How Technology Shapes Understanding: The Flipped Classroom

Currently here in the Technology Integration Center at the W&M School of Education, we’re developing new ways to make it easier for instructors to flip their classroom instruction. We currently are getting requests from faculty asking “How can I reach my students better?” or “How can I flip my class?” and we’re more than happy to help out.

Flipped classroom swaps what students do in the traditional classroom and what they do outside of class.

Flipped classroom swaps what students do in the traditional classroom and what they do outside of class. Image courtesy of Flickr user AJC1.

Classroom Flipping — What Is It?

If you’ve never heard of classroom flipping, the basic idea is that learning is done through work outside of the classroom, and understanding is gained through discussion, exploration activities, and collaboration within the actual classroom environment. This differs from the old style of instruction in that student would attend a general lecture, be simply¬†told the content,¬†and then go home to try to gain understanding on their own. To read more about a W&M faculty member’s experiences with flipping a class, check out Gene Roche’s posts about his flipping experiment (see the first one and the second one here).


Playing Jeopardy! in class is one example of an in-class activity that can engage students differently via the flipped classroom model. Image courtesy of Flickr user Stanford EdTech.

Personally, I love the idea of helping instructors flipping their classes (I also find flipped classes fun!). While I am mostly on the tech side of this initiative, flipping classroom instruction is proof to me that education is a full cycle, not a linear flow of imparting knowledge on students. It’s proof that as educators, in this case instructors at the W&M, we understand that young people have had and will always have a different method of gaining understanding and learning than the generation before them. This is not saying that one generation is better than others but simply attempting to illustrate that learning and education is ever evolving, and in order to keep reaching deeper into the minds of students, we as instructors must evolve as well. In comes flipping the classroom!

It may sound like the theme of the novel (and now film) Ender’s Game, but children have the amazing ability to adapt to new technology and make it seem like they’re not even trying to learn a new piece of equipment or software. They pick it up almost instinctively. Now, take those children, let 15 to 20 years go by, and imagine they are today’s adult learners at the College of William and Mary, and ask them to sit in a verbal lecture without any interactivity. Of course some of them might pick up the material, but much of it does and can get lost in result of the static noise that Facebook, Snap-Chat, texting, and online gaming present; not to mention of course those trying to look up the notes/material a student forgot to read or learn before coming to class … while in class. As the instructor, you could of course ban the use of technology in your class, but many would argue you might lose a few more minds who are now choosing to zone out while you speak.

The technology that was available to us as children is certainly different than today, and one could argue that the technology in which you grew up with helped you develop your natural ability to gain understanding. Now put that into perspective with the children of today. Literally. When the first generation of Apple’s iPad came out, we all had to learn the ins and outs, and pros and cons of mobile touch screen tablet technology, yet now if you give a child an iPad, even if they’ve never held one before, he or she could probably download a game with your credit card, and be on level two before you realized it.

Using Technology in the Classroom Helps Instructors Cater to What Students Already Know


Spotting a student without a laptop is like playing Where’s Waldo these days. Image courtesy of Flickr user Will Richardson.

By catering to what students already know, technology, creating course material that utilizes technology can inspire students in ways you might not thought possible. Imagine students being able to take your lecture to the gym on their Kindle Fire, watching and listening to you while they pound out the elliptical trainer for an hour, or putting your course material on the big screen so learning can be a social gathering with their peers before the football game that comes on at 8:30.

By giving students the material outside of class, and maybe even making the homework fun, performing assessment and developing understanding in class will make better use of not only your time, but theirs as well. Rather than Johnny picking A, B, C, or D, ask him to speak about his thoughts on quantum mechanics and string theory. Then ask Louisa to comment on Johnny’s ideas and present her own. You may be surprised to find out how many students want to get in on the conversation (especially if you give a participation grade).

You can also make use of the technology that students bring with them. Platforms like SMS text polls allow students to text in their answers or responses to questions, with some services allowing you to record answers for assessment. Ask a student to connect their iPad to the classroom display to work out a math problem, or my favorite, ask students to create something. It could be a song, a video, a presentation, or even just a simple collaboration of what their idea of the media’s portrayal of genders roles are.

To flip your classroom is to understand that technology shapes education. With embracing this new idea, not only do we believe your courses will be more successful overall, but you’ll be more successful in reaching your students and building a professional and academic relationship with your audience.

Shameless plug: Of course always come and see us at W&M classroom support if you have or need an idea to shake things up in your class!


  1. If you had wanted a more “local” photo of our own W&M students packing laptops:-)×682.jpg

    • Forgot to add : photo is of Chuck Bailey’s Geo 110 class during which he and his students used and tested the Lecture Tools system