Nothing seems to polarize my students more than their opinion of ‘flipped classrooms’, in which course content is consumed primarily outside the classroom, with instructional time devoted to application or mastery of the material. Though the term is often used loosely, a flipped classroom should have four key components (via Brame, 2013):
- Exposure to the material outside of the classroom, typically in the form of lectures, readings, or discussions.
- Some mechanism that creates accountability for completion of that material, whether from quizzes, assignments, or in-class discussions.
- Feedback supplied to students assessing their understanding of the material, possible coupled with targeted help to for problematic concepts.
- An emphasis on deep engagement with the material during class time, often involving the application of knowledge (rather than pure recitation of content).
In my experience, students who endorse the flipped structure often do so because they prefer the ability to move through content at their own pace or find it particularly helpful to talk through ideas as they work on assignments. Those who dislike it frequently report having trouble staying engaged with the material or prefer to do their work in a more controlled and private environment. The experience of students at other schools seems relatively similar.
The efficacy of the flipped approach in promoting student learning is still very much an open question; in the past three years alone, hundreds of empirical studies have examined outcomes associated flipped courses with a wide range of conclusions. Ultimately, it may be the case that some topics allow for greater success in flipping than others, or that particular flipped structures are more effective in for some fields than others.
Even in the absence of more definitive data about student outcomes, I decided to flip both of my research methods courses. In part, this was to relieve the significant time pressure of teaching a laboratory class that did not actually have a lab section associated with it, but mostly because it allows me a chance to spend substantially more time with each student. In a course with 25 or 30 people, that extra contact is invaluable; by the end of the semester, I have a much more nuanced understanding of the strengths and abilities of each student than I would in a more traditional class.
Later this semester, the TLC will be hosting a panel discussion about flipped classrooms. The goal is to both highlight the individual experiences of instructors who have flipped their courses and to develop a set of recommendations and best practices for faculty who might be considering flipping in the future. Stay tuned to the TLC website for more details.