To Flip or Not to Flip? That is the Question!

Canadian philosopher and author Marshall McLuhan introduced the popular phrase “the medium is the message” in his groundbreaking book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man in 1964. McLuhan suggested that mediums carry more than just a message, but can also contain unintended consequences. For example, SmartPhones are a powerful communication tool, but it can also make communication impersonal. Social media has connected friends and family across the globe, but it has quickly become a tool for bullying and narcissism.

Mediums also have the ability to shape our learning experiences, memories, and comprehension. Countless educational technologies and strategies exist to help engage students, represent content differently and provide students with creative ways to demonstrate their understanding. One popular educational model called the Flipped Classroom, combines the power of technology and pedagogy to enhance learning. A typical Flipped lesson begins with a video or online presentation that occurs at home, while students complete assignments and ask questions inside the classroom. According to a 2014 Project Tomorrow survey, 29 percent of classroom teachers in the United States are using or have used the Flipped Classroom pedagogical model.

The very medium used with good intentions could in fact create unintentional learning barriers.

Educators have spent countless hours designing the most engaging and groundbreaking classroom videos; however, does this model work for ALL students? Unfortunately the very medium used with good intentions could in fact create unintentional learning barriers for students with visual impairments, hearing impairments, and without Internet access.

Design is Everything:

The world of architecture can teach educators a valuable lesson, design is everything. Architects are constantly challenged by new laws, regulations, and ordinances to design environments that can be accessible by anyone; however, this was not always the case. Ron Mace was a pioneer of an architectural design movement in the 1970’s called Universal Design, a design concept “usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.

Everyday examples of Universal Design such as ramps, curb cuts, closed-captioning, automatic doors, and fire alarms with strobe lights were designed to provide accessibility. Designing accessible environments begins with identifying high-probability barriers and intentionally designing modifications to provide access to anyone, regardless of ability or disability.

Challenges of Flipping

Today’s classrooms contain a diverse learning ecosystem, containing different learning abilities, interests, and backgrounds. It is no longer acceptable to design learning experiences with an average learner or medium in mind. What if we were to identify and plan ways to overcome potential high-probability barriers in the very methods, materials, and assessments used in our lessons? How would it change the way we flip our classroom?

Here are some basic ways that you can flip your classroom and still meet the needs of your students:

Helping Hearing Impaired Students

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears,” which increases the probability that most educators will have a student with hearing impairments during their career. How can we utilize the power of flipping our classrooms, while still meeting the needs of students with hearing difficulties?

  • Where a video is published can make all of the difference because of some of the advanced accessibility tools that exist. YouTube’s advanced speech recognition features provide automatic closed-captioning on many published videos. Although it is not a perfect solution, it helps students with hearing impairments understand the video.
  • Many school districts across the country still restrict students using YouTube; therefore, you may want to consider providing students with a transcript of the video. Google recently introduced a new Voice Typing feature in Google, which takes a user’s voice and transfers it to text in Google Docs. While you are recording your video, you may want to use the Voice Typing feature to develop a transcript. Whether they are hearing impaired or just need to read while listening, this is quickly becoming a popular method in how online courses are developed.

Helping Students without Access to Technology or the Internet

Even in the 21st Century, we cannot assume that every student in our classroom has access to the Internet and technology. Many students do not have access to computers, tablets, and the Internet at home for a variety of reasons, such as poverty, religious beliefs, and even parental choice. According to the 2014 US Census Report, 83 percent of US households have a computer and only 73 percent have Internet access. How can we help students have access to technology outside of the classroom?

  • Community building is an important part of creating a learning environment. As part of your getting to know you activities, survey students at the beginning of the year if they have technology and Internet access.
  • Rather than alienating the students who do not have technology or Internet access, it may be a good idea to have help ALL students come up with a “back-up” plan if their device breaks, the Internet goes down, or they don’t have access. Help your students find places such as the library, a friend’s home, or a coffee shop.
  • You may want to have a USB flash drive containing the video for students who have a computer, but no access to the Internet. Flash drives have become increasingly inexpensive over the years, which makes this option very affordable.
  • Ask parents and students to help create a borrowing library of old devices, such as old cell phones, iPods, etc. Old devices still have the ability to connect to WiFi, which makes it a perfect option for students who do not have technology, but need to borrow a device to watch the lesson.


As technology accelerates the way our students consume and create, it is important to realize that every medium shapes our learning experiences, memories, and comprehension in both positive or negative ways. Marshall McLuhan suggested that mediums also carry unintended consequences. Flipping a classroom is engaging and exciting, but it can also create unintentional learning barriers for students with visual impairments, hearing impairments, and without Internet access.  Overcoming the barriers that exist in any medium begins with recognizing and planning for its barriers. When we plan for the needs of ALL learners, we reduce high-probability barriers that occur in the lesson and provide each student access to learning.


About Matt:

Matt Bergman is currently a Technology Integration Coach at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. He is responsible for helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms, while providing ongoing professional development throughout the school year.  Matt has designed several graduate courses on Universal Design for Learning for teachers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey. He is a member of CAST’s Professional Learning Cadre and recently developed a five-hour online professional development course on UDL for teachers in Florida. Matt has made presentations at Harvard University, ISTE, Towson University, and Clarion University. For more ideas or questions, please feel free to check out his blog, follow him on Twitter @mattbergman14, or contact him at


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Alexandra E Rust.

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