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Flipping the Meeting

June 21, 2012

How Flipping Works in the Classroom:

In February of this year, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story (here) on a concept that’s gaining popularity in professorial and teaching circles: “flipping the classroom.”  What this means, essentially, is that you give students, as homework, the stuff you traditionally would cover in class, especially lecture materials and background information.  Then, in class, you do the work together that students would normally do as homework, the hands-on, problem-solving work that is where the real learning occurs.

As Dan Berrett, the author of the Chronicle article, puts it: students no longer “passively receive material in class.”  Instead, he says, “they gather the information largely outside of class, by reading, watching recorded lectures, or listening to podcasts.”  Then, when students and teacher are all together in the classroom, students are prepared to do the real business of using the information.  They might work problem sets in groups while the teacher wanders the room and offers assistance, or they might conduct experiments, write responses, present information to one another, or build things.  In this way, the active learning that traditionally occurs at home (where there is little support) now happens in the classroom, while the “boring” and not-very-effective lecture-style information acquisition occurs wherever and whenever students are best prepared to imbibe it: at home, in their dorm rooms, at a coffee shop.

Thanks to technology, flipping the classroom is easier than ever.  A professor can prerecord a lecture, for example, and send it to students via email or a classroom management software, then simply expect them to have the background information when class starts.  This leaves the professor open to dig in with students, discussing and getting into the details of what the information can do.  Professors can also send links to students, allowing them to get a wide range of materials including videos and slide shows, as well as online materials and supporting resources.

Flipping the Meeting:

The same “flipping” concept can be incredibly valuable for managers.  Too many meetings–just like too many class periods–are spent conveying information.  Unfortunately, the research that supports the flipping-the-classroom model suggests that sitting and listening, especially for extended periods, is among the worst ways to absorb new information.  Also, in any meeting you will have those who already know the information, those who grasp it very quickly, and those who need more time with it; individualizing explanations to each person is nearly impossible in the meeting, just as it is in the classroom.

In order to benefit from the “flipping” concept, try sending out a multi-media explanation of any new information (changes in procedure, new people, new directions for the company or division, anything your people will need to absorb) a day or two before the meeting.  But don’t let people just read it or not as they please; this leads to your same old problem of having to repeat all that information in the meeting for those who didn’t read it.  Instead, assign some very simple “homework”: get each individual or team to write down 3 ways the new information will change their daily routine and 2 questions.  They should send these to you by the evening before the meeting, and you should review them.

Then, in the meeting, you can go skip the introductory and background material–the boring stuff that, now, everybody knows–and go straight to answering the questions your people have posed.  Make these anonymous, and let people know they will be anonymous; this will allow them to actually ask the questions on their minds.  You’ll also find that any question posed by one individual or group will be interesting to almost everyone.

After you deal with people’s pre-posed questions, take ten minutes and let people respond, in writing, very informally, to the meeting.  Pose some questions for them to answer, such as, “What do you expect the change to mean for you?” and “How will you use this new information (or process, or whatever) to do your job even better?”  You should also ask what challenges people expect.  Then dismiss the people and let them talk about the change with each other; any experienced teacher will tell you that the students learn as much from each other as from the instructor or the book.

Finally, look over the short responses your people wrote.  What great ideas have they given you about how to make the best use of the new change, process, materials, or what have you?  What challenges do they anticipate, and how might you use a timely email or informal chat to assuage fears and excite people about the challenges and possibilities?  If you give people the freedom to understand and interact with the information on their own, then spend the meeting talking about the feelings and beliefs about that information, as well as showing what can be done with it, you’ll have a much higher success rate–and most likely shorter, more effective meetings.  That should make everyone happy.

“Flipping” the meeting lets your people understand and respond to key background information–and assimilate new information–and thus be prepared to use the meeting effectively, purposefully, and actively.

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