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Understanding the flipped classroom

For generations, teachers and students have followed a common pattern: lecture first in the classroom, do homework, and then review. Now, a growing number of teachers are “flipping” the classroom, bringing new educational opportunities for students and putting new demands on educational IT.

In a flipped classroom, students are assigned material to study and exercises to complete before coming to class. There, the teacher can help with concepts that are fuzzy and skills still under development. The idea is that the less personal part of the process, where basic information is given to the students, happens through reading or watching video. Classroom time with the teacher is reserved for working on topics where the student might need to fix shortcomings or address a lab process.

Flipped classrooms place additional strains on IT through three parts of the process:

  1. Initial lecture
  2. Independent study
  3. Classroom lab

1. Lectures

The lecture portion of a flipped class often comes through a video students watch before coming to class. In schools where the student population can’t be assumed to have Internet access at home, those initial lectures are often watched in a class segment.

Students watch a video on their computers or tablets. In a school with multiple flipped classrooms, this can mean hundreds of students all watching videos simultaneously.

2. Independent study

Video continues to be a significant part of network traffic when students turn to independent study. Research often includes video lectures and demonstrations, adding to the network load.

It also adds to the demands on the computers in the classroom, whether they’re traditional desktop configuration, laptops, or tablets. The combination of workstations able to serve as media theaters and scores of students making simultaneous use of those workstations can mean an enormous strain on network infrastructures designed for pre-video classrooms.

3. Lab/homework

This is the portion of the cycle always performed under the teacher’s watchful eye and always with the in-class workstation’s aid. Students must be able to record results in cloud-based documents, access information on the lab’s subject, and take exams on workstations with complete reliability and no performance lag.

There are, of course, ways in which flipped classrooms resemble their traditional counterparts. For example, students without home computer access must be given the chance to use workstations at school for lessons, study, and research.

From workstation to network demarcation point, the move to a flipped classroom means demand for additional computing and network resources. Focus your attention on the ends—workstation and core network bandwidth—to make sure that students and teachers can take full advantage of the classroom flip.

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