Blog Post

Why Flip the Classroom, When It Can Dive Deep and Soar? #dukesurprise w Cathy Davidson and Dan Ariely

Why Flip the Classroom, When It Can Dive Deep and Soar?  #dukesurprise w Cathy Davidson and Dan Ariely


I've asked the question before, in my series for Fast Company:  why flip the classroom, when we can make it do cartwheels?    That post suggests that flipping the classroom is just the beginning.  Having students do the readings and the homework before class (typically, on line) and then using the classroom for individualized problem solving is already an exciting variation on the standard lecture class, personalizing and making the face-to-face more inspiring than a typical lecture sometimes is, can be a good start---but why end there?


This morning, preparing for class by reading over thirty-five public blog posts for "Surprise Endings:  Social Science and Literature," the class I'm team-teaching with Dan Ariely, I've realized the "flipping" metaphor is way too, well, flippant, for what is happening on line, in public, with very difficult and varied texts, even before we enter the classroom.   When you are making connections between a 2005 Science  article on attention blindness, a 2011 Harvard Business Review piece on corporate collaboration, Simmel's classic 1914 essay "The Stranger," Shklovsky's 1917 "Art as Technique," Noam Chomsky on the failures of Artificial Intelligence, and tutorials for Final Cut Pro X, you aren't flipping.  You are going very deep, thinking about connections that didn't exist before, and then, on a public class blog, displaying your ideas, your insights, and your questions to your classmates, an instructional team, your profs, and the world at large.


That's like a deep dive off the high board with a crowd watching.   It's normally the prof who puts disparate readings together but, in this pedagogical experiment, the students, after just one day of class, are doing it for themselves.  


The method of the class is they work out these ideas publicly on line among themselves, then a project team (today it will be the four TA's in the class) reads through it all, assembles it into a concise interview, and interviews Dan and me on camera.   In a week, the edited video of our conversation will be posted on the Duke YouTube channel for the public.   Once it is up, it becomes the raw material for that project team to remix into the most exciting, interactive public online learning experience they can dream up.  At the end of the course, those will all be posted on line too. 


But today, before going into class, before the camera starts to roll and Dan and I do our thing (NB:  I can hardly wait!!), I am sitting here in awe:   I have read what thirty-five people have written about attention blindness, art, the strangers amongst us.   They have written with such insight and compassion, sometimes with humor, but always with a deep intellectual seriousness that leaves me awestruck.  It's not flipping, it is soaring.


I have gotten in more than a little trouble over the years for deciding to abolish the term paper in favor of the long, thoughtful essayistic public blog plus collaborative team project work.  When I read blog posts like these offered today, after only one class, I am happier than ever that the course doesn't end with the panicked rush to turn in the research paper on time and then my panicked rush to mark and get in the grades for 35 of them in three or four days.   Instead, I read each blog post pretty much as it was written, sometimes responded (but not too much:  that took restraint, by the way!).  Then, just now, I reread them again and, after I post this blog, I'll go back and review the readings.  I know I will read the assigned reading differently because of the range of interesting opinions, insights, and puzzles my students have given me and all of us. 


There is something different about reading and writing in public, before a teacher has told you what he or she thinks.   There is something sparkling and deep about processing one's own complex ideas and questions and grappling with those in the blog format, in a blog mostly read by the other students but available to anyone with an Internet connection.  


You can feel it in the prose.


This is not the "In this paper, it shall be argued that" pomposity that too many smart students think is the essay form.   It is a genuine reaching after insight.   In public.  So there is some of the polish of the five-paragraph essay, some of the form, but also spontaneity and more possibility for doubt, for questions asked, not answers polished into essay form but not really resolved.


It doesn't have to be either/or.  



I know that. You could do blogs and term papers.  But, given the history of our students, they would still see the term paper as the important part and I'm not so sure.  This first dive into the material, all the surprises, all the connections, all the experience of reading one's classmates' posts . . .  It's fascinating.  Personally, I would rather read these mini-essays each week (they average between 750 and 1000 words---and we did not give them a word count, as I recall:  that's a lot of weekly writing) than have the pile of written-to-the-buzzer term papers at the end of the course.


Read them for yourself.   Pretty incredible what students come up with when challenged to do so and given a platform. 


Nothing flippant about this flipping.  They are diving deep.  And soaring.   


You can read their posts here:

And here's this week's assignment about which they are blogging: 




Reading Response Instructions:

  1. Read the selected readings above.
  2. After completing the readings, add a Reading Response comment to the comment space beneath this January 14th schedule post. Be sure that you use your login to sign in so that your Reading Response is recorded attached to your pseudonym.
  3. Your Reading Response Comment should answer these three questions for at least three of the five (one which is optional) posted readings: 1) What did you learn in this reading? or, After reading this text, what are you inspired to learn more about? 2) What questions do you have about this reading? 3) What is a well-formed question about or related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?
  4. Our presentation group will then use the questions to help us formulate our 45 minute class interview. Good luck!





Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, a 10,000+ network committed to new modes of collaboration, research, learning, and institutional change.  Along with a steering committee of scholars across many fields, Davidson has been directing HASTAC's operations since 2006, when moved to Duke University, where she also co-directs the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge.   She is author of The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and  Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press). She is co-PI on the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions.  In October 2012, she and David Theo Goldberg, HASTAC's cofounders, were named Educator of the Year by the World Technology Network.   NOTE:  The views expressed in Cat in the Stack blogs and in NOW YOU SEE IT are solely those of the author and not of HASTAC, nor of any institution or organization. Davidson also writes on her own author blog, .  The paperback of Now You See It was published July 31, 2012 :



It seems - to me - that your questions and approaches in this course correspond to the late David Jonasson's "Open-Ended, unstructured questions" and you ought to have predicted that inspiration produces new insight.... And that insights are a lot more fun than filling in blanks or bubble tests.

Congratulations on your students' rediscovering Jonasson's taxonomy of questions, since that's the heart of both literacy and media literacy.... Working through such stuff in a peer-oriented seminar is like tap dancing through a jungle, and it's very nice indeed that people like each other in such a setting. On the other hand, one analog to this kind of unstructured question is what's going on in Congress - and, if they don't like each other at the beginning, they can learn to hate by the time they define problems in mutually understood terms.

And the irony of the richness of your student responses - and your commentaries - is that these questions were intentionally structured, rather than unstructured, and it was how they spanned disciplines, eras, and research methodologies that produced the kind of synergistic new ideas your students - and you - found intriguing. I'm not sure whether this actually expands beyond the Jonasson vision of "unstructured," or whether it just adds nuance to how and why some structures are inspirational while others limiting.

Congratulations - to both students and teachers - on embarking on a journey the end of which is yet to know.


If most students are like me, they came to college thinking that they could probably do well in their classes by doing all the reading the night before an exam or the day before a final paper was due. For the most part, I followed that path in high school because I saw no real benefit to completing all of the reading on time. I could make some insightful comments in class after just skimming through the readings during passing period. 

As a senior at Duke, I can honestly say that I was able to do really well in many of my college classes by skimming and reading at the last minute. I adopted my high school ways in courses that I felt didn't reward me for being good about keeping up with the readings (i.e. classes in which there was little to no discussion).

But I have learned the most in the classes that required online reflective posts on the weekly readings. It's true that those classes were challenging and sometimes frustrating because I couldn't be my high school self, but those were also the classes that I learned the most because I engaged with the material on a much more profound level. In addition, I knew that my peers, TAs, and professor would be reading, and more importantly, judging what I said in my online posts.

Thus, the process of writing in public causes you to question your own views and beliefs because there is the likelihood that someone out there might be critical of them. And that process of playing devil's advocate engenders the ultimate form of reflection and understanding.