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Carolina R. Buitrago

Pillar 2: Flexible environment

3 min read

Offering students a flexible environment to learn is one of the most challenging ideas presented in the flipped learning strategy since that decision does not depend entirely on teachers but on many other stakeholders. Even though I know that when teachers close the door of their classrooms they tend to do whatever they want, we can’t ignore the fact that institutions have policies and expect teachers to observe certain rules and appropriate behaviors. Another reason for saying that offering a flexible environment is challenging is teachers’ ego. This new way of teaching removes the “sage on the stage” and some teachers became teachers in the first place because of their love for the spotlight! I think when flipping learning one has to unlearn many behaviors either learned or acquired through the years and open one’s mind to all kinds of new learning.

In my case, I have tried to open the floor to active learning in my graduate classes. Students who come to study only on a Saturday actually expect the lecture mode and the “expert” view on things. They come to us being a little insecure and full of expectations to become better professionals. Unfortunately, some of them expect to get there just listening to the experts, that means us! J I try to make them “think outside of the box” and offer them opportunities that take them out of their comfort zone. At the beginning of my course, many students report feeling overwhelmed and a bit disappointed because “my class is not what they expected”. Nonetheless, by the end of the course, they thank me for helping them discover their potential! That feels pretty awesome, I have to admit!

I have tried to offer students opportunities to problem-solve, to simulate difficult teaching situations, to study teacher’s cases, and to work with their hands in class. But, for that to happen I have had to step away and record my lectures. I have found that this new setting is much more enjoyable for everyone and makes us all happier every time we see each other (which is like 4 times at a semester).  Therefore, I would say I do do the first indicator: “I give students opportunities to engage in meaningful activities without the teacher being central”. I have to admit that I have had a hard time stepping away because I love to be on the spotlight. [Guilty, your honor!] But, I have found that it is so much better for my students and that I get much more recognition for helping them discover things that I would just by giving everything to them.

On the other hand, I still struggle a bit with the second indicator: “I scaffold these activities and make them accessible to all students through differentiation and feedback”. I’m still looking for ways to better differentiate learning for my students. I have started offering much more thorough feedback, though. I have been working with screencasts for giving feedback on their papers and learning objects and it has been really fruitful for everybody. Students love to hear me talk about their papers and give them comments on specific parts of them. I use Camtasia and Screencast-o-matic for doing my feedback screencasts and it has only gotten positive results for me.

Anyway, everything we do to offer a more flexible environment to our students comes with a price. It is time consuming but every second of it is worth the while!