The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a collection of articles, “Guide to the Flipped Classroom” that offers some lessons learned by faculty. The “flipped” classroom has existed for decades. The simplest explanation of a flipped classroom is that the students do classwork at home and homework in class. For instance, students may watch a lecture at home, submitting questions in advance of class that then help determine the problems to focus on in class. A flipped-classroom approach can also create learning conditions that are interactive and collaborative, with students working in small groups. One instructor, cited in the guide describes the student-centered learning that she sees happening in her flipped classroom: “In your presence, they’re learning how to think, and we’re learning what they struggle with.”
Across the articles in the guide, a few ideas emerge:
First, communication is key to overcoming any initial resistance to the flipped-classroom approach. Students who are accustomed to taking notes in class, then working on problems on their own to learn the material, may struggle with the new course format, especially if they have been highly successful a more traditional class. In communicating the benefits of the flipped classroom, one instructor advises pointing out to students the advantage of doing “the hard stuff” in class, where the instructor and fellow students can help.
There are, of course, cases where students never “buy in,” but those who do seem to love the flipped format. Students cited in the Chronicle’s guide report feeling more ownership over their performance as well as appreciation for the collaborative approach to learning. As one student remarked, “Having six or seven ways to think about a problem is better than just having your own way to think about a problem.”
On the other hand, many students come from high schools with a highly active curriculum. In these cases, students may feel right at home in a flipped classroom from the start.
Despite the benefits, implementation can be a tricky business. Preparing for class may become more labor-intensive for faculty, especially in the first iteration of the course when the homework materials are created. These materials used by students outside of class exist in a wide range of formats: from a simple reading assignment, all the way up to a video lecture produced by the faculty member. Facilitating the class session also requires developing a clear structure and answering a potentially wider range, and certainly a higher number, of questions from students during every class meeting.
A recent study cited in the Chronicle guide shows that faculty are still willing to try the flipped learning approach, and that, while one-third of instructors revert to old methods after this approach, two-thirds sustain the changes. Sustaining the flipped approach may be helped by proactive awareness of challenges.
Looking beyond the guide, rigorous research on “flipping” classrooms is currently underway to determine the impact of this approach on student learning. Recent research in chemistry, for example, indicates that flipping the classroom had a significant improvement on standardized test scores (Weaver & Sturtevant, 2015).
However, not every implementation of the flipped classroom shows an increase in learning gains as measured by the exam averages achieved by the course overall. When thinking of the advantages of flipping classrooms, note that standardized exams often do not measure core professional skills such as communication and collaboration.
To sum up, the flipped-classroom approach can make class sessions highly interactive, providing students with the opportunity to work through problems and projects in groups in the presence of the faculty member. In this way, this approach can make thinking processes more visible, which allows students to identify and cultivate best practices for problem-solving in a given discipline.
Don’t forget: Washington University faculty can set up a free Chronicle account with your wustl.edu email address. Instructors who would like to develop a flipped approach in their course can contact The Teaching Center for a consultation.
Weaver, G. C., & Sturtevant, H. G. (2015). Design, implementation, and evaluation of a flipped format general chemistry course. Journal of Chemical Education, 92(9), 1437-1448 (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jchemed.5b00316).