Flipping Your Class Humanities Style?

We’ve had several posts on flipping your class at The Innovative Instructor. From the plethora of articles appearing recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, it’s clear that flipping is now the big thing in pedagogical approaches. Our experience has been that the faculty practicing flipping here at Johns Hopkins have been in the STEM disciplines. But what about the humanities?

Text reading flipping the classroom with the classroom upside downHumanities courses are often taught using a model of assigning readings outside of class and engaging students in discussions in class. Larger, lecture-style courses at the introductory level may have students met in smaller sections for the discussion component. Discussion of the readings is generally a key component to the learning experience in humanities courses. Does it make sense to have students view the lecture materials outside of class as they do for STEM courses? Would they do this in addition to the reading? Or would they read in class? What would be the benefit? Then what happens to the discussion? Rebecca Schuman, an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri St. Louis and columnist for education at Slate and The Chronicle of Higher Education, examines these questions, and provides an account of her personal experience in partially flipping an introductory-level literature class in a post titled The Flipped Classroom.

Schuman sites a couple of examples (here and here) of flipping humanities classes. She speaks honestly about her reservations on flipping her class, but after hitting a point mid-term where her students didn’t seem to be doing the readings and in-class discussion were flagging, she made a flip. In class, students did close reading and worked in small groups on worksheets (like “problem sets” in STEM classes) she’d created. The results were mixed. Schuman writes:

Yes, the students did a more thorough job reading Shakespeare than they had with Dante. But we never had a chance to have the kind of discussion for which college was invented: the kind that happens when careful reading gets done at home, so there is time in class for everyone’s ideas to be challenged, everyone’s theories to be pushed and tested. Yes, they read carefully—but the reading itself took up so much of class that I felt their “end point” was still, in some ways, more cursory than a traditional class would have been.

Schuman concludes that her experiment was an incentive for students to improve their reading habits outside of class for the subsequent book studied – they didn’t like the flipped class experience. Flipping a class makes a lot of sense for some courses, but it is not a one-size fits all. The pedagogical method should match the course objectives rather than be adapted because it is the latest trend.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources
Johns Hopkins University

Image Source: © Macie Hall, 2013

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