It’s Time to Become Facilitators, and Flipped Learning Can Help

It’s Time to Become Facilitators, and Flipped Learning Can Help
Contributed By

Stephen Thurston

Professor of Journalism and Composition, Montgomery College

It’s Time to Become Facilitators, and Flipped Learning Can Help

Posted in Evolving Ed | January 07, 2018

A colleague of mine was having a communication issue with a person in his department. He felt, he explained to me, that the institution was pushing against him as he struggled to redefine himself as a facilitator, not a professor.

Two ideas ran through my mind as we spoke. The first was that he was incredibly smart, a political philosopher who thinks in terms of 1,000-year blocks, not just in terms of recent news cycles. The second was that we all need to start thinking of ourselves as facilitators. The time is very quickly approaching that all educators—teachers, professors—will be merely one source our students turn to for their educations.

This idea first started coming to me when I was helping my journalism students set-up a website using Wordpress. From creating basic pages to editing Cascading Style Sheets, all of that is available information. What’s more, if programmers don’t understand, they can find help on a user forum. Just about anything programming related was right there for the learning.

This shift isn’t new at all. Librarians in the mid-1990s, when I first left graduate school, had begun to see the writing on the screen, as it were, and started to become information specialists.

History is full of others who had “Market Myopia” as coined by Theodore Levitt. Railroad executives in the mid-20th century killed their companies when they thought they were part of the railroad business, not the transportation business. Trucks and cars drove in and took over huge market shares. Daily newspapers didn’t see it coming when craigslist sapped nearly every dollar of classified advertising from their back pages and sent newspapers into a near death-spiral from which they are only now pulling.

To me, this is why the shift to “facilitators” is so important. The market of students who want an education will get the necessary information, whether we are there to serve it up, or not. Flipping the classroom can help with this. At least, it did for me.

I have flipped just one class of mine, and I’ve run it just once, so I’m no expert. I also read very little about how to flip a classroom. I didn’t plan beyond an imagined outline in my head, partly because I didn’t have the time to do so. So I had that against me.

The class, The Fundamentals of English Grammar, was offered during the winter term, just two-and-a-half weeks long, four days a week for about three hours a day; I had never taught a winter-session class before. This both played for and against me. If I got it wrong, there would be no time for correction, and since I hadn’t read and wasn’t an expert, the chances of something going wrong were high.

At the same time, I knew my students well, and I knew from previous semesters that they would not complete all of the many, many exercises at home, at least not every night as I would need them to do. I wouldn’t have time to grade all the exercises before the next morning’s class. I also knew that my lecture notes from previous semesters were detail heavy and extensive—in terms of flipping the class, that was a good thing.

So all of this—a need to shift with the market, a class that would not do well using traditional methods, and a strong collection of notes and resources—pushed me to flip the class. I had already put in Schoology most of the exercises I wanted them to complete.

At night, the students read a couple lessons from our book and then studied videos created with my lecture notes. When they arrived every morning, most students had done that work. The in-class exercises drove the concepts learned at home into their heads. In our computer lab, I answered questions and graded exercises as they came in, giving students some instant feedback. I facilitated.

What’s more, the big complaint in class was always: “I understand when I’m here, but I get home, and I can’t do the exercises!” Flipping helped that immensely.

I’ll admit that I miss lecturing. I love to talk about writing and, yes, grammar, and there’s an ego boost when you stand in front of the students and rain knowledge. However, the flipped classroom, and my new role as facilitator, was far better for the students.

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