Flipping Education

As education follows the rest of the world to the cloud, there’s a new paradigm on the horizon

CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis

copyright Hanna-BarberaThings have to change in education, and soon. Everything’s moving to the cloud. For educators, this means a change in their method of curriculum delivery. What could possibly delay such a universal education transformation in this country? Universal access. Every school needs it: broadband and WiFi. And where, in the Industrial Age, it was workers prepared for work in factories — today, we need prepared educators for a Global Information Age.

Looking back, during the Industrial Age schools needed textbooks. Printing presses and the shipping industry got humming so all students, no matter how rural or inner-city, could access similar curriculum cheaply. That meant infrastructure: roads, school locations and so on. Over time, this became reality. With advancements in the auto and shipping industries, every school sooner or later was largely able to get their hands on great, affordable curriculum.

Once again, we stand at a crossroads. Today, all of the great curriculum and other education resources that are and will be delivered will be stored in the cloud. Textbook manufacturing? Rest in peace. The advent of a digital curriculum is now upon us. But access to this curriculum? This requires broadband or satellite connections. And this has become the true challenge for our country: can we give equitable access to every school? As soon as every school has access to broadband sufficient to support streaming on memory-intensive content such as video, audio and animation, then the next real challenge will be to outfit every school with WiFi so as to make this content portable.

Low-cost hardware is here. The future is upon us. We’re simply waiting for education to catch up. But if we truly want to provide our children with 21st-century skills, then we must give them a 21st-century schoolhouse: broadband must reach broadly, to all schools. If we can do it with electricity, then there’s certainly no logical reason that we can’t do it with broadband and satellite.

Do we want to truly transform education? We need to consider our priorities. For example, do we want to improve more physical roads or should we be improving our digital highways? During the last Great Depression, we built highways across America. So why, during the current downturn, can we not put people to work in building our much-needed digital highways? We must give everyone the same access.

Accomplish this, and the rest will follow. Textbooks replaced with e-books, and an e-reader in every child’s hands. Tablets? The norm. The cost and savings to our environment will push the issue, and moving in this direction is even now becoming our only real choice.

Devices will soon self-charge and run on solar power. Schools will become places of light where windows provide classrooms energy. School hours will maximize daylight and schools will run all year deploying stored energy gathered on site as needed. Green school buildings will maximize sun, wind, water and waste. They’ll be cooled and heated more naturally through proper placement of campus-grown vegetation. Rooftops will be places for plants; solar-paneled building sides will help. Captured rainwater will also produce power. Schools will look like homes, rows replaced by open meeting spaces and comfy couches. Small, quiet rooms will provide undistracted study and work areas. And, last but not least, the learning day will flip: what can be taught in a lesson period will take place during free time or evenings. ‘Home’ work and practice will take place in school, ensuring understanding and competence. Group projects will be the norm on interactive tabletops.

Thanks to this new broadband access, parents will work from their smart homes while students will be given the option to connect from home a few times per week if needed; no longer will they be required to physically attend every day of school. Parental support will also be more readily available. A constant connection to the child will be common in this new network of learning.

Tablets will replace backpacks; WiFi classrooms will connect students to unlimited learning tools and resources purchased in bulk by state departments of education and provided as options to schools all feeding into a network of central super computers.

Student performance data will be stored instantly on these super servers at state level and will eliminate the need for most current-day data reporting. State testing will become a thing of the past, replaced by real-time data of student work instantly available to administrators through proper network access. One will always be up on what the child knows and how they compare to their peers.

Digital portfolios of student work will be the norm. A digital footprint for students will be like fossils left in bedrock. All of their work from all of their schooling will be stored and tracked so as to monitor growth and provide immediate intervention as needed. And where will all of this be stored? In the cloud. New positions will open up at the state level for tracking and flagging deficiencies noted in students through online work alerts, notices pinged to educators along with the appropriate customized intervention plan in support of that particular child’s digital learning path.

Teachers will never be replaced — they will, however, evolve. The teacher will become something totally different, a facilitator of knowledge, helping to ensure student learning is accessible and ubiquitous and showing each student the way forward along each student’s own self-selected learning path. It’s time we start to think about the future of education — and to know that, in that future of abundant learning choices and considering where we are currently, we have no choice but to flip learning.

Greg Limperis is Supervisor of Instructional Technology for his district in Lawrence, Mass.  He is the founder of the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. Greg has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st century skills.  

  • Brigitte Hayes


    This is a great post. I think it would be helpful also to paint a picture for the teachers of tomorrow. How will their training differ? What will their work day look like?

  • Angelo Fernando


    Digital portfolios and cloud-based portals, sure. But I have to disagree on one prediction of backpacks being replaced by tablets. It’s too soon to foresee where the books vs devices shift is headed. I recall when many thought paper would be obsolete in offices, hence printers would go the way of the telex. Who would’ve guessed that the Web would encourage a sizable portion of the business people would print out docs for later, offline consumption.

    I’m a big proponent of QR codes, but not *completely* digitized books. I’m optimistic about mobile devices, but I do push my students to sometimes turn off that screen and engage in RL, peer-to-peer work. I realize it’s popular to think that everything, including education is ripe for disruption, but let’s not be too hasty to project our preferences on the next best thing in education.

  • Jeff Lorton


    Greg, Your vision makes sense. As it usually is in education, money is the problem. The eText change will not happen until realistic costs and accessibility issues are solved. We have found that per student costs of devices and eText from the publishers dwarfs the reusable standard textbook cost. My guest post in September outlines the college textbook market challenge. The same hold true for K-12. http://edtechdigest.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/who-are-the-bad-guys-in-the-college-textbook-market/
    Jeff Lorton

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