The role of smartpens in the flipped classroom

Six in 10 students in a recent survey said flipped learning has proven effective.

In a perfect world where students always do their homework and come to class completely prepared, flipping the classroom would be the ideal solution for keeping students engaged in class.

However, one of the challenges of teaching is that some students do not always come to class completely prepared. Maybe flipping the classroom would be easier in a high school setting, where parents can enforce homework time. But college students have a choice — they’re adults.

No one is standing over their shoulders and making them do their homework.

When I decided to flip my classroom last year, I was faced with the challenge of engaging both my already highly-motivated students, and those who were slightly less motivated.

I teach mathematics at Mesa Community College, the largest community college in Arizona. I have been a math teacher for more than 25 years and have gained a considerable amount of experience in teaching current and future educators, blended math classes, and using technology to teach both inside and outside the classroom.

Read more about flipped learning in higher education…

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I’ve always loved technology and am constantly looking for new tools that will help my students.

One of the problems I had in the past involved students eMailing me with math questions that were difficult to answer over eMail–which is not exactly an ideal format for answering questions about graphing, for instance. So, about three years ago, I asked my kids to buy me a Livescribe smartpen for Mother’s Day to use with my students.

Smartpens captured what I said and wrote, so I could explain math problems while sketching them out. Instead of answering my students’ questions through eMail, I started sending them pencasts (the digital version of notes tied to audio) and then uploaded the pencasts to my class website for other students to access.

Students found the pencasts easier to understand than my eMails, which gave me the idea to start teaching a blended course. During online days, I’d have my students watch pencasts instead of using their textbooks, and instead of lecturing during precious class time, I had them work in groups so I could help them tackle harder problems one-on-one.

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