Marc Prensky-A Huge Leap for the Classroom

Marc Prensky, a preeminent author and commentator on education and the impacts technology has on education, presents a compelling argument for a flipped classroom and increased peer-to-peer interaction in his 2011 article A Huge Leap for the Classroom.

Prensky outlines the need for a paradigm shift in education. He cites Sal Kahn and his work with Kahn Academy as critically important and effective in teaching and reaching today’s students.  “Kahn’s approach improves pedagogy by allowing one of the best ‘explainers’  [teachers] to be the one who does the explaining to all, by making those explanations infinitely repeatable, and by utilizing class time in the most productive way.” Here, Prensky is talking to the power of a flipped classroom, one where the teachers records and delivers content via video presentation and the students are assigned that video for homework.  Class time, now devoid of heavy content delivery, can be used by the teacher to answer questions, supplement content and work with students in a small group basis.  Prensky cites the research based success of one-on-one tutoring as the foundation for this model.

A flipped classroom is good, Prensky argues, but it can be better.  The feasibility of one-to-one teacher/student ratio borders on the impossible.  With social norms and budgetary concerns, this model is unsustainable and is a political non-starter.  What is possible, Prensky argues, is the ability to use students during class time, as one-to-one tutors.

To illustrate his point, Prensky takes the reader to the classroom of  Physics Professor Eric Mazur of Harvard.  Mazur, frustrated with the delivery model of a lecture based classroom and the lack of impact it had on student understanding, ventured into the world of a flipped classroom. Mazur would record content and require his students to watch the lectures the night before class.  This gave a learning benefit to his students, but the benefit was limited.

Still pushing forward, Mazur, along with other Harvard colleagues, developed software called Learning Analytics.  This software allows for the teacher to electronically pose questions to students in class about the previous nights’ content.  This software allows the teacher to review student responses in real-time and assess the retention of information and the level of content mastery.  Mazur takes it a step further.  Once the question is posed and responses given, Mazur groups students and forces them to justify their answers to each other.  The groupings vary, and some models advocate to group those who grasp the concept with those who do not, while others call for students to find another with a different answer and convince the other that their answer is the correct one.

The approach of having students ‘tutor’ each other has multiple advantages.  First, it provides for better conceptual understanding.  Secondly, it allows for individuals who have similar thought patterns and logic sequences to explain concepts to each other, an act that improves content mastery.  This approach forces everyone in the classroom to be both teachers and learners.

As this approach progresses, Mazur has added cameras and microphones to the classroom to record and analyze student interaction and feedback.  Also, as the software develops, teachers can pinpoint who gave what answer and where that individual was sitting.  This allows for more efficient and beneficial groupings.

The power of this approach is embedded conceptually in the use of class time.  If one can separate the idea of content delivery during class and use that time for a more beneficial action, like Mazur has done at Harvard, students will learn more and retain their learning.

This approach is fascinating and it can be seen in many online classes.  Students are grouped and allowed to teach and learn from each other in an asynchronous manner.  It is difficult to surmise the application of this to a k-12 classroom.  If students are engaged and if they watch and attend to the content delivery at home, this system can work.  However, if students have struggled with homework completion prior to utilization of this model, why would they attend to content delivery at home and watch the videos? If that happens, the system falls apart.

Below is a video by Marc Prensky in which he speaks of the the changing role of the teacher.  I thought it fit this article well.

Prensky, M. (2011). A huge leap for the classroom. Educational Technology, Retrieved from



Filed under Pedagogy

3 responses to “Marc Prensky-A Huge Leap for the Classroom

  1. I think that Marc is right on in suggesting that using students as peer tutors would extend the concept of the flipped classroom. Research on traditional lectures vs active student engagement shows significant gains in achievement by using active learning methods.
    I believe that these methods could all be used in the “flipped classroom.

  2. Greg,
    The flipped classroom described is really a good fit for the college or online classroom. Valuable components are there: student accountability, cooperative learning, students as teachers, teachers as facilitators and an efficient use of time.
    I agree that for K-12, this model would be a tall order. Even if appropriate technology were available at home for all, parental involvement would be necessary for children to follow through on their responsibilities. Unless you had exceptional students and parents, most K-12 students would not be mature enough to consistently attend to their homework.

  3. jsprangers

    I had not heard of “flipped” classrooms until very recently. To me, this idea has great merit. Is it not better to spend our time in the classroom moderating student learning activities rather than being the center of attention? Perhaps it is time to retire the “sage-on-the-stage”.

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