“Flipping the Classroom” is an idea that has become more popular in teaching recently. But what does it really mean to “flip”? And what impact does this model have on student engagement and success?
Although still forthcoming, recent research demonstrates multiple benefits for students who learn in a flipped classroom environment. Because of these benefits, many instructors are starting to ask if a flipped classroom is right for them. Multiple agencies at MSU and other institutions across the country have created workshops and seminars on the topic of active learning and flipped classroom design, including the MSU Office of Faculty and Organizational Development, which has held multiple workshops such as “Exploring the Flipped Model” and “Design and Implementation of Cooperative Learning in Large Classes.” To further explore this growing trend and its potential application for your classroom, I will first outline the flipped classroom model discussing the strengths and challenges of such an approach, and finally provide a spectrum of flipped classroom strategies for you to try.
What is a flipped classroom?
Although there may be multiple variations of how to flip a class, the general concept is that students prepare and engage with the typical lecture-based material outside of the classroom (videos, readings, recorded lectures, etc.). Then, in the classroom, students are able to apply that knowledge. This can include formative or summative assessments, working through case studies, conducting lab work, etc. Essentially, students are held more accountable for their learning, which can have both positive and negative effects.
Overall, the goal of a flipped classroom is to get students to engage with each other and the professor, while also participating in higher levels of learning (applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating), as opposed to just understanding and remembering the material. Although research regarding the benefits of this model is still ongoing, studies are showing that this type of model increases exam scores and overall grades for all students, especially for female students (e.g. Kurtz 204; Gross et al. 2015).
What might be gained and lost through flipping?
As with any teaching strategy, the goal is to have some type of positive impact on student engagement and learning. So is this type of model effective? Research (compiled by Goodwin and Miller 2013) demonstrates that flipping improves student-teacher interaction and increases opportunities for feedback and student engagement. Students are able to control how they learn outside of the classroom; they can go at their own pace, stop and clarify, or do the assignment multiple times. This type of learning is not available during lecture-based classes, where students who may not understand often will not and/or cannot ask questions. It is through this active learning-based approach that students are able to adjust to their own learning process and have a chance in class to apply that knowledge.
Even with these important benefits, it’s also important to consider some of the potential drawbacks of this approach as you make teaching decisions. Students may perceive the instructor as not teaching, as there are no or few traditional lectures and in class time is often spent doing group work. However, usually with time, these types of perceptions disappear, although some students may never fully warm up to the approach. As Kurtz (2014) has shown, some students, especially young and/or female students, may benefit from doing asynchronous learning, while others may not. Again, this approach is generally beneficial to most students, especially those who may be lost in traditional classrooms. And although students may be resistant to change and focus on the drawbacks, students are still learning valuable skills, such as thinking critically and working in group situations. Additionally, in order to avoid some of the pushback from students, it’s important that you communicate why you are using a flipped model in connection to the overall learning goals for your course.
Finally, although discussion, participation, and interaction among and between students and the instructor may increase, other aspects, such as grading, preparing outside materials, and creating in-class work also increases for the instructor as well. However, this “flipping” of the material is typically a one-time hurdle; once you have created the material, you don’t need to re-create it every semester, unless you want to edit content. As you transition to more in-class work, the need to grade assignments will inevitably also increase. One strategy to get around some of this is by giving points for effort; however, you should still give feedback for student work.
How can you incorporate flipped classroom strategies?
Ultimately, flipping a class is often not an easy maneuver and may not be entirely possible for all instructors or TAs. Instead, it may be more beneficial to approach the model as a spectrum, in that pieces of a flipped classroom (or active learning strategies) may be incorporated if a truly “flipped” classroom cannot be achieved. There are a variety of ways in which an instructor can incorporate portions of this model based upon their own context and experience:
A Mixed Model
You may use a combination of lecture and flipping, although in order to be effective, it is important to not use one method for too long of a period, as students will get used to a teaching style and changing that will lead to difficulties and confusion. Instead, a better strategy would be, for example, with a typical two classes per week course, to have lecture one day and a flipped classroom design on the other. Or, you can dedicate a part of each day to lecture and another portion to some type of in-class activity that allows for students to apply their knowledge.
Begin to move some of your typical lectures, especially introductory material, to outside of the classroom, so you will have more time in class to conduct group work or discussions. This could include creating your own material or finding pre-existing material through open education resources (as long as the in class work relates to what is done outside of the classroom and to your learning objectives). Creating pre-class or in-class quizzes to gauge students’ knowledge may also be helpful. You can use the results of the pre-class quizzes to shape the discussion during the class period. While individual and group in-class quizzes are useful for both assessment and continued learning and engagement.
“Ticket to Entry”
In order for students to complete their pre-work, there may need to be some type of motivation or incentive, which could take the form of low-stakes points or even admittance to class. This “ticket to entry” serves as proof that they did their work and are prepared to participate in class. This could consist of completing their outside assignment or pre-class quiz, or simply writing down what they didn’t understand prior to coming to class.
Overall, these flipped classroom techniques can be effectively used in many courses. However, it is first important to identify what parts of the course would benefit from this model and what technologies are needed to do so. Then start small. You do not need to flip an entire class in one semester! Instead, it may be best to start the process one step at a time to find out what works and what doesn’t.
We’d like to know: What ways could you see this model working in your class? Or, if you’re already using this model, what have you found works best when it comes to flipping?
Goodwin, Bryan and Kirsten Miller (2013) Research Says / Evidence on Flipped Classrooms Is Still Coming In. Technology-Rich Learning 70(6):78-80.
Gross et al. (2015) Increased Preclass Participation Underlies Student Outcome Improvement in the Flipped Classroom. CBE-Life Sciences Education 14:1-8.
Kurtz et al. (2014) The Flipped Classroom Approach: The Answer to Future Learning? European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning
Nicole Geske is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology specializing in mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology. Her research interests include the modification and use of human remains and reconstructing taphonomic and mortuary events. She is also interested in human anatomy and medical school education, especially in regards to active learning and flipped classroom design.