Flipped Classrooms for Foreign Language Teaching

Introduction

‘Flipped class’ (FC) is the innovative teaching technique, concerned with allowing students to acquire knowledge at home (by requiring them to watch the web-based/distributed via email instructional lectures) and to engage actively with it within the setting of a conventional classroom. The technique’s theoretical underpinning has to do with the Constructivist paradigm of education, which promotes the idea that the learning process’s efficiency is positively related to the measure of its student-centeredness and interactiveness. The main learning problem that the application of FC is expected to solve is that as practice shows, while in the conventional class students often experience the lack of opportunities to practically engage with the received abstract knowledge. This situation, however, can be effectively addressed by making it possible for students to spend most of their classroom time in the experiential learning model – the FC teaching technique is all about it. The reason for this is that due to its close association with the domain of hi-tech, the FC technique allows teachers to channel academic information to students via the Internet so that the latter could spend more time participating in lab sessions.

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Even though the FC approach to teaching is comparatively new (it was practically deployed for the first time in 2007), there have been several studies conducted on the subject of whether FC can be deemed as effective as its advocates claim it to be. In its turn, this allows us to identify the most notable emergent themes within the context of how researchers go about tackling the concerned subject matter. These themes can be generalized as follows: student satisfaction with flipped classes, the benefits of this innovative teaching technique, and the technique’s methodological drawbacks. In this paper, I will review six discursively relevant studies, concerned with subjecting the FC teaching method to a qualitative research inquiry as such that illustrates the multidimensional/interdisciplinary essence of the issue in question.

Student satisfaction with FC

In his study, Alsowat (2016) strived to test the validity of the assumption that the practical deployment of the FC teaching technique is consistent with the innate essence of psycho-cognitive anxieties in students, which presupposes that the latter should feel emotionally comfortable while exposed to it. The study’s theoretical ground is unmistakably Constructivist – it is reflective of the idea that students are more than capable of addressing their academic responsibilities autonomously. Alsowat chose in favor of the qualitative methodological approach for researching the subject matter. The research’s empirical phase involved: a) asking the selected participants (67 graduate female students with and without the experience of having studied in flipped classes) to provide answers to the open-ended questions in two Likert-scale questionnaires; b) analyzing the elicited responses concerning the depended variables of engagement and satisfaction. The obtained findings can be seen as such that support the validity of the study’s initial hypothesis, “The current study shows that students… are satisfied with the idea of changing the traditional practices to a more autonomous learning that fulfills their needs and incorporates new technology in the classroom” (p. 118).

Another study dedicated to exploring the theme is that of Sciucca and Fochi (2016). In it, the authors aimed to identify the effects of one’s prolonged exposure to FC on the concerned person’s attitude towards the teaching strategy in question. In its turn, this was meant to contribute towards enlightening teachers about the actual significance of the Constructivist conceptualization of education as a whole. The study’s methodology had to do with providing 80 selected students in one of the Italian technical secondary schools with the opportunity to study chemistry in the experimental FC mode for two years. Then they were asked to reflect on their experiences, in this regard, by answering 18 questions, contained in the questionnaires that were handed out to the participants in the experiment’s aftermath. The SPSS-based correlation analysis was used for handling the empirically obtained and subsequently quantified data. As the study’s findings show, there is a positive correlation between the amount of time spent by students in the ‘flipped class’ and the likelihood of these students ending up growing increasingly dissatisfied with the concerned teaching methodology.

Benefits

The study by Liu and Liu (2016) is dedicated to outlining the actual mechanics of knowledge transfer within the methodological framework of FC, regarding the most widely used variations of the ‘flipped class’ teaching paradigm. As is the case with the authors of the earlier described studies, Liu and Liu wanted to substantiate the axiomatic soundness of this paradigm’s clearly Constructivist assumptions. Specifically, the authors succeeded in explaining the cause-effect logic behind the idea that one’s chances to excel in studying a foreign language do positively relate to the concerned person’s willingness to indulge in experiential/interactive learning, which in turn is closely associated with FC. The study’s methodology is best described as ‘discourse analysis. The authors have conducted a rather extensive review of other thematically relevant studies while specifying the methodological characteristics of the most popular approaches to organizing the EFL ‘flipped classes’ in China’s secondary high schools (such as the Dalian Yuming High). As the main benefit of using FC for teaching a foreign language the authors were able to identify the following: “It contributes to the formation of the good student-to-teacher relationship” (p. 2042). This, in turn, is supposed to increase the emotional appeal of the EFL curriculum to students.

Many discursive insights of Liu and Liu’s study resonate with those contained in the article by Schmidt and Ralph (2016). The authors’ research agenda had to do with their intention to review the most widely deployed approaches for implementing FC in schools and to outline what accounts for the commonly overlooked opportunities within the organizational context of how this is being done. In particular, the authors strived to justify the Constructivist outlook on the learning process as such that presupposes the highly interactive (as opposed to didactic) nature of the relationship between teachers and students. The article’s research methodology fits the definition of ‘case study’ – the authors explored the subtleties of the motivational rationale for the FC teaching model to continue growing increasingly popular with more and more educators across the world. According to Schmidt and Ralph, providing students with the opportunity to acquire lecture-based knowledge in the comfort of their homes, on one hand, and to actively engage with this knowledge in the setting of a conventional classroom, on the other, results in bringing about a number of different benefits. The most notable of them have to do with the strengthening of the team-based skills in students, and creating the student-centered learning environment.

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Drawbacks

The common feature of many FC-related studies is that their authors also define the apparent disadvantages of applying the concerned teaching method in practice. The study by Basal (2015) is exemplary. In it, the author aimed to test the validity of the idea that most foreign language teachers do consider FC a rather valuable educational asset. If tested positively, the study’s hypothesis would serve the cause of legitimizing the theory of educational Constructivism even further. The study’s methodology is concerned with the application of a qualitative inquiry – 47 English teachers in Turkey were asked to expound on how they view FC, in general, and what they consider this teaching method’s strengths/weaknesses, in particular. The obtained data, in this regard, was further analyzed to find the presence of the discursively similar ‘clusters of meaning’. According to the study’s findings, even though the selected respondents did exhibit a strong support for the continual popularization of FC within the country’s EFL curriculum, they also tended to raise some concerns about what they perceive as the technique’s apparent shortcomings. These include the assumptions nature of some of the FC model’s theoretical provisions and the fact that while participating in ‘flipped classes’ many students experience an increased urge to cheat.

The reading of the study by Phillips and Trainor (2014) will also come in handy for those who want to learn more about the FC-technique’s deficiencies. In essence, this study promotes the Constructivist idea that FC is designed to address the psycho-cognitive needs of the so-called ‘millennial students’ (born between 1982 and 2005), known for their heightened dependency on technology and their aversion to educational didacticism. Methodologically speaking, Phillips and Trainor’s study fits the definition of ‘qualitative research’. Throughout the study’s empirical phase, the authors collected students’ (n=125) responses to the web-based survey questions and conducted the correlative analysis of the obtained data. Although most participants (71%) did exhibit an overall friendly attitude toward FC, they also proved themselves thoroughly aware of the FC-method’s pitfalls. These include the fact that it relies on a student’s ability to exercise academic self-discipline and the fact that FC downplays the importance of teacher-student interaction through the input phase of the learning process.

Conclusion

The provided analysis reveals that there is indeed a good reason to think of the growing popularity of FC as such that has been predetermined dialectically. After all, as it appears from them, most students do seem to enjoy being provided with the opportunity to study in ‘flipped classes’ – at least through the learning process’s initial phase. At the same time, however, the FC teaching method is far from being considered faultless. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, regarding the fact that just about every mentioned article does contain references to what can be seen as this method’s pitfalls. In light of what has been said earlier, it can be safely confirmed that FC, in general, and the discursive aspects of the method’s practical implementation, in particular, does represent a legitimate subject of a qualitative sociological, psychological, and educational inquiry. In the future, researchers should consider exploring whether the FC technique is fully compatible with the biologically predetermined essence of cognitive processes inside one’s brain. I believe that this conclusion is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.

References

  1. Alsowat, H. (2016). An EFL flipped classroom teaching model: Effects on English language higher-order thinking skills, student engagement and satisfaction. Journal of Education and Practice, 7(9), 108-121.
  2. Basal, A. (2015). The implementation of a flipped classroom in foreign language teaching. Turkish Online Journal Of Distance Education (TOJDE), 16(4), 28-37
  3. Liu, C., & Liu, Z. (2016). A creative design and implementation of student-led flipped classroom model in English learning. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 6(10), 2036-2043.
  4. Phillips, C., & Trainor, J. (2014). Millennial students and the flipped classroom. Journal of Business and Educational Leadership, 5(1), 102-112.
  5. Schmidt, S., & Ralph, D. (2016). The flipped classroom: A twist on teaching. Contemporary Issues in Education Research (Online), 9(1), 1-6.
  6. Sciucca, S. & Fochi, V. (2016). Flipped classroom: The point of view of the students. Journal of E-Learning & Knowledge Society, 12(3), 9-17.
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