Jaclyn MacLeod


Jaclyn MacLeod


Cape Breton University




Online learning is no longer a futuristic idea. A large number of students in post-secondary institutions are enrolling in some form of online learning. We are now seeing the addition online courses in our high schools as well. While the idea of a full course online at the high school level still seems like too much for some, instructors are finding ways to incorporate online learning into their traditional classrooms.

The concept of a flipped classroom as a type of online learning is becoming more popular. A flipped allows students to receive the content of the lesson at home so that time in class can be spent practicing and developing. While the creation of a flipped classroom can be overwhelming for an instructional designer, the use of effective tools can make things a lot easier. Google Apps for Education is a collection of cloud-based programs that work seamlessly together and can be used effectively to help develop a flipped classroom model.


Online learning, Flipped Classroom, Google Apps for Education


Click the link that follows to access the video resourcesUsing GAfE to Flip a Classroom (10:23)


Have you ever wanted to learn how to play the piano? Does the job you want to apply for require WHMIS certification? Do you want to be a computer programmer? No matter what you want to learn, there is probably a way to do it online.

With the advancement of technology and a society that is more globally connected than ever, online learning is becoming much more common. High schools in Nova Scotia are offering courses online through virtual school and secondary institutions are offering select courses or entire programs online. Instructors are working technology into their lessons through blended learning and flipped classrooms and workplaces are offering online training and professional development.

The Canadian Digital Learning Research Association conducted a yearly survey from 2017-2019 with hopes to track the development of online, distance and digital learning in post-secondary institutions in Canada. In both 2018 and 2019 Canadian post-secondary institutions saw an increase of about 10% in the number of students registering in some form of online learning (Johnson, 2019). In addition, it was reported that in 2018 roughly 1 in 5 Canadians students were taking at least one course online for credit (Canadian Digital Learning Research Association, 2019).

While the number of high school students taking virtual classes is also on the rise, the number of students who will take their first online course in a post-secondary institution is high. Students are taking these courses will little to no experience with online learning. Students new to the online learning model often have trouble managing their time and staying motivated among other things (Kumar, 2015). Introducing students to online learning in high school will help ease the transition into post- secondary education (Virtual High School, 2018).

This does not have to be done through courses presented fully online. Instructors can introduce their students to online learning through blended learning, hybrid learning or flipped classrooms, which will be the focus of this literature review. Specifically, the research presented will consider how the use of Google Apps for Education (GAFE), can be used to support a flipped classroom.

Literature Review

A flipped classroom is a learning model in which instruction typically reserved for the classroom is done online at home while class time is reserved for working through problems and collaborating with peers (Tucker, 2012). Flipped learning was first introduced by a Harvard instructor, Eric Mazur, in the 1990’s. Mazur would create packages for students to complete and reflect on beforehand and use class time to challenge students in deeper thought and peer collaboration (Advanced HE, 2018).

It was in the mid-2000’s that two high school chemistry teachers, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, popularized the concept when looking for a way to allow student who were absent in class to catch up without having to reteach the lesson. They posted their lessons online and found that even students who were present in class were making use of them (Tucker, 2012).

Bergmann and Sams (2012) came to the realization that they were most needed in the classroom when students need individual help and not when they were receiving content. In a flipped classroom model, students can receive content on their own time so that instructors can provide individual attention to students during class time. According to Bergmann and Sams (2012) a flipped classroom is better suited to today’s students who have access to the internet, YouTube, social media and a variety of other digital resources. They feel that students are already living in a digital world and flipping a classroom just brings learning into their world.

Benefits of a Flipped Classroom

A flipped classroom has the ability to meet the needs of wide range of students through differentiation. “[A]dopting the [flipped classroom] approach allows instructors to dedicate class time to active learning exercises where they can participate with students. For example, instructors can in-class discussions, moderate debates, or supervise students engaged in individual or group work.” (Berrio Matamoros, 2016, p18). Because of the class time freed up by the flipped classroom model, instructors can spend more time on activities based on the differentiated needs of the classroom.

As Berrio Matamoros (2016) mentions, a flipped classroom approach allows more time for instructors to work with students individually or in small groups. Small group instruction allows each student to receive more of the instructors focused attention and provides more opportunity for students to ask questions and receive clarification about the learning (Meador, 2019). Small group instruction has also been linked to increased confidence in academic ability and a more positive attitude toward the subject matter (Cooper & Robinson, 1998).

The video lessons of a flipped classroom allow students to take in a lesson at their own pace. Students can pause, rewind and re-watch lessons. This means the limits on instructional time no longer dictate how much or how little time we spend on a lesson. Students who need more clarification on a subject can pause a video and do some research online or reach out to a classmate for discussion. On the other hand, students who prefer a faster paced course and are often bored by a slow pace can work through the videos at a faster pace. (Bergmann & Sams, 2012). Bergmann and Sams (2012) also found that by switching to a flipped classroom model they spent less time having to deal with classroom management issues. Since they were not standing in front of the room talking at the students, a time when most students lost focus, students spent their class working through activities and the amount of disruptions were reduced.

Finally, flipping a classroom as been known to foster parental involvement in student education. In a study on parent engagement in flipped classrooms 14 out of 16 parents of students in a flipped classroom reported watching the videos themselves (Bond, 2019). Bergmann and Sams (2012) explain that parents know what the students are learning and how they are behaving during instructional time because that part of the learning is happening at home. They also noted that, because the home becomes an important part of the learning environment parents and teacher can work together to diagnose the problem if a student isn’t being successful.

Challenges of a Flipped Classroom

One common challenge with any type of online learning is lack of access to technology. Depending on the school, it is likely that an instructor may find themselves with students who don’t have the use of a device outside or school or access to reliable internet. According to Statistics Canada (2019) only 94% of Canadian households are connected to the internet. If you are teaching in a low-income area the problem is exasperated. In 2014 the Huffington Post reported that only 62% of low-income families have access to the internet at home (Freeman, 2014).  Students who do not have reliable access to technology at home will not be able to complete the required lessons before class as expected.

A lack of student preparation and motivation is another challenge when it comes to flipped classrooms (Honeycutt, 2020). Honeycutt (2020) notes that if students are not completing the pre-requisite activities, they will not be able to take part in the classroom activities without substantial supports. If students are not coming to class prepared the instructor may have to spend class time reviewing the topics covered in the pre-class material or come up with another solution on how to get the students caught up (Honeycutt, 2016).

Another challenge that has been reported when implementing a flipped classroom model is the lack of support by administration (Lo and Hew, 2017). When those individuals whose support is needed are holding onto conventional views of learning it is an uphill battle for the instructor to make it work. A flipped classroom may require a substantial time and financial commitment and a lack of support from those who can provide things like professional development, extra prep time and funding can stop development before it starts (Lo and Hew, 2017).

Finally, a substantial amount of time and effort is required in order to design a flipped classroom model. In a study conducted by Matthew John Caicco (2016) instructors who had flipped their classrooms found that the creation of the instructional media was “a labor-intensive process that adds a significant amount of work to their already busy schedules” (p35). While an increased workload might be a deterrent in the beginning, it is important to note that once a class has been designed, its instructional materials can be reused, often with only minor adjustments from year to year (Course Design, 2018).

Google Apps for Education as an LMS

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is a collection of cloud-based programs designed to be used for educational purposes free of charge (Brown & Hocutt, 2015). GAFE launched in 2010 reaching over 8 million teachers in its first year and continued to grow with a 41% increase in users in the first 5 years (Boost eLearning, 2015). The province of Nova Scotia started a 3-year implementation process in 2015 to introduce Google Apps for Education to every school in the province (Julian, 2015).

GAFE offers features like Google Classroom which can act as a dashboard for the course content, Drive where students and staff can store their work as well as access the shared work of others, Docs which is a web-based word processer and Calendars through which dates and deadline can be tracked and shared with other. These features along with many others work together to promote collaboration with other GAFE users (G Suite for Education, n.d.).

Although often used as a support to in class learning, GAFE offers a number of collaborative learning features that make it usable as a learning management system (LMS) (Widodo, 2017). Pardeshi and Alliwadi (2015) note a number of advantages to using GAFE as an LMS including a high level of security for personal data, automatic saving of all work across all features of GAFE, fast and easy collaboration tools, user friendliness with little time spent on IT management and cost reductions.


Since its introduction to the Nova Scotia school system in 2015, GAFE has become a commonly use resources in many P-12 classrooms. It is user friendly and collaborative and continues to evolve based on new technology and software.

Instructors have a number of different options available to them when choosing which app they will use to present their materials. A shared folder can be created in google drive where students can access all required materials and upload any work they wish to submit. Google sites can be used to create a classroom website in which the instructor can easily embed any GAFE created files and YouTube videos or a shared google calendar can house links to files as well as instructions on specific days so students can keep track of what needs to be completed when. While all of these options may meet the needs of instructors and student, in my experience, the most popular option is the use of google classroom.  Google classroom provides a space for instructors to post comments, materials, videos and assignments. It includes a built-in shared calendar and students can write comments on postings and submit their work.

GAFE has many apps that can be used to create instructional materials. Documents created in google docs can be shared to allow collaboration among students or can be locked so that students must create their own copies to edit and submit. Google forms can be used to create worksheets, assignments or quizzes that automatically submit to the instructor once completed. There are also some great features in google forms to provide students with immediate feedback on their work. In google slides, instructors can create slide presentations with narrations that students can watch and google has created a slides add-on called pear deck through which students can interact with the slide presentations using their mobile device. Once a resource is created it will be automatically saved in google drive and can easily be uploaded into any GAFE platform. Even if material is created outside of GAFE, it can easily be uploaded to google drive and included.

Finally, while GAFE is not specifically designed to allow for a discussion component it does include google hangouts where students can chat with their teachers or classmates through a closed messaging system. This may be useful when students are working at home and feel they need further clarification. They may choose to have a discussion with fellow classmates through google hangouts and depending on availability, may be able to reach their instructor. Instructors can also monitor conversations (if they are included in the chat) to better determine how well students are understanding the material and where further clarification is needed.

Using GAFE in a Flipped Classroom

GAFE is available to all Nova Scotia students and is accessible on all devices. While this does not eliminate the concern for lack of access, it lessens is slightly. Students can access GAFE at a local internet access point, on their cellphone at an establishment that offers free Wi-Fi or on their school computers. No matter where they are, they will have access to all their materials.

GAFE also provides a number of ways that students can check in when working at home in order to stay accountable for their work. For example, students can write reflections by commenting on a post in google classrooms or complete a google form worksheet based on a video they just watched. Through GAFE there are also a number of ways the teachers can reach out to students who do not seem to be keeping up with the at home work to give them a nudge in the right direction.

While the use of GAFE may not change the mind of administrators who are holding on to traditional instruction, the price tag may alleviate some of the financial burden. Google provides GAFE free of charge to teachers and students. Finally, the user friendliness and lack of required development and maintenance provided by GAFE reduces some of the workload for instructors trying to find the time to develop a flipped classroom.

Challenges to using GAFE

Like all LMS using GAFE does have its challenges. GAFE was not designed to be an LMS so it is lacking in a few key areas. For example, GAFE does not have automatic enrollment into classes. Students can either be given a class code to enroll themselves or be added manually by the instructor. In addition, GAFE does not include its own gradebook so grades are required to be tracked in and alternate location (Mullaney, 2015).

While google promotes GAFE as a safe and secure warehouse of student information, there is concern over how secure the information really is. Schools are providing data about their students to a company that makes a great deal of money through the mining of user data (Kurshan, 2017). There is a constant concern amongst students, parents and educators over who has access to the data being stored on GAFE and what it is being used for.


The flipped classroom model is a constructivist learning construct that puts more emphasis on building on concepts through activity and collaboration than on content delivery. Instructors are able to spend more time facilitating and supporting students as they practice knowledge and less time talking at students who may or may not be engaged. While the time and effort required to develop a flipped classroom is obvious, for those teachers who are willing and able to put the work in the benefits can be priceless. While challenges like student access and student motivation may seem like a roadblock, teachers are successfully implementing flipped classrooms every day. That is why it is important to speak with others before diving into the flipped classroom pool. Peer mentoring can be a great resource whenever we want to try something new.

GAFE give us the ability to organize, share and collaborate on a whole new level. Having so many interconnected tools at your fingertips makes creating a user friendly and inviting online classroom space that much easier. GAFE also help ease some of the challenges of developing a flipped classroom. While not specifically designed to be a LMS, it seems that GAFE is a useful tool to support a flipped classroom.


Advanced HE. (2018). Flipped Learning. [Web page]. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/flipped-learning-0

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: reach every student in every class every day. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Berrio Matamoros, A. (2016). Differentiated Instruction in Information Literacy Courses in Urban Universities: How Flipping the Classroom Can Transform a Course and Help Reach All Students. Urban Library Journal, 22 (1). Retrieved from http://academicworks.cuny.edu/ulj/vol22/iss1/1

Bond, Melissa. (2019). Flipped learning and parent engagement in secondary schools: A South Australian case study. British Journal of Educational Technology. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331772755_Flipped_learning_and_parent_engagement_in_ secondary_schools_A_South_Australian_case_study

Boost eLearning. (2015, July 1). Google Apps for Education Anticipated to Reach 110 Million Uses by 2020. Cision PR Newswire. Retrieved from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/google-apps- for-education-anticipated-to-reach-110-million-users-by-2020-300107878.html

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Caicco, M. J. (2016). Teacher Experiences with Flipped Classrooms in Secondary Science. Retrieved from https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/72159/1/Caicco_Matthew_J_201606_MT_MTRP.pdf

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Integration of Instructional Design and Technology to Support Rapid Change Copyright © 2020 by Jaclyn MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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