Why flipping the core is not sacrilege in higher education

Flipping core subject courses for undergrads could yield better engagement, as long as educators keep 3 considerations in mind.

flipping-core-psychAs a proud recipient of an arts and sciences undergraduate degree, I fondly look back on the cattle call that was course selection for my first semester of college. It was common knowledge that you wanted to knock out as many core classes as possible right out of the gate.

Weeks had been spent leading up to this day, perusing the course catalog and reading and re-reading course descriptions. Let’s face it, as entering freshmen it’s not uncommon to have no idea what you want to be when you grow up. And though the ‘undeclared’ status is daunting, every class you take teeters on the edge of the thought, “Maybe this is the class that will spark my drive for a career.”

I admit, as I searched for the perfect course to fulfill my freshman-level intro psychology requirement, my mind went all “Silence of the Lambs” and the thought of being a future Agent Starling was oddly appealing. So I signed up for Psych 101 and that was that.

It was a lecture class—an “Intro to Psychology” lecture class: 50 minutes of straight lecture three days a week, draining any possible interest in pursuing psychology out of my body. I remember it like it was yesterday.

This memory isn’t something I cling to in an unhealthy way. Instead, it came pouring back as I interviewed Fairfield University’s Associate Professor of Psychology, Michael Andreychik, for a technology spotlight series on our College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Andreychik is a two-year veteran of classroom flipping for his ‘entry-level’ general psych course and, most recently, his more advanced research methods course.

Flipping classes in undergrad psych? Say it with me – insane!

Except not remotely.

Andreychik explained, “Two-thirds of the class really like it.” After a night’s lecture assignment, students walk into the classroom with an expected quiz followed by a classroom or small-group activity. Reviewing the assigned lecture among peers, unfettered by an hour of non-collaborative listening, empowers the students to learn deeply and actively.

What about the other third of the class? Andreychik attributes this to learning style or the expectation that the student will engage in class. Staring blankly at a speaking professor is rarely an option in a flipped classroom.

But before flipping, there are some considerations to keep in mind:

1. Get a Toolbelt

In every student’s online folder is a nightly assignment. Andreychik uses Explain Everything to narrate over a PowerPoint or video. The quizzes are performed directly through the learning management system (LMS), in Fairfield University’s case, Blackboard.

In class, Andreychik uses Poll Everywhere during the group activities to facilitate collaboration in reaching a best answer. Hands-on activity followed by a Poll Everywhere quiz. Rinse. Repeat.

2. Don’t Double Efforts Unnecessarily

Although Andreychik is only at year two with flipped classrooms, in alignment with the pace of technology, he has already learned a thing or two. Admittedly, he got perhaps a little too excited initially and went ‘all in’ on technology use in the assignments.

For example, ‘recording for the sake of recording’ made him realize fairly swiftly that he was avoiding requiring students to read for some reason, to the detriment of his own time and energy. Recording near-verbatim textbook verbiage equals duplicating efforts from any angle. Textbooks still fit into learning. No sense in re-inventing the written wheel.

3. Not for Every Educator

In addition, Andreychik believes there is a personality alignment needed for this type of teaching. “Personality plays a role,” he consents. Teaching styles, of which flipping the classroom is merely one, in not one-size-fits-all.

“This is not at all what I was expecting!” is something Andreychik hears often at the first of each semester. But through his use of thoughtfully measured lecture assignments and simple technology tools within the classroom, he is proving that there is absolutely nothing crazy about flipping the core classes, including psychology.

In fact, engagement and participation continues to rise.

Paige Francis is CIO at Fairfield University.