How to go beyond the basics of Flipped Learning

How three different educators are going beyond basic flips with innovative strategies

flipped-learning-class[*Editor’s Note: This article originally appears in the Jan/Feb digital edition: http://ecampusnews.eschoolmedia.com/current-issue/]

This is not your mother’s Flipped Learning.

Often thought of as an instructional method whereby students watch online instructional videos at home and come to class prepared to do “homework,” Flipped Learning has come a long way since its origins in 2007. The concept has since evolved to include myriad instructional methods that take the basic concept and go further in method to turn traditional higher educational learning models on their heads.

“Professors are starting out with basic classroom ‘flips,’ and then moving into deeper learning pedagogies,” said Jon Bergmann, chief learning officer at FlippedClass.com and a pioneer of the innovative teaching concept, “including deeper project-based learning and flipped mastery models (i.e., where students prove that they learned a specific concept and then independently move onto a new module).”

While Bergmann still sees the original “view video at home, do homework in class” model as a good starting point for new Flipped Learning adopters, he says educators are helping students interact with those videos and gain understanding from them. “It’s not just about assigning a video and hoping that the class watches it,” says Bergmann. “It’s about getting to the next level and truly engaging students in class, and in a way that positively impacts the learning experience.”

Here’s how three different professors have used Flipped Learning to achieve that goal:

(Next page: Coming to class prepared)

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)

3. One lecture at a time

As the stop gate between students who want to be nurses, and the actual nurses themselves, Terry Austin is tasked with infusing the former with the anatomy, physiology, and microbiology knowledge that they need to become nurses at Temple College in Temple, Texas. Using Learning Catalytics’ bring your own device (BYOD) student engagement, assessment, and classroom intelligence system, Austin has students watch short lectures before class. He then monitors student performance, tracks any modifications needed in his own instruction, and adjusts accordingly.

With a high percentage of working, non-traditional students, Austin has been using Flipped Learning since 2008 to teach his courses’ tough-to-grasp content. “Not only are there a lot of anatomical terms to learn,” he noted, “but my students also have to learn the science itself and the language behind it.” He said the videos give pupils a jump start on content that in the past may have required two to three course repeats. “The class retake rate has improved since I started using this new learning style,” said Austin.

That learning style finds students using computers and mobile devices to watch videos on key topics. After answering three or four thought-provoking questions at home, students step into the classroom and are immediately assigned to teams. Those teams spend 5-10 minutes discussing a single question before committing to a single answer. “This brings an exciting new dynamic to the classroom,” emphasized Austin, “where students can teach one another more effectively than I’d be able to.”

Watch Austin explain his use of Learning Catalytics:

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To educators looking to leverage Flipped Learning in their own classrooms, Austin says the best approach is to start small. “If you come into this with the ‘all or nothing’ mindset, it will never get done,” he cautions. “There’s nothing wrong with flipping a single lecture and then growing from there.

Bridget McCrea is an editorial freelancer with eCampus News.

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