“The question is: In the twenty-first century, how do we cultivate the imagination?”
— A New Culture of Learning (Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown)
Defining the Flipped Classroom Model
The widely recognized definition of the flipped classroom model is one where traditional classroom and homework activities are reversed. In their publication 7 Things You Should Know About …™ Flipped Classrooms the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative® confirms this as a standard definition of flipped classrooms as a pedagogical model, and then conversely states that “there is no single model for the flipped classroom.” And when it comes to the practical application of a flipped classroom model, the way it plays out is as varied as the disciplines that employ it. The key components are the evaluation of instructional goals and how the different aspects of teaching and learning activities might be re-imagined to better support learning. Put more simply, the flipped classroom encourages a change in paradigm from an instructor-centered approach to a learner-centered approach.
Why Consider the Flipped Classroom
In their book, A New Culture of Learning, authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown discuss the difference between explicit knowledge, factual information that is not likely to change, and tacit knowledge, that which we come to understand through experience and experimentation (77). Both are integral parts of lifelong learning experiences, but it is the tacit knowledge side of the equation that is more likely to foster enthusiasm for learning. It is this enthusiasm that invites deeper and more meaningful learning experiences.
Flipped classroom methodologies provide opportunities for deeper learning by putting in to practice a variety of student-centered learning theories such as active, problem-based, cooperative, peer-assisted, and collaborative learning. When instructors at Stanford medical school took part in the redesign of their core biochemistry class, they felt strongly that the flipped model enabled them to guide student learning in ways that inspired a deeper engagement with the material, freeing up time in the classroom for “interactive discussions of clinical vignettes that highlighted the biochemical bases of various diseases.” Harvard professor Eric Mazur, a long time proponent of interactive learning, has collected data for years indicating that students retain what they’re learning far better with such pedagogical methods than with traditional lectures. Other research indicates that the flipped classroom model provides more opportunities for all students to excel. Rather than divide their attention between note taking and listening during lectures, students can access the material at their own pace. Students who have difficulty understanding a particular topic can receive additional help from peers and from their instructor during classroom activities. One student at Boston University College of Engineering put it this way, “The biggest upside to the ‘flipped classroom’ concept is that it provides a structured platform for peer-to-peer learning; every class is like a study group.”
Figuring out where to get started is the first hurdle. Much of the current literature encourages the idea of starting small. Try flipping an activity, unit, or module (whatever applies to the class you have in mind) before tackling an entire semester. In either case, the basic steps are the same.
Looking for ‘Flippable’ Moments in Your Class from the Faculty Focus blog highlights 4 areas where you might find inspiration. What topics are traditionally difficult for a majority of students to master? Supplementary material available outside of the classroom can provide reinforcement for the material. Similarly, cornerstone topics that provide the foundation upon which future learning is built are an area well suited to the flipped model. Extra credit projects are another opportunity: “Extra credit questions are often designed to test the next level of thinking by moving students beyond memorization or comprehension, and therefore they can provide the perfect opportunity to flip your lesson.” Finally, at what point in the class do students (and maybe you) start nodding off? Here the author suggests creating a challenge that places the evaluation and distillation of lesson material on the shoulders of the students.
Once you’ve identified a topic or course that lends itself to the flipped model, start examining your syllabus. Already having a syllabus means you’ve taught this material before. One of the top pieces of advice from faculty who’ve worked with the flipped model is to start with the familiar. You’ll make things easier on yourself by not having to focus on new material and new pedagogies. You’ll also be more prepared to adjust on the fly during class if necessary. One aspect of the classroom component in the flipped model is that students might come in with unexpected questions or demonstrate particular problems with the material that you want to stop and address before moving on with (or changing) whatever classroom activities you had planned for that day.
As you take a critical look at your syllabus, make sure you have clearly defined learning objectives. In Creating learning objectives, flipped classroom style author Robert Talbert states, “A clear set of leaning objectives is at the heart of any successful learning experience, and it’s an essential ingredient for self-regulated learning since self-regulating learners have a clear set of criteria against which to judge their learning progress.” Having clear objectives also sets the stage for how you will assess student learning. You may find that you decide to value some aspects of the class somewhat differently than with a strictly lecture-based course. Since both class preparedness and class participation are structured differently, grading those aspects of the course might well take on a greater significance.
When you are ready to put your redesigned flipped topic/project/class into practice you’ll also want to bring your students up to speed on what you’re doing. In the article 6 Expert Tips for Flipping the Classroom Robert Talbert (this time as interviewee) talks briefly about his own experiences with getting buy-in from students. He emphasizes the need to communicate with students about the changes and what the benefits are to them compared to a more typical lecture format. Students need to understand up front what is expected of them and what the difference is between being active participants versus passive observers. You can find an expanded discussion about this in Talbert’s blog post Getting student buy-in for the inverted calculus class. Here Talbert also recommends soliciting student feedback frequently during the semester. If something really isn’t working, there’s a chance to solve problems sooner rather than later. Likewise, there’s a chance to act on good suggestions from students for improving the class.
“It’s the pedagogy that drives the flipped classroom,
not the technology.”
—Derek Bruff, CFT Director at Vanderbilt University
Putting together pre-class materials, particularly in the form of video, is probably the second most daunting aspect of the flipped classroom model (if not the first) next to redesigning your syllabus. While video is a common format used in the flipped class model, there is no hard and fast rule that says the out of class materials all have to be video or that all video must be instructor generated. Derek Bruff, Director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, emphasizes this point stating, “It’s the pedagogy that drives the flipped classroom, not the technology.” Eric Mazur effectively flips his own classes by making his lecture notes available to students prior to class. Class time is then spent working on problems, usually generated through questions from students. Other instructors revamp existing presentations, consolidating material into topic-specific units and adding narration. Readings from textbooks, journals, blogs, and other sources can also be used as part of your direct instruction content. Whatever methodologies you choose to explore for providing online content, there is an increasing amount of dialogue and experience to refer to from those who have already delved into the flipped class experience. Check the References list below for a place to start.
Many resources exist for finding video and other media that you can incorporate into your class, including Khan Academy, iTunes U, TED, and the Library of Congress (digital collections also include text, images, and sound recordings).
In his 2011 TED Talk Kahn explains the genesis and development of the Khan Academy.
The Flipped Classroom at McDaniel
Read about assistant professor Paul Muhlhauser’s Flipping the classroom experience with his “Advanced Multimedia Authoring” class.
7 Things You Should Know About …™ Flipped Classrooms (PDF). EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative®. 2012.
Bishop, Jacob Lowell and Dr. Matthew A. Verleger. The Flipped Classroom: A Survey of the Research (PDF). Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference.
Bruff, Derek. The Flipped Classroom FAQ. Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning, 15 September, 2012.
Demski, Jennifer. 6 Expert Tips for Flipping the Classroom. Tech-Enabled Learning. Campus Technology Magazine, 23 January 2012.
Dwortzan, Mark. “Flipped Classroom” Energizes Computational Fluid Dynamics Course. BU College of Engineering website.
Honeycutt, Barbi. Looking for ‘Flippable’ Moments in Your Class. Faculty Focus blog. 25 March 2013.
Lambert, Craig. Twilight of the Lecture. Harvard magazine feature article. March-April 2012.
Talbert, Robert. Creating learning objectives, flipped classroom style. Casting Out Nines blog. The Chronicle, 5 March 2014.
Talbert, Robert. The biggest lesson from the flipped classroom may not be about math. Casting Out Nines blog. The Chronicle, 7 October 2013.
Talbert, Robert. Getting student buy-in for the inverted calculus class. Casting Out Nines blog. The Chronicle, 6 March 2014.
Thomas, Douglas and John Seely Brown. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. CreateSpace: Kentucky, 2011. Print.
Walsh, Kelly. 8 Great Reasons to Flip Your Classroom (and 4 of the Wrong Reasons), from Bergmann and Sams. EmergingEdTech, 5 August 2012.
White, Tracie. Stanford professors propose re-imagining medical education with “lecture-less” classes. Stanford Medicine Scope blog.
Classroom image by athier