The Chronicle recently published an article about the pros and cons of the “flipped classroom.” Here is a description of the basic concept:
As its name suggests, flipping describes the inversion of expectations in the traditional college lecture. It takes many forms, including interactive engagement, just-in-time teaching (in which students respond to Web-based questions before class, and the professor uses this feedback to inform his or her teaching), and peer instruction.
But the techniques all share the same underlying imperative: Students cannot passively receive material in class, which is one reason some students dislike flipping. Instead they gather the information largely outside of class, by reading, watching recorded lectures, or listening to podcasts.
And when they are in class, students do what is typically thought to be homework, solving problems with their professors or peers, and applying what they learn to new contexts. They continue this process on their own outside class.
The immediacy of teaching in this way enables students’ misconceptions to be corrected well before they emerge on a midterm or final exam. The result, according to a growing body of research, is more learning.
I tried a flipped classroom two years ago. In an operations research, math, or engineering course, flipping can entail giving the lecture outside of class (using slidecasts) and then working problems in class. Thus, this post is part of my teaching with technology series.
When I flipped, I started with a traditional lecture for two weeks, then flipped for 3 weeks. After 5 weeks, I let the students decide how to proceed. They voted for a mini-lecture at the beginning of class followed by working problems for the rest of class. I agree with the article: justifying the motivation to flip up front made a huge difference. Students may not want to change, but they are motivated by the promise of doing better on exams and in the course, so they were willing to give flipping a try. I find that students don’t complain if I reiterate the benefits from their perspective–but they still may not the changes. It’s easier to be passive in class.
The upside of the approach is more learning for the students. Some of the students only worked with their friends in class. Others made new friends, which then helped them do better on homework assignments.
The upside for the professor is knowing exactly what parts of the problem are hard for students and being immediately able to address problems.
The down side is lower student evaluations. According to the Chronicle article,
The average score on a student evaluation of a flipped course is about half what the same professor gets when using the traditional lecture, she says. “When the students are feeling really bad about required courses, it doesn’t seem like a good thing.”
Mine were lower than expected, but they weren’t that low. I busted a few cheaters in a small class that semester (I talked to 3 of 15 students face to face and made an announcement that implicated others). My teaching evaluations probably reflected their anger at me more than the flipped lecture. Still, the evaluations are a good time for students to gripe about whatever didn’t match their expectations.
There are other downsides.
Another big downside with almost all teaching with technology tools is that most of the work has to be done up front. With the traditional lecture, the professor can wing it, finishing lectures a minute before class. Not any more with the flipped classroom. Lectures need to be prepared, delivered, and recorded well before class. The slides need to be available for the students to review in class. In class examples need to be well-prepared to discuss when student questions arise in class (students have a lot more questions when they are working problems than when they are snoozing through a lecture). This is a huge challenge for research active faculty members. Traveling to conference, publishing, and working on proposals makes it hard for me to carve away time before every class. I notice that I have been spending an increasing amount of time prepping for the first day of class before the semester starts (starting a BlackBoard page, uploading documents, etc.) It is getting almost unbearable. With my research demands, I have been fantasizing about giving old school lectures and not maintaining BlackBoard sites.
Another downside is giving more power to the students in class. The results are dependent on the personalities in class. My flipping experience was a success because I had a few highly motivated students with strong personalities. They urged all of the students to buckle down and work on problems during class. I have found it much harder to work problems in other classes. I didn’t get the evaluations that I hoped for, but the learning and satisfaction in class was tangible. I have had a lot of trouble getting other classes to work on group problems in class.
I teach classes in computer labs, and it often is more than 80 degrees in my classrooms. It is really hard to do a flipped classroom due to the lack of collaborative desks and hot temperatures. Given that universities have built classrooms for lecturing and computer usage, I wonder if the desks no longer promote collaboration. Infrastructure is important! However, we rarely start discussions about infrastructure when it comes to teaching. I’ve mainly taught in computer labs like this. I’ve sometimes taught in old school lecture halls like this or in rooms with large immovable desks like this. All of these types of classrooms provide challenges. What is the best way to teach given the infrastructure at hand?
I am not an expert when it comes to education. For whatever it’s worth, I enjoyed the flipped classroom, but I wasn’t in love with it. It’s kinda like asking students to eat their vegetables (they won’t “like” it, even though it’s good for them) and it can be challenging with the classroom setup. I am more comfortable with a half-lecture, half-facilitation approach where I coach students through problems.