Think Tank: Flip-thinking - the new buzz word sweeping the
Teacher Karl Fisch has flipped teaching on its head - he uploads his lectures to YouTube for his students to watch at home at night, then gets them to apply the concepts in class by day.
8:00AM BST 12 Sep 2010
This month, tens of millions of children in the
UK and the are streaming back to classrooms for another year of school. US
Since it’s 2010, many of these students will see smartboards instead of chalkboards and they’ll turn in their assignments online rather than on paper. But the rhythm of their actual days will be much the same as when their parents and grandparents sat in those same uncomfortable seats back in the 20th century.
During class time, the teacher will stand at the front of the room and hold forth on the day’s topic. Then, as the period ends, he or she will give students a clutch of work to do at home. Lectures in the day, homework at night. It was ever thus and ever shall be.
But one American teacher is taking a different approach – and in the process, he’s offering a lesson in innovation for organisations of every kind.
Karl Fisch is a 20-year veteran of
Arapahoe High School, located south of . For the past 14 years, the one-time maths teacher has been the school’s technology co-ordinator. But a round of budget cuts forced him to take on extra duties – and a few weeks ago, he returned to the classroom to teach an algebra course to 9th and 10th graders (14 and 15 year-olds). Denver, Colorado
However, instead of lecturing about polynomials and exponents during class time – and then giving his young charges 30 problems to work on at home – Fisch has flipped the sequence. He’s recorded his lectures on video and uploaded them to YouTube for his 28 students to watch at home. Then, in class, he works with students as they solve problems and experiment with the concepts.
Lectures at night, “homework” during the day. Call it the Fisch Flip.
“When you do a standard lecture in class, and then the students go home to do the problems, some of them are lost. They spend a whole lot of time being frustrated and, even worse, doing it wrong,” Fisch told me.
“The idea behind the videos was to flip it. The students can watch it outside of class, pause it, replay it, view it several times, even mute me if they want,” says Fisch, who emphasises that he didn’t come up with the idea, nor is he the only teacher in the country giving it a try. “That allows us to work on what we used to do as homework when I’m they’re to help students and they’re there to help each other.”
When he puts it like that, you want to slap your forehead at the idea’s inexorable logic. You wonder why more schools aren’t doing it this way. That’s the power of flipping. It melts calcified thinking and leads to solutions that are simple to envision and to implement.
Consider the publishing industry. In the
US and the , publishers typically launch a book by issuing a pricey hardcover. Then, after a year or so, they publish a less expensive UK
paperback. But the marketing guru and author Seth Godin has proposed flipping the sequence – especially for books that aren’t written by celebrity chefs or former prime ministers.
Why not, Godin has proposed, put out the cheaper paperback – or even an e-book – first? Readers are more likely to gamble on an unknown author when they can risk £8 rather than £25.
Then, if the book sells well and builds an audience, the publisher could produce, say, a £40 commemorative hardcover edition – something that’s a collectible for true fans willing to pay a higher price.
Or imagine flipping the sequence in the movie business. For blockbusters, the typical strategy is to open huge the first week, maintain the momentum for a while, and then come out on DVD when interest wanes. Alas, most films aren’t blockbusters. So for those sorts of movies, studios instead could first issue a low-price DVD or streaming video to build an audience. If the film proved popular, the studio could then release it to theatres – where early adopters and people who have heard the buzz could watch the film as a communal experience.
Even the human resources department is a candidate for the Fisch Flip. For instance, employees get a going-away party on their final day with an organisation. But Rite-Solutions, an upstart American software firm, does the reverse. As William C Taylor writes in his upcoming book, Practically Radical, the company holds a welcome bash for new employees at 9am on their first day of work.
If incumbents can rejuvenate by flipping the sequence, sometimes challengers can gain by flipping an industry’s very business model. For example, in large cities in the
US and Europe, many cafes have become makeshift workplaces. Small entrepreneurs, independent workers and free agents can buy a cup of coffee – and get an internet-enabled office for free.
But this trend has also helped give rise to a new industry – co-working spaces, where those same sorts of business people can rent small offices and have access to conference rooms, copiers and kindred spirits. Places like Le Bureau in
London and Thinkspace in have flipped the model. They charge for the office – and give away the coffee. “We encourage collaboration among community members,” says Thinkspace founder Peter Chee, and “our free coffee is one way to facilitate that”. Seattle
So here’s your homework for tonight. Ask yourself: what is one process, practice, method or model in my business, work or life that I can flip? We’ll work on your answers together in class tomorrow.
Daniel H Pink is an author and business leader who writes about the world of work. His most recent book is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Canongate Books).