How to go beyond the basics of Flipped Learning

1. Coming to class prepared

Never one to be satisfied with traditional, time-tested educational approaches, Matthew Stoltzfus started experimenting with Flipped Learning in 2012. At the time, this general chemistry teacher at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Oh., was looking for a way to break out of the traditional notes/lecture method of teaching his 2-semester class. “I began looking into ways to improve instruction,” Stoltzfus recalled, “and learned about the flipped classroom/peer instruction model being used by Eric Mazur at Harvard.”

After researching the methods that Mazur was using, Stoltzfus started making content – both online videos and textbook material – available to students before they came into class. He also incorporated pre-lecture assignments, an online homework system called “mastering chemistry,” and a polling system (which allows him to see who is and isn’t prepared for class) into the mix. His ultimate objective is to have students review content and gain some understanding of it before class.

“I can then give them a poll question in class to get a gauge on where they are,” he explained, “and how fast I can move through the lower-level content to get to the more complex topics.”

Watch Stoltzfus’ TEDxOhioState talk on why he flipped his classroom:

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He has students work individually at first, and then breaks them up into groups in order to leverage peer instruction. “Research has shown that that’s the best practice, rather than just saying, ‘Hey go ahead and work with your neighbor,’” Stoltzfus noted. “You want them to have ownership of their answers and to start thinking about the content before they begin any group work.”

Watch his short video demonstration of his flipped Chemistry course:

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Looking back on the time he’s spent honing his Flipped Learning techniques, Stoltzfus said he’s happy with the results. “It’s going great, but of course anytime you introduce a new idea there will be some small tweaks to make along the way. That’s really the only way to make a new concept work in the classroom.”

2. Taking the right approach

With the online goal of moving direct instruction from the group learning space to the individual learning space, Jerry Overmyer, mathematics and science outreach coordinator at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Co., helped establish the Flipped Learning Academy at his institution. Through this effort, a group of UNC educators has allocated a semester to figuring out the most effective approach to Flipped Learning on campus.

Calling online video “secondary,” in the Flipped Learning environment, Overmyer said the group is focused on creating dynamic, active learning environments. “The last thing we want UNC students to say is, ‘Oh, we don’t have to go to class because the lectures are on video,’” he explained. “We want them to say, ‘We have to go to class because that’s where the actual learning takes place.’”

Nursing students, for example, will be able to experience clinical situations and applications in even the most introductory classes. Other professors are experimenting with more in-class group work and/or activities that go beyond the scope of a single student.

Overmyer sees this type of hands-on pedagogy as particularly vital in an age where online learning is gaining ground, yet not always as respected as traditional or classroom learning.

“We live in a YouTube world where students are going to wonder why they’re even in college in the first place when they can learn everything online,” he said. “Students are going to feel like they’re being ripped off if Flipped Learning is based solely on videos.” He points to the college algebra teacher who decided to point students to online videos and then sit at the head of the class to answer questions as an example of how not to implement a Flipped Learning initiative. “Taking a bad pedagogical lecture and putting it on video is the wrong approach.”

(Next page: One lecture at a time)