Lorena Barba, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Boston University who has blogged extensively on the flipped approach, said she had sought to improve student interaction and engagement for years by improving her lecture.

“But I did not know what was wrong with [my lectures], exactly,” Barba said.

Then, during a web search on ways to create more classroom engagement, Barba came across an article, “Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class,” which includes research supporting the basis of the flipped learning approach. Barba also read the findings of Eric Mazur, a Harvard physics professor who has become a sort of flipped-learning evangelist in higher education.

“There was not something particularly wrong with my lectures,” she said. “The problem is lectures themselves.”

Professors and instructors who have recorded lectures and posted podcasts and other multimedia functions to their course websites for years have a built-in advantage over peers who want to move from the traditional lecture-and-homework model to the flipped classroom, Barba said.

“I found myself in an advantageous position, in this sense, having been experimenting with screencasts of lectures for several years now. I have command of the practicalities of producing video lectures, editing them, uploading and distributing,” she said. “Creating an active and engaged learning environment is automatic when flipping a class, and with today’s technology for creating multimedia learning materials, it can be done without losing any of the content.”

Flipping a classroom or lecture hall doesn’t mean college students can skate through a course, failing to watch online lectures and coming to class without a clue of what will be discussed. The flipped model—just like its traditional predecessor—relies on student accountability.

“It’s a shared responsibility, and students know they need to take more responsibility for their education in this approach,” Oliveira said, adding that his students take mandatory quizzes after watching an online lecture, and hand in the assignment when they return to the lecture hall later that week. “But I think they eventually do take that responsibility, because … they appreciate the fact that they can learn in this different way.”

Students in Oliveira’s kinesiology course took on that responsibility, if the class’s survey results are accurate. Seven in 10 students said they watched online lectures more than once before a discussion section, while four in 10 said they came to the kinesiology class with “more questions and interest” about the course content.

The UMD survey showed that flipped learning is not without its critics.

One student respondent said the video lectures were “dreadfully boring” and made it “hard to stay engaged,” while a classmate said the in-class discussions and online lectures “seemed repetitive.”

Another UMD student complained that the course was not labeled as a flipped class before the semester began.


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