What’s new and what’s next for flipped classrooms

Flipped 2.0: More colleges and universities may hire “coaches” to help faculty flip classrooms

Though some instructors think flipping the classroom is as simple as students watching lectures online and doing their homework in class, version 2.0 of the practice is evolving to allow faculty to provide more rigorous, in-depth instruction.

About half of U.S. higher ed faculty had taught in a flipped environment as of winter 2014, according to a survey from The Center for Digital Education, in association with Sonic Foundry.

“Magic is happening with deeper learning in the classroom,” says Aaron Sams, founder of the Flipped Learning Network. “This is really about a transition from lecture mode to being more student-focused.”

Today and into the future, next-generation flipped learning is about supporting faculty, using tools other than just video and maximizing student engagement.

Energizing instructors

Faculty often struggle with how to begin flipping their classrooms. Now that flipped learning is an established trend, higher ed institutions should be providing more faculty support, Sams says.

“Most professors have been in ‘lecture mode’ for most of their career,” he explains. “A big challenge for them when wanting to get into flipped learning is what to do with their class time and how to provide more individualized instruction with students.”

In the future, more colleges and universities may hire “coaches” who will be responsible for helping faculty flip their classrooms, Sams says. The University of Tokyo, for instance, already has a director of flipped learning. In the meantime, providing training opportunities and encouraging faculty to guide each other can go a long way.

Early flipped learning

Recorded lectures simply posted online, with class time used to go over homework

Today’s flipped learning

Enhancing video and online readings with graphics and audio, using class time to encourage group activities and peer instruction

Tomorrow’s flipped learning

Greater support from universities as flipped learning becomes more popular and easier to implement, with the flipped concept infused into other delivery models, such as blended and online learning

Penn State’s John A. Dutton e-Education Institute for the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences works with its faculty to design, develop and manage online courses and programs, which includes help with the flipped concept, says Ann Taylor, the institute’s director.

Whether it’s holding workshops and online seminars, the Institute helps faculty learn how to post materials online course, how those materials can be used in a flipped environment and how to create a flipped learning plan.

When it comes to designing a course, faculty often start from the end goals and work backward, she says. “The specific technology can come later,” Taylor says. “Course designers and faculty need to start by identifying what they want their students to know and experience to be successful.”

Going beyond video

While posting recorded lectures online can be helpful, it’s not always the most effective way to teach, Taylor says. And there are many alternatives. Larger lecture videos broken down into “bite size” pieces on a specific topic can be less daunting for a student to watch.

“There’s no reason why flipped environments have to be all about video,” Taylor says. “I’m also seeing many instructors enhancing online readings with graphics and audio, as well as short videos when appropriate.”

Videos of narrated screen captures can help with complex topics, especially with math and science problems. Instructors can record as they work through problems on their computer and explain as they go. “That way students are actually being shown how to do something, not just being told how,” Taylor says.

In her classroom, The University of Texas at Austin’s Julie Schell is also less focused on video. “In my flipped graduate class, I’ve made two,” says Schell, also director of strategic initiatives at the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Schell encourages readings with a variety of engaging questions for students to answer. She also pulls concepts from cognitive science, such as retrieval practice, metacognition, priming, self-regulation, and transfer of learning.

“The idea is people learn when they are retrieving information, not just studying it,” Schell says.

In his flipped classroom at South Florida State College, Erik Christensen records himself narrating physics and astronomy problems he is working through on his computer screen. He also posts podcasts or YouTube videos, but either way he always includes follow-up questions or has students fill out a Cornell Notes worksheet before coming to class, which they love.

Since he began with flipped learning, 34 percent of students have moved up a full letter grade. “My classroom has also become much noisier,” Christensen says. “That’s how I know I’ve increased engagement.”

Engaging students in class

Instead of lecturing, flipping his classroom has also allowed Christensen to do more activities in class and spend more one-on-one time with each student.

When done right, increased interaction and engagement in the classroom should be the outcome of a successful and progressive flipped classroom, says Helaine W. Marshall, Long Island University’s director of TESOL, bilingual education and foreign language programs.

“Flipped learning in basic terms is switching what you did inside the classroom with what’s done outside the classroom,” Marshall says. “But you need to make sure this extra time and space you’ve created during class is dynamic, personal and interactive.”

This can be a challenge depending on class size. Instructors may consider using clickers or interactive platforms compatible with mobile devices for greater interaction. Smaller classes provide an opportunity to be more hands-on, with students working in groups and providing peer instruction.

But increased engagement and interaction is not limited to face-to-face classes, says Marshall, who teaches many flipped, online courses. She thinks in the future, flipped learning concepts will be introduced to other delivery models, whether it’s face-to-face, a blended learning environment or online.

For example, she has students in online courses meet in a virtual classroom, which increases the opportunity to spend more time with students one-on-one.

Lauren Williams is special projects editor at UB.


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