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More college instructors are ‘flipping’ the way they teach

Flipped learning helps students apply knowledge in a new context, proponents say—and they’re seeing strong results

Students say “flipped learning” classes are still the exception, not the rule. But when done right, they make a course both more challenging and more enjoyable.

For years, Scott Freeman taught Biology 180—a gateway class—by standing in front of his students at the University of Washington and lecturing about biological systems, evolution, and the chromosome theory of inheritance.

And Freeman always received great reviews from students, even though 17 percent routinely flunked his class—a failure rate he considered “gruesome.”

Freeman knew what was wrong: His students weren’t adept at applying information in a new context to solve problems, and he told them so. But one day, a student threw the ball back in his court. He just wasn’t doing enough to prepare her for the tests; she needed his help to practice.

“I thought, I am so busted,” Freeman said. “She is right. That still rings in my ears.”

Freeman is now part of a new wave of college instructors who are rethinking the college lecture hall. They’re finding better ways to spot students’ weaknesses, helping them practice new ways of thinking, and shoring up basic materials—often with the aid of new, easy-to-use ed-tech tools.

Some are seizing on a relatively recent idea: “flipping” the class, by turning a lecture or other basic materials into homework, and spending more class time for practice and problem solving. Other colleges are using the new ed-tech toolbox to save money while reaching more students—a necessity in these days of steep budget cuts to higher education.

Students say classes that give them opportunities to practice skills through the concept of “flipped learning” are still the exception, not the rule. But when done right, they make a course both more challenging and more enjoyable.

And new ed-tech tools allow faculty members to home in on the areas where students need the most practice, assistance, and instruction, said Beth Kalikoff, who directs the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Washington.

“There’s every reason to be excited about [flipped learning],” she said. “It’s student-centered. The reason faculty members are seeking it out is that it supports student learning and engagement.”

(Next page: Recorded lectures, virtual labs—and how these are solving key challenges)

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