Flipping the Classroom

What is “flipping the classroom”?

Flipping the classroom refers to using in-class time for students to work together to solve problems and grapple with material, tasks traditionally done outside of class. The “flipped” part is that students master basic content before they come to class, and solve problems and work with their new knowledge in class. This is the reverse of the lecture model, where the professor lectures on basic material, and then students struggle with homework on their own. In flipped classrooms, the professor helps students when they need help, as they apply their new knowledge, rather than spending time lecturing on basic concepts students can learn on their own.

What are the key elements of the flipped classroom?

1. Provide an opportunity for students to gain first exposure prior to class.

The mechanism used for first exposure can vary, from simple textbook readings to lecture videos to podcasts or screencasts. For example, Grand Valley State University math professor Robert Talbert provides screencasts on class topics on his YouTube channel, while Vanderbilt computer science professor Doug Fisher provides his students video lectures prior to class (These videos can be created by the instructor or found online from YouTube, the Khan Academy, MIT’s OpenCourseWare, Coursera, or other similar sources. The pre-class exposure doesn’t have to be high-tech, however; in the Deslauriers, Schelew, and Wieman study described above, students simply completed pre-class reading assignments.

2. Provide an incentive for students to prepare for class.

In all the examples cited above, students completed a task associated with their preparation….and that task was associated with points. The assignment can vary; the examples above used tasks that ranged from online quizzes to worksheets to short writing assignments, but in each case the task provided an incentive for students to come to class prepared by speaking the common language of undergraduates: points. In many cases, grading for completion rather than effort can be sufficient, particularly if class activities will provide students with the kind of feedback that grading for accuracy usually provides. See a blog post by CFT Director Derek Bruff about how he gets his students to prepare for class.

3. Provide a mechanism to assess student understanding.

The pre-class assignments that students complete as evidence of their preparation can also help both the instructor and the student assess understanding. Pre-class online quizzes can allow the instructor to practice Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT; Novak et al., 1999), which basically means that the instructor tailors class activities to focus on the elements with which students are struggling. If automatically graded, the quizzes can also help students pinpoint areas where they need help. Pre-class worksheets can also help focus student attention on areas with which they’re struggling, and can be a departure point for class activities, while pre-class writing assignments help students clarify their thinking about a subject, thereby producing richer in-class discussions. Importantly, much of the feedback students need is provided in class, reducing the need for instructors to provide extensive commentary outside of class (Walvoord and Anderson, 1998). In addition, many of the activities used during class time (e.g., clicker questions or debates) can serve as informal checks of student understanding.

4. Provide in-class activities that focus on higher level cognitive activities.

If the students gained basic knowledge outside of class, then they need to spend class time to promote deeper learning. Again, the activity will depend on the learning goals of the class and the culture of the discipline. For example, Lage, Platt, and Treglia described experiments students did in class to illustrate economic principles (2000), while Mazur and colleagues focused on student discussion of conceptual “clicker” questions and quantitative problems focused on physical principles (2001). In other contexts, students may spend time in class engaged in debates, data analysis, or synthesis activities. The key is that students are using class time to deepen their understanding and increase their skills at using their new knowledge.

Why flip?

Moving content outside of the classroom allows for more class time to be spent on engaging learning activities such as peer instruction or active learning.

  • Interactive teaching techniques, such as the two mentioned above, have been shown to enhance learning (Crouch, Mazur, 2001; Deslauriers,Schelew; Wieman, 2011).
  • With the advent of technology that can more easily facilitate content delivery, such as lecture caputure, videos, podcasts and other online information, there are now more ways for learners to access knowledge. The lecture is less essential to content delivery than it once was.
  • Students report that they prefer courses that have online components (ECAR,2012).

How can you flip the classroom?

With flipped classrooms, the challenges become: “how can I deliver content to students outside of class in meaningful ways, and what can students do in class that encourages meaningful learning?” As in blended learning courses, instructors must determine what can be accomplished best online, what can be accomplished best in class sessions, and how online and in-class activities can best be integrated for optimal learning.

How to move the lecture outside the classroom:
Instructors do many things to remove lecture from a class session. Often these strategies are facilitated by technology:

  • Assign pre-class readings and have students complete quizzes on this reading before coming to class.
  • Create videos that explore a topic and require students to watch them before class.
  • Integrate quizzes, or some other kind of activity that engages students with the material, such as having students come to class with one or two questions they have about the topic.
  • Have students contribute to online discussions by requiring them to find, post, and draw connections to relevant online information.

Moving learning outside of the class requires students to self-regulate their learning. In order to support students in doing so, try these techniques:

  • Communicate how much time-on-task is expected for each learning activity.
  • Provide a rubric to articulate what assignment outcomes are expected and how they will be assessed.
  • Encourage students to create a learning plan. This is more crucial for courses that require a lot of online work.
  • Break larger online assignments up into smaller pieces and create staggered deadlines along the way.
  • Incorporate peer feedback. For example, if students are required to post reading responses, include responses to peers’ responses as part of the assignment.
  • Include incentives for completing online or out of class assignments. For example, for reading assignments, require students to do a pre-class quiz on Blackboard and have these quizzes be a small part of students’ grades. Alternatively, give a quick 5-minute quiz at the beginning of a class session and allow students to earn bonus points for correct answers.
  • Discuss the expectation you have for students to preview content before class. Instill accountability for not doing pre-class activities by noting that not doing so decreases the value of class session activities for both themselves and the students they work with. Students should be held responsible for not letting themselves or their classmates down.

General Resources