In the last few years, the idea of the “flipped classroom” has been getting a lot of attention. But what is a flipped classroom? How does it work? What tools do you need to flip a classroom? Might you want to flip your classroom? What are the experiences of students in classes that have been “flipped?”
On January 18, about 20 faculty and staff members met in Stokes 102 for to discuss these questions during a round-table hosted by ITT. Elizabeth McCormack, Chair Professor of Physics, Bryn Mawr College, “flipped” her sophmore level Physics class and led the discussion by sharing her research and experiences.
For those that might not be familiar with the term “flipped classroom”, Wikipedia has a helpful summary.
Flip teaching (or flipped classroom) is a form of blended learning which encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing. This is most commonly being done using teacher-created videos that students view outside of class time.
Although Wikipedia and others defining the flipped classroom discuss how technology can change the dynamic, the idea of flipping is primarily about pedagogy and culture rather than technology. The central question is about what works best in the classroom, what works best outside of the classroom, and how to restructure a course to make the most effective use of time together. These questions are not new, but technology provides new tools (i.e. lecture capture, screen capture, podcasts) for delivering information to students. Meanwhile, both students and teachers have strongly held ideas about what works best in the classroom versus what works best at home that feed the current norm of lecturing during class and doing problem sets outside of class.
The January 18 round-table explored how flipping a class can work. When McCormack decided to try flipping her class, the main flipping she did was to have students was to listen to podcasts and then to work on problem sets during class. She found that flipping is not a straightforward process, and that students appreciate some lecture to highlight the context and main points to a lesson. “There was a lot of push-back from students.” McCormack said. Her students asked, “‘Professor McCormack, how would you feel about lecturing?”
The process of flipping her class led McCormack to a number of discoveries. In addition to finding that many students want some amount of lecture, she also found that students often need help understanding a text. Reading a Physics text is hard and students need help understanding the text. Students “had trouble understanding what they did not understand.” said McCormack.
As she became more aware of how her students were learning, McCormack started thinking in terms of not just what to teach in the class versus assign for outside work, but what students should learn individually versus learn in groups. For optimal learning, her students needed to work both independently and in groups; they need independant work to grapple with the issues initially, but then through group work they can deepen their understanding. This issue of what to have students work on independently versus what to work on in groups became a key part of how she structured her course. She came up with guidelines for what to do in groups versus individually, and what to do in class versus out of class.
She found herself looping between individual and group work, as well as learning about what works best in and out of the classroom. There was much discussion about this issue. Some felt that too much group work dilutes learning for weaker students, as the weaker students can lean too much on more fluent peers. There were also a lot of different ideas about how assignments can be structured to encourage students to tease apart what they know from what they think they know. Still, this notion about individual work versus group work was a key element of McCormack’s findings.
Overall, what did McCormack learn from flipping her sophomore Physics class? A number of things.
- Flipping is a lot of work for the instructor and the students.
- Ideally, the instructor will record videos of what would be the lecture. McCormack found some ready made podcasts on the materials she taught.
- Flipping the class better let her see how students learn. Just having them read the textbook is not enough to have them understand content. They need to understand how to interpret that content.
- Students learn best by a mix of individual work, group work, and whole class work.
- Given her limited experience, she is not in a position to say if students learn better in a flipped classroom than a more traditional classroom, but her flipped sophomore physics class did at least as well, overall, as other classes she has taught.
The round table was almost entirely focused on pedagogy, but methodology is important. McCormack used her iPad with Doceri for her class presentations. Doceri is an app that helps you present from an iPad, by providing a way mirror the iPad screen to a projected computer and also letting you annotate your iPad display.