nature. So, before announcing the network I had everyone I knew "join" the network just so it didn't look empty. My mom, the admin assistant down the hall, co-workers who've never been in a classroom. I think I even had my cat create a fake account... so we had about 25 "members", then sent out the announcement. After the site had a good number of real members, I removed the fake members. I did the same technique for my other site, the Colorado Mathematics Teachers Network.

Thanks, Jerry and Jon. To learn more about Flipped Learning techniques, visit Flipped Classroom

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