Electronic gadgets are having an effect everywhere, including the classroom, where some teachers are swapping tedious lectures for slick, digital presentations, available at students' fingertips.
Instead of spending entire class periods lecturing about a new topic, two Belleville West High School teachers have their students watch videos online, and then spend the class time working problems and going more in-depth with the subject. This type of learning is often referred to as a "flipped" classroom because students are watching lectures at home and doing work in class.
Teachers and students say the approach is proving to be a productive way to learn, but at least one expert warns that electronic tools, just like old-fashioned books, are only effective if the users take full advantage of them.
Though both West science teacher Joe Lombardi and math teacher Austin Betz use a flipped classroom approach, they do it in slightly different ways.
Lombardi, who is also the science department chair at West, is trying a flipped classroom approach with his advanced-placement biology class this year. However instead of his students watching videos of Lombardi doing lessons, he asks them to watch videos created by science teacher Paul Andersen, who lives in Montana. Andersen provides the videos free to all teachers at www.bozemanscience.com.
"There's no difference between what I would have said and what he's saying," Lombardi explained. "A student is no longer limited to the knowledge of one teacher. They have the opportunity to learn from multiple sources (with technology)."
The video lectures run from 5 to 12 minutes.
"The purpose of those videos is to give them (students) a pretty solid foundation of the topic we will be discussing the next day," Lombardi said. "It gives me a full hour with them the next day to delve into the topic and access informally how they understand the information we're dealing with."
Unlike Lombardi, Betz does create his own instructional videos for students in his advanced-placement calculus class.
An interactive whiteboard application on his iPad called Doceri allows Betz to record his lessons.
"Everything I do on the app can be recorded as a screencast. It records the audio, too," Betz said. "It makes it really easy to record those videos and post it to the website."
He uploads the videos, which run from 3 to 30 minutes, to a Google website he created at mrbetz.com, where students access the videos.
"I try to keep them pretty short," Betz said. "A few short videos are more effective than a couple of long ones. One big lesson can be broken up in four or five mini lessons."
If a student is struggling on one particular topic, he or she can find the video on that area and watch it again.
Students cannot see Betz in the video lessons he creates. They can hear him as he goes through a lesson via a PowerPoint presentation that includes him working problems on a digital board.
Betz's calculus class is only partially flipped, as he typically has his students watch two or three instructional videos prior to class each week.
Before class on a recent Tuesday, Betz's calculus students were asked to watch a 14-minute lecture video Betz posted on his website about graphing functions. As of class time, the video had 10 views (including one by a BND reporter) on Betz's channel at YouTube. The class has 21 students.
After class, Betz said it's typical to have about half the students watch a video prior to class. The videos typically get additional views after the class period, he said.
Julie Tonsing-Meyer, an assistant professor of education at McKendree University in Lebanon, said a flipped classroom is not effective if students don't watch the lecture video prior to class. "It defeats the purpose of what the teacher is trying to do," she said.
Betz spent a few minutes at the start of class summarizing what students should have learned from the video before diving into solving problems displayed on a projector screen using the Doceri application on his iPad. Anything Betz wrote on his iPad appeared on the screen for all his students to see.
Senior Bailey Martin-Giacalone described the flipped classroom as "definitely different but in a good way. You get a lot of time in class to talk about individual problems," said Bailey, who is also taking Lombardi's advanced-placement biology class.
Classmate Joseph Huelskamp said the videos are a quick way to learn a lesson. "It's a lot faster than writing stuff on the chalkboard," he said.
One student, who didn't watch the video prior to class, said he didn't have time the night before because of other commitments. He said he followed the lesson in class "for the most part."
The flipped classroom approach was popularized by high school teachers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman, who wrote a book called "Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day," according to Tonsing-Meyer, who teaches undergraduate, graduate and doctorate level technology-integration courses at McKendree's School of Education.
Tonsing-Meyer said educator Salman Khan, with the nonprofit organization Khan Academy, also promotes online educational videos, which are offered for free at www.khanacademy.org.
"I'm very happy to see the teachers are embracing it," Tonsing-Meyer said of the flipped-classroom approach. "They (teachers) need time and professional development in order to create the videos and get them out to their students."
Another issue associated with having a flipped classroom is ensuring all students have access to the online videos, she said.
Lombardi said none of his biology students have issues with accessing the videos he asks them to watch online. He said students enjoy the freedom the flipped-classroom approach provides.
"It's nice to give them that flexibility to learn on their own time," he said.
In his calculus class, Betz said 19 out of 21 students can access the videos on their smart-phones, and the other students have Internet access at home. "That's something I had to make sure about before I started doing this," he said.
The flipped classroom allows for "better discussion" and "deeper understanding" of the material, according to Betz.
"It gives them (students) a chance to ask questions about things they don't understand," he said. "It allows me to customize what I do in class based on what they learn from the videos."
A vital component of learning math is working problems, and the flipped classroom allows more time for that, Betz said. "It allows much more time interacting with them while they are working problems," he said.
Betz also records the lessons he does in his geometry class for students who miss class or for those who may want to review it again when they get home.
Althoff Catholic High School math teacher Pam Miller also records her lessons done in class for her students.
"I can appreciate technology is here to stay," she said. "It's the way of the future."
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.