This is an excerpt from a chapter in my blended learning book (in progress) on flipping instruction using online discussions.

Online Discussions

In the traditional classroom delivery of content takes place within the walls of the classroom and homework is usually an extension of that work which requires students to review and apply the information they learned. Within this model, students are isolated at home during the practice phase, which often requires the most coaching, correction, and collaboration.  Many teachers feel it is a waste of class time to have students silently taking notes, when they could be working together in small learning communities.

The concept of the “flipped classroom” explores the ways technology integration can allow teachers more flexibility in their classrooms.  The flipped classroom refers to a course in which the instructor is delivering content online outside of class, then using time in class to support group work, wet labs, or application practice. For many teachers time limits their ability to both provide necessary content specific information and engage students in meaningful activities. This frustrates many instructors who realize that the hands-on application is a critical step in progressing up Bloom’s pyramid beyond simply remembering and understanding to analysis, evaluation, and creation. Accessing these higher level thinking skills requires that students work with the information provided to make sense of it.

Online discussions using a learning platform with multimedia embed opportunities can allow teachers to present both videos and lecture notes online for students to watch, review and take notes on while pairing it with discussion questions.

Presenting information inside a frame by pairing it with a discussion question or task makes the information more meaningful. For example, if a teacher asks her students to view the Khan Academy video describing the stages of meiosis online to prepare for a lab, the amount of information retained will be lower then if they are asked to engage in a discussion online about the video. If the teacher embeds the Khan video into a discussion question that asks them to choose one stage in the process to describe in detail, then they will have applied what they learned and remember more of what they heard. The discussion questions can vary in difficulty depending on the level of students. Basic discussion questions might ask students to restate part of the lecture, while more complex questions might ask students to apply or make connections between concepts.

Online Discussions Provide a Context for Information

5 (of 10) Strategies for Flipping Your Classroom with Online Discussions:

1. Embed a video- either self produced or uploaded from an online resource- for students to view, then pair with a discussion question to reinforce understanding and drive evaluation, analysis, and synthesis.

2. Ask students to research a topic online and engage in an online discussion about their topic, then pick up in class to build on the information gathered during research/discussion. Students can present information on their topic to the class.

3. Provide lecture notes in the form of a PDF online and ask students to annotate, then share 3 annotations online to drive a discussion about the reading.

4. Upload part of a documentary or lab for students to view and pair with a discussion question about the content of video clip. In class, use the information in video clip and discussion highlights to drive in class work/discussion.

5. Provide a series of questions for students to work with and discuss online. In class revisit any areas of weakness or challenge. Allow students to group up and practice the types of questions/problems they struggled with online allowing face-to-face collaboration with peers…

Chapter also discusses tips for educators interested in flipping their classroom to maximize class time. I welcome any feedback, advice, additions, etc. from educators experienced with flipping their classrooms!

7 Responses

  1. Thanks for all the great information. I am extremely excited about the possibility to include this in my class.
    I am thinking about nuts and bolts issues, and questions that I will get from parents — “How do you grade these discussions?” is the most prominent question that comes to mind. I’m wondering what you do? I haven’t seen any reference to grading mentioned.
    For example, do you include rubric-type information in your expectations — “a minimum of three comments to other students’ posts,” “specific examples such as text evidence, personal connections, and/or real-world connections must be included,” etc.

    • Hello Margaret,

      Great questions! I have a lot of teachers ask me about my grading philosophy and practices. I do set very clear expectations for participation. Students are required to respond to 2 discussion questions each night then reply to a minimum of 3 peers. I tend to emphasize quality over quantity, but some assignments require more specific requirements (ie. number of sentences).

      I have researched the value of grading online participation and have found that assigning a grade to each posting may actually be counterproductive. Turns out that for most students the grade is not a long term motivator. Not to say that I do not grade some of their responses. For example, if they post a short story or a rough draft introduction and thesis for peer review, then I will grade those using 10 point scale and provide specific feedback if needed. However, for the majority of our online discussions, I limit my grading to participation points. I focus more on “weaving” the discussions back into the classroom to drive instruction. I find that if students know you are using their work online to direct the work in class (and vice versa) that there is an incentive to participate. Collaborize Classroom-the free discussion centered learning platform I use- makes this easy because their are participation reports showing each users activity as well as a user report that serves as an online portfolio of their work. If I notice that a particular student needs to develop his/her responses or is failing to participate regularly, the I send them an email and talk with them in class.

      I hope that answers your questions. My biggest suggestion to anyone incorporating an online discussion into their curriculum is not to overwhelm yourself trying to grade everything! Instead focus your energy on reading their discussions (much quicker than grading class set of handouts) and finding interesting ways to use the work online to drive the work in class.

      Catlin Tucker

  2. I am also in the process of writing a book about the flipped classroom through a research, pedagogy and application lens. I do a similar thing in my chemistry class with respect to forcing reflection of videose and thus metacognition by providing an associated rubric for students to follow. This then leads to nice JiTT instruction in class. See for an example of a video and associated summary form, and for other resources. Would love to collaborate!

    • Hi Ramsey,

      Finally found your posting in all my spam! Thanks for the comment. It was so great getting to meet you at EdCamp SF Bay. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to you about how you are flipping your instruction in Chemistry since it is slightly different from how I do it with my English students. I’m focusing primarily on the benefits of the flipped model when combined with online discussions and collaborative group work. Our conversations really made me think about how I could build interactive experiences into my classroom using mobile technology and QR codes. I look forward to collaborating and keeping in touch. Good luck with your books. This is an up and coming topic for sure!

      Hope the start to your school year has been smooth.


  3. Hi Catlin- when will your book be released? I have a Flipped Classroom 4 day training in September and would like to include your book as a resource if it would be possible by this time. I am so intrigued about Flip Teaching, and the entire Flip Teaching classroom experience to support blended learning and online discussions. This is exactly what our 21st century students need to take ownership in their learning, and to support our 21st century educators with creative and innovative instruction.

    Take care!

    Naomi Harm

    • Hello Naomi~

      Thanks for your inquiry on my book! It is currently being reviewed for publication. It probably won’t be published until Jan-Mar or (depending on editing and layout stuff) June-July. I wish it was available for you to include as a resource. If there is anything I can do to support you in your training, let me know. I could not agree more that using the flipped model provides a flexibility for teachers who want to create a student centered classroom where kids take ownership over their learning and work collaboratively to problem solve. Using online discussions to provide a frame makes this model even more successful.

      In my book I talk about the creative, collaborative work that students can do in the classroom to build on concepts and information introduced at home. I presented my ideas at the EdCamp San Francisco Bay and it was very well received. It is such an exciting time to be in education!

      Thanks for the message.


  4. Hi Jamie,

    My apologies in a late reply. Navigating spam on my blog is a pain. I am thrilled you enjoyed my blog. I hope it gives you some great ideas for how you might use this model with your English classes. I would love to hear how you are doing it as the year progresses.


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