Thursday, 4 April 2013

Encouraging student engagement

Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the remarkable Khan Academy, a carefully structured series of educational videos offering complete curricula in math and, now, other subjects.

This program provides a great way for teachers to reach and support the needs of all students today. It is designed to provide a supportive and engaged learning environment, therefor allowing students to gain confidence within themselves. 

I see the flipped classroom as more of learning the curriculum required material at home by the use of video lectures. In this setting, the teacher frees up a lot more time during the day for creative discussions and applying the topics to relevant problems. I feel that, in this way, the teacher can actually make more of an impact on students by showing them ideas rather than concepts.

Lectures that can be viewed more than once may also help those for whom English is not their first language. Devoting class time to application of concepts might give instructors a better opportunity to detect errors in thinking, particularly those that are widespread in a class. At the same time, collaborative projects can encourage social interaction among students, making it easier for them to learn from one another and for those of varying skill levels to support their peers.

The beauty of these ideas is that students get to self-drive their learning. By self-engaging and learning at their own pace and in their own ideal environment, students can start to become producers of knowledge, instead of consumers of knowledge.

My translation class is usually quite large and consists of approximately 100 students, who are coming from different countries and regions. The students have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and language proficiency is very diverse. Traditionally, a translation class comes across as one in which the teacher was the sole speaker transmitting knowledge to students who were eager to find the answers to their questions from the teacher. In such classes, students usually translate a text for discussion chosen by the teacher. Students read their translations one by one, and the teacher passes comments on student's translations and finally the best translation is presented by the teacher to the class. Moreover, students often try to capture what is being said at the instant the speaker says it. They cannot stop to reflect upon what is being said, and they may miss significant points because they are trying to transcribe the instructor’s words. By contrast, the use of video, for instance, video clips from YouTube which reflects the culture background for the translation text, and other prerecorded media puts lectures under the control of the students: they can watch, rewind, and fast-forward as needed.

However, the flipped classroom may not always yield positive results. Although the idea is straightforward, an effective flip requires careful preparation. Recording lectures require time and effort on the faculties’ part, and out-of-class and in-class elements must be carefully integrated for students to understand the model and be motivated to prepare for class. As a result, introducing a flip can mean additional work and may require new skills for the instructor.

Some students, for their part, may complain about the loss of face-to-face lectures, particularly if they feel the assigned video lectures are available to anyone online. Students with this perspective may not immediately appreciate the value of the hands-on portion of the model, wondering what their tuition brings them that they could not have gotten by surfing the web.

Another disadvantage of relying on video lectures, is that students may have little chance to explore any cultural and contextual background information. Therefore, they can not translate in a communicative context, and basically regard the task as purely academic and impractical.

I see the idea of a flipped classroom as a great start in that direction. I truly believe, by integrating this new environment, we will see the change in the learning habits of our students.


  1. Hi Hailan,

    Thank you for thoughtful response. I feel that the benefits of the flipped classroom that you outline in relation to your translation class would apply equally to many students, particularly those who have English as an L2 (which you made mention of). With regard to the disadvantage of having little opportunity to explore the cultural and contextual aspects, perhaps this would be followed up in the subsequent class or reference could be made on the video that further elaboration on these aspects will occur during class. Of course culture is embedded in language so this may not always be easy!

    1. Hi Cathy,
      Thanks for your comments. We set up one assessment of Contextual Studies Portfolio(including oral presentation) of a domain relevant to elementary interpreting practice, which will introduce students to real world practices, and enable students to enhance their multicultural understanding, as a prerequisite to interpreting and to communicate culturally specific information into an understandable format in the target language. The feedback I received so far is very positive. I appreciate your suggestion and support.

  2. Hi Hailan

    I like your comment about the fact that the loss of face to face may make the students think that their fees are not well spent but I think if the flipped activities are well prepared, students will probably be able to measure the quality of the online activity and appreciate the fact that they can do the activity anytime anywhere and therefore overcom their forst impression. For teachers, the design of such activities will be extremely time consuming at first, I agree with you, because it triggers a serious reconsideration of teaching material, of alignment of learning outcomes and activities/assessment that are very beneficial but long. However when the material is ready, it is ready for a certain number of years and necessitates only quick maintenance/update.

    1. Hi Laurence,
      Thanks for your comments. You are right. Preparation of teaching material is very time consuming, in particular, in my interpreting class, we use a lot of audio materials for practice. There are very little Australian context interpreting training materials; we have to write simulated dialogues, speeches and scenarios and role-playing and video record them. Such preparation is a huge job. However, as you said, we have built up our audio materials bank gradually after several years, which is for once and always. It is no doubt, the whole unit, teachers and students started to get benefit from it.

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