Education is trendy. Cool ideas come and they go. This pattern can be good or bad. Some see this pattern as a form of fadism. The notion that education flip flops (to use a political term) seems contrary to the notion others advance contending that nothing in education ever changes and that the field in comparison to other fields does not advance. I think education is an easy target that everyone thinks they understand and can criticize. How about we focus on health care for a while. We all are participants in that field as well.
Old folks and curmudgeons in particular have a reputation for responding to new ideas by claiming “we already tried that and it did not work”. My position tends to be far more sophisticated. Often, it seems to me that a more accurate description would be we tried that and while it kind of worked we now understand why. As a cognitive psychologist focused on education, this is how I would react to my education colleagues who would cite Dewey (an historical figure in the field of education). By the way, this is the reaction I have to patents (to draw a distant comparison). Make vague pronouncements and you are likely to be given credit for similarities.
This is a long introduction to get to an example. Many educators have discovered “flipping to classroom”. It is often implemented by making a video of what an instructor might present in class and asking students to view this video before coming to class. This requirement allows more class time for discussion and addressing the needs of individual confused students. I might point out that we used to make reading assignments and then use class time to help students understand what they had read. If this sounds like the interpretation of an old person – I have already explained my position on this matter. Anyway, what we learned is that unless we started a class with a quiz we could not assume students had studied the ideas to be discussed.
I was thinking about flipping the classroom when the memory of a movie popped into my head. I have always liked the notion that the mind uses pattern matching to generate thinking and creativity. The idea is that an idea (flipping the classroom) offers a template and experiences that at least partially fit this template are more likely to be recalled. We then consider these experiences, try to understand them and in the process we form more sophisticated ways of understanding. You may have heard the expression “chance favors the prepared mind (Pasteur) – it works something like that. BTW – this is also why you cannot always Google it – you need a prepared mind.
So, as I was thinking about flipping the classroom, the recall of a movie (and a follow up television series) I viewed in the early 1970s surfaced. I do not watch many movies, but some stick with me. The movie was called the Paper Chase and described the experiences of first year students in Harvard Law School. You can get the movie from Amazon (or Netflix) for a few bucks (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070509/) and it is well worth the time. Key figures in the movie include Professor Kingsfield and first year law student Hart (a working class, but highly intelligent student among the rich kids). The first year seems to take a weed out the rich experience. None of this is relevant to my interests, but it does make for a good story.
What I recall about Prof Kingsfield classroom approach was what matched the flipping pattern. The prof assumed that students would come to class prepared and did not intend to use class time to present basic concepts. He taught by requiring students to stand and respond to his questions. Students who were poorly prepared were treated harshly. After getting beyond the basic “facts of the case” (the expected memorized details), the prof would begin to probe for understanding and insight. Hart, when he had time to prepare, was capable of going beyond the facts and this was often not the case with many of his classmates who seemed only capable of memorization.
Comments made by Prof Kingsfield during the first class stuck with me. After basically threatening the class with that old “look to your right, look to your left – one of you will not make it to the end of this class” thing, Kingsfield says “you will teach yourselves the law, I will teach you to think”.
There you have it – flipping the classroom, memorization, higher order critical thinking, all in a 40 year old movie about college life.