With advances in web and multimedia technologies, teachers are no longer the sole knowledge provider in education. The Internet has become a powerful vehicle that has revolutionized access to information and the acquisition of knowledge. Consequently, a growing number of teachers have seen this shift as an opportunity to reflect upon the essence of education and their pedagogical roles. They have begun to emphasize the student's autonomy in learning and seek to develop pedagogical methods that place learners at its core. Echoing this learner-centered pedagogy is an instructional strategy that has garnered global attention, known as the Flipped Classroom Model (FCM).
The FCM aims to create a blend of mutually complementary settings that helps achieve optimal learning for students by, prior to class, instilling in them fundamentals designed by teachers using multimedia materials while in class, allowing them to reinforce learned contents via collaboration with peers and teachers. This strategy can help facilitate students' lower cognitive and higher-level learning, while ensuring their autonomy throughout the process. However, some educators might have lost sight of the intricacies of applying the FCM due to a misconception that it is a mere inversion of classwork and homework, thus undermining its empowerment.
To address this problem and the urgent need to carefully examine the FCM's holistic role as an instructional method, an action research was conducted in eight different classes by five English writing teachers and four teaching assistants from Academic Writing Education Center in Terms 103-2 and 104-1. Our research team integrated a Five-Step-Interactive-Cycle of Learning Model (5ICL) into the FCM in an attempt to maximize the efficacy of its implementation, as well as to address potential challenges that face it. Qualitative and quantitative results from applying the 5ICL-enhanced FCM to eight graduate-level Fundamentals of English Writing classes verify the effectiveness of the proposed innovative approach, proving that with careful designs of class materials, discussion tasks, assessment methods, and instructional procedures, 5ICL-enhanced FCM has significantly reinforced the student participants' learning motivation, writing outcomes, learning autonomy and critical thinking skills.
Despite those encouraging findings, several new vital threats were also realized; instead of being induced by the immaturity of FCM, this time the dilemmas are the innate dangers existing within the essence of this instructional method. This claim is not reached solely based on the concerns shared by the five teacher participants in their interview data in Term 104-1. Similar worries were also brought into discussion at the 7th Symposium on Writing Centers in Asia conducted by Tokyo International University in 2016, where our research team reported the research findings, at an FCM teacher workshop and round-table discussion at Ming Chuan University in 2015, where our research team was invited to share, and at an Academic Writing Education Center teacher training session in 2015. The concerns are briefly discussed below.
A. A need to cater for different learners
The results from our 2015 research have shown that students with different disciplinary majors exhibit different degrees of interest in learning task types. This notion is also highlighted in a number of empirical educational studies (e.g., Brown, 1987). To be more specific, students may be eventually tired out of one dominant instructional method. While instruction-oriented learners feel more secured receiving instructions/training prior to drilling, exploratory learners tend to prefer unveiling the mystery of the lesson with their own effort. In our experimental results in 2015, the data indicate that among the mixed groups of eight different classes, Engineering, Science and Bioresources & Agriculture students tend to show higher interest in exploratory tasks (where they were asked to generate theory or seek answers themselves), whereas students from College of Management express higher motivation in instruction-based learning tasks. Therefore, an alternative instructional method complementing the FCM in principle and in theory is needed.
B. A need to retain teachers' feelings of value
Another frustration faced by FCM proponents is that teachers build up the feeling of losing the "halo" in class. Some teachers may feel less valued not sitting in the driving seat. Four out of six teachers in the 2015 research findings have also expressed the same anxiety. This anxiety may possibly lead to a decreasing motivation or confidence.
C. A need to alleviate the phenomenon of being bombarded with "homework"
With the growing popularity of the FCM practice, an increasing number of students spend more and more time sitting in front of a desk and watch videos from different courses—a concern shared by several FCM practitioners. Hence, another instructional method containing different "forms" of preparatory task is suggested.
D. A need to actualize the revolutionary teaching/learning approach
The FCM is widely promoted domestically by its proponents nowadays due to its uniqueness of catering for individual needs and facilitating critical thinking. However, the design and merit of having team members collaborate as a group may sometimes compromise certain types of individual training. In addition, the so-called "critical thinking cultivation" is often a learner-centered exploration within a pre-constructed framework (i.e., the assigned video homework). Therefore, to actualize this instructional revolution, two things should be taken into account: how to value individualism in this collaboration-encouraged flipped learning and in what way some complementary tasks can truly free learners' critical thinking.
Though our research team have successfully dealt with the major challenges to the FCM in our collaborative project in 2015, the research journey has inspired us to see this instructional method from an even more critical and holistic perspective, hence the necessity to highlight the core problems of FCM, which are yet to be realized by many FCM-involvers. More importantly, even though the suggestions we made on the aspects of discussion forms, learning task types, assessment methods, and material designs could greatly help the implementation and effectiveness of the FCM, the core problems have suggested that if they are to be avoided, it cannot be used as the sole instructional method. With this recognition, our team’s present task is to generate an innovative approach capable of complementing the FCM while tackling the core problems. We hope that our navigation toward fulfilling this goal will ultimately yield an optimum for teaching and learning.
Brown, A. L. (1987). "Metacognition, executive control, self-regulation, and other more mysterious mechanisms". In F. E. Weinert & R. H. Kluwe (Eds.), Metacognition, Motivation, and Understanding (pp. 65-116). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.