Flipped Theology: How Flipping Your Classroom Increases Learning, by J.R. Miller

How a New Learning Technology Seems to Gel with Ancient Christian Theology 

by J. R. Miller

I love the face-to-face interaction of the classroom, and while nothing will ever replace it, there are advantages to using the internet for teaching. The world is changing. The way people learn is changing. It may be time Christian teachers and educators start thinking about how to Flip Theology.

I first came across this idea through a series of articles by Jon Bergmann, Jerry Overmyer and Brett Wilie. These innovative educators are looking at ways to Flip the Classroom. What does that mean?

The traditional definition of a flipped class is:

  • Where videos take the place of direct instruction
  • This then allows students to get individual time in class to work with their teacher on key learning activities.
  • It is called the flipped class because what used to be classwork (the “lecture” is done at home via teacher-created videos and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class.
The Inversion of the Classroom

There certainly has been controversy over this approach, but much of it seems rooted in a misunderstanding of the educational goals.

The Flipped Classroom is NOT:

  • A synonym for online videos. When most people hear about the flipped class all they think about are the videos. It is the the interaction and the meaningful learning activities that occur during the face-to-face time that is most important.
  • About replacing teachers with videos.
  • An online course.
  • Students working without structure.
  • Students spending the entire class staring at a computer screen.
  • Students working in isolation.

So what is the Flipped Classroom?

The Flipped Classroom IS:

  • A means to INCREASE interaction and personalizedcontact time between students and teachers.
  • An environment where students take responsibility for their own learning.
  • A classroom where the teacher is not the “sage on the stage”, but the “guide on the side”.
  • A blending of direct instruction with constructivist learning.
  • A classroom where students who are absent due to illness or extra-curricular activities such as athletics or field-trips, don’t get left behind.
  • A class where content is permanently archived for review or remediation.
  • A class where all students are engaged in their learning.
  • A place where all students can get a personalized education.
Theoretical Framework for the Flipped Classroom

To me, the most important point aspect of the flipped classroom is how the videos the students view on their own time are used in the classroom. Using videos viewed before class are only valuable if you can do something in-class that builds upon that knowledge helps the student gain a deeper understanding.

So what makes for a good in-class exercise?

These in-class “activities” must:

1) help support the student understanding of the stated learning objectives,

2) be designed to help students process what they have learned and place the learning into the context of the world in which they live,

3) be engaging to the students, yet flexible enough to allow students the ability to process and produce in a way that is meaningful to them. Possible in-class work could include:

  • student created content
  • independent problem solving
  • inquiry-based activities
  • Project Based Learning

The Flipped Classroom has has found success in the High School setting.

Flipped Results for High School Students

Now the question is, can it find success in the college and graduate level. The question then to Christian educators is:

  • Can the use of a flipped classroom help us better engage young minds with the Gospel?
  • How can the flipped classroom enhance the quality Christian education?
  • What content in the college and graduate classroom lends itself to being flipped?
  • Is there content that should never be flipped?

I have begun my own experiments with Flipped Theology in my series titled, The 10 Minute Teacher. My educational videos are available both here on my blog and on my YouTube channel. I would love to get feedback from other teachers who are trying to implement this concept or students who have experienced it.

What is the good, the bad and the ugly of Flipped Theology?

8 Replies to “Flipped Theology: How Flipping Your Classroom Increases Learning, by J.R. Miller”

  1. @Charles,
    You provided more comments than questions, but it does illustrate some of the misconceptions of what I personally am trying to accomplish so your concerns do give me some ideas how I need to refine my terminology to prevent further confusion.

    I think you raise a good point regarding how different cultures will respond and even how different personality types respond to learning methods. I am not familiar with any studies of the kind you are asking about, so it may be a wide open field for more exploration.

    I do think it is important to remember though that a blended classroom should not mean the end of lecture completely.. at least no my vision for it. The lecture should not diminish with Flipped Theology, it should be enhanced by it. In my mind, the online component should…

    First… better prepare students for the in-class materials. Knowing my students viewed materials online before the class allows me to integrate questions (viz a vie the Socratic Method) or create an interactive activity to assess student comprehension. Once I have a gauge for where the students are at, I then refine my lecture materials on-the-spot to build upon their current state of learning and make better use of our in-class time. I have some content coming to my blog on April 8th that will help me accomplish these goals. I invite you to check back then @ http://www.morethancake.org

    Second… the online materials provide both a visual and an audio reminder of what students learned during class. Students traditionally take home notes, outlines and some even record the lectures. Flipped Theology is just the next evolution allowing the professor to better focus the post-lecture learning on what the students really need to work on. Here is an example of material I use for that purpose http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEA0DE1DFE4113137&feature=plpp

    Finally… the online materials are designed to help to engage students. For example, my animated introduction to the Book of Acts on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC7969F364892C1AF&feature=plcp
    I am trying to incorporate important information into a 1 minute clip that both entertains, but also helps the student remember some of the key ideas I want them to learn in the deeper lecture and reading. I start my Acts class in April so I will find out how this newest tool works then.

    Hope that makes some sense.

  2. Thx for sharing the concept of flipped classroom. While I had not heard this phrase before, I recognize its underlying tenets associated with adult learning theory (Knowles et al.,) particularly with online learning. An important assumption underlying this theory that is often not mentioned is that everyone has wisdom gained from their own experience and that learning is optimized when people can bridge new content to their experiences. As an aside, the classroom that you describe is what we strive to create in our online Ph.D. program in Leadership Studies.

    One question: In a highly individualistic, low power distance culture (I’m borrowing from Hofstede here), this works very well. Have you seen any studies discussing the overall effectiveness of online education within high power distance cultures? Particularly if students expect a professor to be the all knowing lecturer?

    Thanks again for your post!

    Director/Center for Global Studies
    Johnson University

    1. Alicia,
      Now THAT is an outstanding question. We had this dilemma when I was teaching at a seminary with a high concentration of ethnic Asian (especially Korean) students. They were not always comfortable with classes that were discussion-oriented versus lecture oriented. They wanted the sage to speak. And I’m not sure this is only true in international contexts. Curiously, I had coffee yesterday with a screenwriter here in Hollywood who had just finished a theology class at a world class school with an internationally known scholar. They told me they were “disappointed that the scholar didn’t really ever lecture in the class.” After all, that’s why they put up the money to take the class.
      Still, I think if you truly FLIP the class online (have great instructor content) then you may be able to get both benefits.
      I’d love to hear what others have to say?

  3. A means to INCREASE interaction and personalized contact time between students and teachers.
    -the 20 other students aren’t going to sitting there studying while little johnny is getting his one-on-one time, it quickly becomes a madhouse.

    An environment where students take responsibility for their own learning.
    -I fail to see how hand holding makes people responsible for their own learning. That’s how it was before when you had to go home and study if you wanted to pass.

    A classroom where the teacher is not the “sage on the stage”, but the “guide on the side”.
    -The whole point of being a student is to want to be like the person in front of you. If everyone’s on the stage, then who is there to aspire to be like? The teacher being the center stage utilizes the whole subconscious desire that people have to want to be the star. If children are all stars when they are born, there is nothing worthwhile for them anymore and they see no need for anything in life.

    A blending of direct instruction with constructivist learning.
    -Something that any good teacher does anyway.

    A classroom where students who are absent due to illness or extra-curricular activities such as athletics or field-trips, don’t get left behind.
    -A direct contradiction to students taking responsibility for their own learning.

    A class where content is permanently archived for review or remediation.
    -That’s what notes and textbooks are for. Again, nothing new.

    A class where all students are engaged in their learning.
    -Another contradiction, if a teacher is spending one-on-one time, then the rest of the class is not engaged in learning unless they’re all smart enough to teach themselves everything. However if that were the case we would not need teachers.

    A place where all students can get a personalized education.
    -So basically in a class of 20 people, a concept would have to be explained 20 different ways to personalize it for every student. If it takes one student the entire class time to learn the concept, no other student receives an education.

  4. Love the post. I will be doing this in the fall for the first time. It is a gen Ed Christian foundations course. I’m a bit nervous, but it seems like a beautiful way to engage material that is hard but also really important. Thank you for this!

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