Piloting Virtual Environments and the Flipped Classroom

Gisele Drpich teaches French 4 at Burlington High School. I recently sat in on one of her classes made up of 17 students in grades 10-12. I did not understand 90% of the language flying back and forth across the classroom, but certain words stood out: global classroom, post, forum, Skype, flip it, film and media. When you walk into Madame Drpich’s classroom, you don’t just enter a traditional classroom. You walk into a highly interactive cross-cultural portal rich with technology and communication.

The traditional foreign language classroom made up of repetitive textbook exercises and oral recitation has evolved in many schools across our country. Madame Drpich is one of the most innovative foreign language teachers using technology in Vermont. She is one of a handful of teachers from the United States involved in VIA: Virtual Intercultural Avenues, a collaborative portal for virtual communication between five schools in the United States, Belgium and France. This is a virtual portal developed by an educator at Essex High School where students and teachers within the participating schools can collaborate on lesson planning, curriculum development, classroom discussions and projects via videoconferencing, email, social media, film and other online communication.

Madame Drpich started piloting elements of a flipped classroom three years ago. The flipped classroom is a model where traditional lectures and direct teaching occur online for homework through video or other interactive media, leaving more time for rich discussions and hands on activities during classroom time. Students in Madame Drpich’s French classes access assignments, lectures, videos, discussion forums and portrals through a moodle on Global Classroom offered through the Burlington School District.

Flipping the classroom allows for students to develop responsibility and accountability. It supports students by allowing them to control how much time they need for learning, review and repetition of key concepts. It also helps students stay organized. The flipped classroom requires careful planning and foresight on the teacher’s part, but allows the teacher to use classroom time more effectively and better asses student understanding and comprehension of material. This pedagogical model allows teachers to have stronger relationships with students through specific feedback and discussion online and in the classroom. It also helps support personalized and proficiency based learning and other skills graduates will need for 21st Century higher education or the work place.

Recent research studies link virtual environments and the flipped classroom to improved memory, creative thinking, SAT scores and allowing students to be more globally competitive. Virtual learning in Vermont has increased by 450% in the past two years alone. It’s anticipated that by 2019, 50% of all high school courses will be offered online. As technology continues to improve and access becomes more equitable, it allows schools to be more flexible and creative with classroom environments and student learning.

I asked a few students in Madame Drpich’s French 4 course about their experience with technology. Sophomore Sally Matson stated, “As a student in Ms. Drpich’s class, I really enjoy the element of interacting with students in other countries through technology. I like that it not only adds an interesting element to our curriculum, but also takes advantage of the resources that we have been given.” Senior Jack O’Sullivan said, “The technology in the classroom has been successful thus far. Global Classroom is great because we can communicate with other people in the class when we do outside work in the forums. We also use VHL, which is the online site for our textbook. That has been working well because it is not only very organized, but it helps us with review for our material.”

For more information on the flipped classroom and virtual portals for learning, I recommend the following resources:

7 Things You Should Know About the Flipped Classroom
Vermont Education Exchange: Collaborative Portal for Vermont Educators
ePals: Where Learners Connect
Vita Learn
Denver Museum of Nature and Science: Distance Learning
Virtual Intercultural Avenues (VIA)
Vista Higher Learning: Live Language

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)