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Carolina R. Buitrago

Pillar 1: Flexible Environment

4 min read

Pillar 1: Flexible Environment

I have been working on flipped learning for over almost two years now, and it all started because of my willingness to be more flexible with my students. I decided to provide them with all the necessary assistance for them to have an enjoyable learning experience, and this is how I came across flipped learning. 

As I mentioned in my first post, at the beginning, I wasn't looking for a method or a new pedagogical approach. I just wanted a strategy to engage my graduate students more in my class and to guarantee that the few hours we saw each other face2face were meaningful. The students I started to work FL with were a group of graduate students pursuing a Master's degree in ELT. Our class, Autonomous Learning Environments, is the first fully blended course in the MA program. Even though nowadays it is pretty hard to find an only face2face program, students expectations differed from reality. They imagined because they had signed up for a f2f program they wouldn't have any time online. However, in our University, one of the guiding principles is autonomy. Therefore, we connect autonomy development to blended learning and all of our courses have some sort of online time. As I mentioned before, my class was the first fully blended course, and I say this because in the previous courses, students online time was merely devoted to downloading resources and replying to one or two forum posts. When students got to my class (8 hours f2f; 24 hours online + independent study) they were overwhelmed and utterly mad. They even mentioned it in the "Concerns forum" saying they had signed up for a face to face program because they were terrible online learners. Experiencing this resistance, I decided to look for ways to make them feel better and have a rather smooth walk into online learning, after all as Bergman and Sams (2012) mention it, we just want to do the best for our students and that's how we stumble upon flipped learning. 

It's important to highlight I was assigned to teach someone else's course. The professor who was before me had more face2face hours and therefore lecturing seemed to be a good option, but coincidentially, when I came in the program they reduced the number of hours for the class. I taught it as it was for a semester, but I realized time needed to be better spent in the classroom and online time needed to offer students more practicality and variety. Thus, I started reading about active learning, student engagement and inquiry based learning for implementing more hands-on activities during the face2face encounters. I had started using screencasting back in 2007, and I thought it could be useful to just record my lectures and save f2f time for discussions and other activities. I also gave them my whatsapp number and organized Skype calls for tutoring.  Students enjoyed these changes very much and felt we were "closer". I went to a conference to present this experience, but when I was doing my research on screencasting, you know, to provide teachers with references at the presentation, I came across the term: the flipped classroom. It turned out I was doing it!

Well, I'm sorry about the rather long introduction to my ideas on flexible environment, but I think if we came across flipped learning it's because we are the "crazy one" at the place we work, or because for some reason, we realize traditional learning/teaching doesn't offer the level of flexibility our students need. I decided to devote more time to my students (creating materials, etc.), but what I've gotten in return has been amazing. Students feel much better about the teaching/learning process, they devote more time to the class, they contacted me more frequently and felt helped, etc. In general, the results with that particular group of students were great. 

In regards to the indicators for flexible environment: 

  • I establish spaces and time frames that permit students to interact and reflect on their learning as needed.
  • I continually observe and monitor students to make adjustments as appropriate.
  • I provide students with different ways to learn content and demonstrate mastery.

 

I think I do. I have found that the only way to get students involved (at least my MA students) is by caring about them and by showing them you care. I feel that providing my students with a flexible environment where they can think for themselves and develop as teachers and people is a great way to care!