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I’ve Flipped My Classroom. Now What?

Posted by on Monday, February 17, 2014 in News, Resource.

by Derek Bruff, CFT Director

“A few years ago if I had said flipped classroom to them, most faculty would have given me a blank stare,” said Derek Bruff, director of the center and a senior lecturer in mathematics. “Now they are coming to us wanting more detail. The speed of that change and the pervasiveness of the interest has surprised me.”

That’s a quote from a recent Campus Technology article, “How to Make the Most of the Flipped Classroom,” by David Raths. I spoke with David a couple of months ago about the flipped classroom. He was interested in a very important question for faculty thinking about redesigning their courses in a “flipped” manner: Once you move the transfer of information out of the classroom (through pre-class lecture videos or readings), what do you do during class time? For faculty used to spending their class time lecturing, this can be a particularly tough question.

I pointed David Raths to Tyler Reimschisel, assistant professor of pediatrics and neurology and vice chair for education in the Department of Pediatrics. Tyler has been leading efforts in the School of Medicine around team-based learning (TBL). Here’s how Tyler’s approach is described in the Campus Technology piece:

Reimschisel’s students watch four to six videos each week of 10-15 minutes each. In class he gives them 10 multiple-choice questions that they answer individually and submit electronically. Then they break into 13 groups of eight and answer the questions as a group after discussion and consensus… They talk for 45 minutes in class and then present their team answer, and the class members vote for their favorite answer, which leads to interesting discussions.

Moving to a TBL approach requires an instructor to take on new roles in the classroom, from content provider to discussion facilitator. Doing so also requires good questions and cases for students to explore as teams. Designing those questions and cases can take some time. And some students can push back at the approach, arguing that the instructor is no longer “teaching.” Of course, lecturing isn’t the only form of teaching, and there’s solid evidence on the effectiveness of TBL for student learning. For faculty adopting TBL, the learning gains make the efforts by both teacher and student worthwhile.

What else can an instructor do during class time once a class has been flipped? David Raths explores a number of effective strategies in his article through interviews with faculty at other institutions. The piece is well worth a read, as is our teaching guide on the flipped classroom.

Two other thoughts on the flipped classroom:

  • For many instructors who were “flipping” their classrooms long before that was a buzzword, the question at the heart of David Raths’ article (What do you do during class in a flipped approach?) might sound a little odd. Harvard University’s Eric Mazur, for instance, who visited Vanderbilt last year, shifted the “content delivery” portion of his courses outside of class so that he could free up class time for more meaningful interactive experiences. Much of the conversation around the flipped classroom these days focuses on lecture videos that students watch before class, but, for the early adopters, the focus was generally on how to make class time more engaging and useful.
  • In my quote above, I note that the idea of the flipped class seems to have taken off faster than other pedagogical ideas (such as team-based learning). Here’s my guess as to why: The flipped classroom idea is a direct challenge to a mental model of teaching that is very common among faculty, that of the in-class lecture. Some faculty embrace this challenge (Finally! I don’t have to lecture during class anymore!) while others resist it, either because they don’t see value in it or because they have a hard time imagining what else they can do during class other than lecture. But for an instructor who spends most class sessions lecturing, it’s hard to avoid having an opinion on the idea of a flipped classroom. In contrast, an idea like team-based learning can be more easily deflected with a “Oh, I don’t think that would be appropriate for my kind of course.” That’s my theory, at least.

Image: “Final Exam,” dcjohn, Flickr (CC)

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