Professors: Here’s how to flip your classroom

Although the flipped classroom may not fit everyone’s teaching and learning style, the benefits are numerous

professors-flipped-classroom-benefitsEducators have been experimenting with and adopting new learning models now more than ever, as these innovative teaching strategies have the potential to enrich and advance student outcomes.

President Obama addressed this topic recently, noting that “a rising tide of innovation has the potential to shake up the higher education landscape,” while singling out flipped classrooms as one model among many worth considering.

With so many learning models emerging, many instructors are wondering if any of these new models are suited for their classroom and will live up to the hype to actually increase student success.

In this article, we will examine the flipped classroom and its history, and observe why it is gaining traction in education. We will use our experiences as a case study of one way to achieve exciting student outcomes using the flipped classroom.

(Next page: How a flipped classroom can improve learning)

Defining the Flipped Classroom & Exploring Its History

Wikipedia defines the flipped classroom as a form of blended learning, in which content delivery—traditionally done during class in lecture form—is “flipped” so it happens outside of the classroom. In a flipped classroom, students typically learn new content by reading or watching lecture video online before class.

The true benefit of this approach is that it makes the instructor available when the student needs them most: for personalized guidance and interaction when they start to engage with the material.

Compare this to the traditional lecture model, where student engagement with the material often does not begin until the problem set is worked on, often at 2 a.m. the night before it is due, when the instructor is almost certainly not available to help resolve misconceptions.

Furthermore, instructors are looking for ways to improve student performance—both as traditionally defined and as part of so-called “twenty-first century skills,” including communication, collaboration, and the ability to solve novel problems.

The flipped classroom has the potential to achieve these objectives.

In the recent study National Faculty Perspectives on Flipped Classrooms, 81 percent of faculty surveyed said that improved mastery of information—including these “twenty-first century skills”—were the top student benefit of implementing the flipped classroom.

Although different forms of the flipped classroom have been around for quite some time, the model did not gain momentum until recently. But it is quickly gaining steam: a recent study found that of the educators surveyed, 50 percent of faculty said they were already flipping or are planning to flip their classroom by November 2014, and 57 percent of instructors that have already flipped their classroom said that their implementation has been successful.

A number of different instructors have pioneered approaches that contribute to today’s notion of a flipped classroom. In the early 1990s, Harvard University professor Eric Mazur developed Peer Instruction, an evidence-based, interactive teaching method that combines conceptual questions with peer discussions. He found that computer-aided instruction allowed him to coach students instead of lecture at them.

Sal Khan, previously a hedge fund analyst who began recording videos for his younger cousin as a means to tutor him remotely, popularized another piece of the puzzle in 2004. Based on his cousin’s enthusiastic response, Khan made his videos publicly available and they went viral, leading Khan to launch the Khan Academy, a website that supplies free online video lectures that have been viewed hundreds of millions of times.

But perhaps the first instructors to popularize a more formal notion of the flipped classroom were high school teachers Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams, both from Woodland Park High School in Colorado. They discovered software that could be used to record PowerPoint presentations and used it to record their live lectures for students who had missed class that day. Their videos gained popularity and the instructors were asked to speak to other teachers around the U.S. about their method.

(Next page: Tips for a successful flipped classroom integration)

The Components of a Flipped Classroom

There are two components to a flipped classroom: content delivery and in-class engagement. A major component to the flipped classroom is that content delivery happens outside of the classroom, where students are able to work at their own pace.

Video has become a particularly popular method for content delivery; Sal Khan argued during his 2011 TED Talk Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education that videos are a particularly potent modality for content delivery because students can pause, rewind and fast forward as much as they please, helping to boost esteem and increase understanding by not having to interrupt or feel embarrassed in front of their peers by stopping to ask questions.

The in-class engagement component is equally important to the success of a flipped classroom. Moving the content delivery outside of the classroom makes room during class time for activities that allow the students to actively engage with the material—working directly with the instructor and particularly with each other—to address misconceptions about the content and solidify their understanding.

Many instructors use Learning Catalytics, a platform developed by one of us (Lukoff) along with Harvard professors Eric Mazur and Gary King, to engage students and secure rich data and analytics needed to pinpoint areas of struggle—making in-class interaction as productive as possible.

Many instructors also opt to use class time to work out problems together or engage students with group activities—the key being that the instructor takes advantage of the social nature of the classroom to help students learn not only from them, but also from each other.

The Flipped Classroom in Action

During the summer of 2011, one of us (Stoltzfus), a chemistry instructor at The Ohio State University (OSU), began implementing the flipped classroom model after a student approached him earlier in the year about integrating lecture videos into the classroom.

Dr. Stoltzfus was looking for ways to stay aligned with the institution’s Digital First Initiative, which focuses on redesigning the campus experience at OSU by optimizing wireless and classroom technology, inspiring instructors to offer engaging digital learning content to students, and enhancing the student experience from enrollment to graduation and beyond.

While each instructor should tailor the flipped classroom to what they find is most helpful for their students, Dr. Stoltzfus finds that pre-lecture assignments work best for his students. Before class, Dr. Stoltzfus has students read the textbook or watch lecture videos online and perform MasteringChemistry tutorials.

Regardless of the student’s level of understanding, they come into class with an idea of the concept, and bring with them thought-out and prepared questions created prior to class. Dr. Stoltzfus, like Sal Khan, posts traditional videos for his students, and developed a website and an iTunes U Course, which both houses the videos and correlates each one with a certain section in the textbook. Dr. Stoltzfus has students handle lower-level notions at home and the more challenging concepts are discussed in class with the instructor present for support and guidance.

During class, students work in groups on tricky exam problems or questions, while Dr. Stoltzfus is free to walk around and aid students when needed. Students submit answers through their laptop or mobile device using Learning Catalytics, which allows Dr. Stoltzfus to see student understandings (or misunderstandings) in real time and who is having issues with particular problems.

After class, Dr. Stoltzfus delivers a personalized homework assignment. Students are tasked with completing Mastering Chemistry questions on only those questions that they answered wrong. He puts together the proper homework assignments for each student based on what they demonstrated during class. He also encourages students to go back and watch the lecture again, addressing any areas of confusion.

(Next page: Understanding the benefits; resources)

Benefits of the Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom model allows for a deeper, more hands-on, and more engaging experience for students in the classroom, enabling students to start with lower level concepts at home and discuss higher-level concepts or areas of struggle in the classroom. The model provides more meaningful interactions for students and teachers by giving teachers higher-quality face time with students.

It allows students to consume course content by having the ability to rewind and replay videos as often as they’d like, until they truly grasp the concept. It creates a more collaborative environment among students, with students working together to solve problems. Lastly, students benefit from a personalized learning path, where the instructor can use formative assessment data in real time to impact what students do both inside and outside of the classroom. 

Getting Started in Your Classroom

Numerous resources are available that instructors can use to help implement a flipped classroom. The Flipped Learning Network is a social network that provides educators with the knowledge, skills, and resources to successfully flip their classroom. Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, provides a firsthand account and tips on how to get started in your own class.

As Jennifer Demski argued in Campus Technology, using technology that is already in place can help both students and faculty bridge the gap between traditional teaching methods and a flipped classroom.

For example, Dr. Stoltzfus uses a method called “Just-in-Time Teaching” to ensure he aims his classroom activities at the right level. He includes questions on the videos he posts and has students ask their questions right on the videos; a discussion of those comments and questions in the classroom addresses common misconceptions that would hinder further conceptual development.

While the flipped classroom may not fit everyone’s teaching and learning style, the benefits are numerous and instructors looking for a more collaborative learning approach may want to consider the flipped classroom.

By moving content delivery outside of the classroom, instructors are able to use valuable class time to dig into challenging conceptual topics that would otherwise not be examined in as much depth, and students have the opportunity to engage with the material right away in class with the instructor present.

This learning model is one way in which instructors can increase student success and cultivate “twenty-first century skills.” What are your thoughts on the flipped classroom? Is it a change for the better?

Brian Lukoff, Ph.D. is Program Director, Learning Catalytics at Pearson and Matthew Stoltzfus, Ph.D., is a Chemistry lecturer at Ohio State University. 

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