Quick Tips: Considerations for Flipping Your Course

Text reading flipping the classroom with the classroom upside downThe Innovative Instructor is offering a quick tip during this busy first week of classes. Have you been thinking about flipping your class? We’ve written a number of posts on the subject previously—see the list below—but we’ve just released a new guide: Considerations for Flipping Your Class [PDF]. The guide will help focus your thinking by asking questions about activities planned for class time, addressing recording issues and student access to recordings, and suggesting best practices. The primary audience is the Johns Hopkins faculty that our center serves, but the guide will be useful to anyone in the initial phase of thinking about hybrid teaching. We recommend consulting the teaching and learning staff at your institution for assistance. The following articles may also provide insight as you plan your strategy for flipping your course.

  1. Flipping a Statistical Analysis Course (January 31, 2017) by Avanti Arthreya and Dan Naiman
  2. Lunch and Learn: Flipped courses: What is the purpose? What are the strategies? (October 26, 2016)
  3. A Manual for Flipping Your Classroom (January 14, 2015)
  4. Flipping Your Class Humanities Style? (March 10, 2014)
  5. Quick Tips: Flipping Your Classroom (August 14, 2013)
  6. 2013 GSI Symposium Breakout Session 3: Flipping the Classroom (February 20, 2013)
  7. Flipping Your Class (January 23, 2013)

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: CC Macie Hall 2013

A Manual for Flipping Your Classroom

The Innovative Instructor has featured several posts on flipping your classroom (see here, here, here, and here) a technique that has students learning content on their own time and using class time to work on problems, discuss materials, or engage in collaborative activities.

Text reading flipping the classroom with the classroom upside downJust in time for the upcoming semester, the Chronicle of Higher Education has published A Guide to the Flipped Classroom, available for free download. The manual, in PDF form, collects seven case studies and articles on the process of flipping the classroom that appeared in the CHE over the past three years. Faculty teaching evolutionary biology, chemistry, mathematics, and business topics weigh in on their experiences.

The experiences of Andrew Martin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, are highlighted in the first article. The article notes that innovations in pedagogy, technology such as clickers, support and advocacy from those who want to improve higher education, and economic realities have helped to popularize this teaching technique.

The second article describes a student’s view of a flipped chemistry course at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. With the flipped classroom, learning takes center stage over teaching.

Stephen Neshyba describes his experience flipping his chemistry class at University of Puget Sound noting that moving to a flipped class may change “which kinds of students excel and which ones struggle.”

Two articles by Robert Talbert, a mathematician and educator at Grand Valley State University, look at the pedagogical reasons and advantages for flipping a class, and why students may push back when a course is flipped. There are suggestions on how to handle this. Talbert also blogs for the CHE at Casting Out Nines, where he has documented in detail his experiences with flipping his classes.

A study shows that physics faculty often try new methods and then abandon it in the face of student challenges. An article addresses what faculty who want to explore new teaching methods can learn from this research.

Finally there is a profile of Norman Nemrows, a professor of business at Brigham Young University. He began recording his lectures about 15 years ago. His experience raises the question “Are professors willing to become sidekicks to slick video productions?”

At the end of the manual there is a short list of resources to help you whether you are a novice or a seasoned flipper.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: © Macie Hall, 2013

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

In Case You Missed It…

The Innovative Instructor has had several posts on flipping your classroom [2013 GSI Symposium Breakout Session 3: Flipping the Classroom and Flipping Your Class]. Two weeks ago the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and the Office of Graduate Education held their annual Faculty Teaching Workshop.  This year’s topic was: Engaging Students in Active Learning: The Flipped Classroom and Other Strategies.

Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Center for Teaching and Learning Logo

So why are we telling you this now, after the fact? The good news is that recordings were made of the sessions in the half-day workshop and have been shared along with slides and other resources.

The goals of the workshop were to:

  • Articulate the purpose and value of incorporating active learning and flipping a class/session
  • Evaluate the usefulness of flipping
  • Compare several methods for active learning techniques
  • Implement active learning and/or classroom flipping techniques in your class

The program included:

  • The Active Learning Landscape, Dr. Stephen Gange, Professor of Epidemiology
  • Make Learning Un-Google-able: 21st Century Pedagogies that Will Transform Education, Dr. Marcio Oliveira, Asst. Dean for Educational Innovation, UMD School of Public Health
  • Promoting Active Learning in a Large “Lecture” Class; Experience from a First Try, Dr. Scott Zeger, Vice Provost for Research, JHU
  • Faculty Panel: Active Learning and Flipped Classrooms at JHSPH
  • Panelists: Dr. Elizabeth Golub, Epidemiology; Dr. Keri Althoff, Epidemiology; Beth Resnick, Public Health Practice; Dr. Nan Astone, Population, Family, and Reproductive Health; Moderator: Clark Shah-Nelson, Senior Instructional Designer, CTL

So check out the workshop recordings. And while you are in the neighborhood, the JHSPH Center for Teaching and Learning has many other great resources for teaching on their website.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: ©Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, CTL Toolkit Logo


2013 GSI Symposium Breakout Session 3: Flipping the Classroom

A Report from the Trenches

We’re continuing with our reports from the JHU Gateway Sciences Initiative (GSI) 2nd Annual Symposium on Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the Sciences. Next up is “Flipping the Classroom: How to Do It Conceptually and Technologically” presented by Michael Falk, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Material Sciences and Engineering  and Brian Cole, Senior Information Technology Specialist, Center for Educational Resources.

Please note that links to examples and explanations in the text below were added by CER staff and were not included in the breakout session presentation.

Instructor with students at computers

For the past several years Professor Michael Falk has “flipped” his course EN.510.202 –Computation and Programming for Materials Scientists and Engineers.  [See the recent Innovative Instructor post on Flipping Your Class.] The purpose of Falk’s class is to teach algorithm development and programming in the context of materials science and engineering.  The class size ranges between 20 and 30 students, and Professor Falk has one Teaching Assistant for the class.

Professor Falk outlined the logistics for the students taking the course. They are required to watch a video of a lecture-style presentation he has posted on his Blackboard course site, and then take a quiz on the content presented in the podcast, before coming to class. The quizzes ensure that the students will watch the lecture and are held accountable for the information presented. Once in class, Falk has the students engage in an interactive experience, such as writing a mini-program, based on the material from the presentation. He noted that he has not found making the podcasts difficult, but creating in-class active learning experiences for his students has been more challenging. He spends a great deal of time developing in-class exercises that will build cumulatively. He also wants students to be able to get enough from the classroom activity to continue work on their own.

For assessment purposes he has students take a survey at the beginning of the semester and at the end of the semester to determine learning gains. Preliminary data indicate that the class increases the ability of students to program, that students showed increased perception in their abilities, as well as an increased intention to use programming in the future.

Brian Cole discussed and demonstrated the technology behind the flipped classroom.  Falk uses the software application ClassSpot, which allows students to share their work on the classroom’s main projection screen, to edit common code during class.  Cole described using Audacity, Adobe Connect, Adobe Presenter, and QuickTime on Macs to create the video recordings.  He mentioned that a faculty member could also use an appropriate pre-recorded lecture from a trusted source. Falk uses ScreenFlow to make his presentations; however, Johns Hopkins does not have a license for this software. Adobe Captivate is another possibility. It is very powerful but has a steeper learning curve.

The follow questions were raised and answered during the session:

Q – Could this method be used to flip a few modules as opposed to the entire course?
A – Undergrads don’t like change, so it would probably be better to do the whole course.

Q – Can students watch the podcasts over and over?
A – Yes.

Q – Where is the textbook in all of this? Could you replace your podcasts with readings from a textbook?
A – There are reading assignments in addition to the videos. In my experience, students prefer a human face, a talking head, over reading a textbook.

Q – How do students reach you if class time is dedicated to working on problems?
A – I encourage students to use the class Blackboard discussion board. [Note: The flipped class structure  doesn’t prevent students from talking to the faculty member, and Falk also has office hours.]

Q – Did you scale back student work [outside of class] since more time spent watching podcasts?
A – Yes – most of the traditional homework is done in class.

Q – Are there tests?
A – Yes.

Q- How important are quizzes to making the flipped course work?
A – Very important. Students are very grade oriented so having quizzes, tests, and exams matters. Quizzes are great motivators for getting students to watch the videos.

Amy Brusini, Course Management Training Specialist
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Flipping Your Class

At the 2nd Annual Johns Hopkins University Symposium on Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the Sciences, we heard a lot about flipping the classroom.

From lecture hall to interactive learning - two images with arrow connecting.

The term, flipped classroom, might bring to mind an anti-gravity experiment, but it actually refers to a different way of thinking about teaching and learning. In a traditional pedagogical model, a faculty member is a “sage on the stage,” lecturing to students (who are frantically taking notes in an effort to capture all of the professor’s pearls of wisdom).  Assignments – readings, problem sets, projects, papers – are all done outside of class, often with little or no direct guidance from faculty.

In the flipped classroom (also called the inverted classroom), the process is turned around. Instead of doing problem-based homework outside of class and coming to class to hear the professor lecture, the student watches a version of the lecture content online, and comes to class to work on problems in an interactive, collaborative setting. The faculty member becomes a “guide on the side” or a coach, perhaps injecting a mini-lecture when needed to help students struggling with a common problem.  The focus shifts from teaching to learning.

This is not an “either/or” or an “instead of” situation. Students view the online content at their convenience, do the assigned readings, AND come to class.  They must come to class because that’s where the active learning will happen, where they are going to work on problems individually or in groups, and perhaps most importantly, where they will develop skills that will enable them to be life-long learners, not only in the discipline that you teach, but in any subject. Some professors choose to insert quick (graded) quizzes at the start of the flipped class as a further inducement to attendance.

Two high school teachers, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, are credited with developing the model for the flipped classroom in 2007. Sams was awarded the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and he and his colleague have written extensively about this model and its evolution. See the blog post The Flipped Class: Shedding Light on the Confusion, Critique, and Hype; an article available as a PDF for JHU affiliates, Before You Flip, Consider This; and their book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.

One quote from the blog post describes the classroom scene and is particularly compelling:

As we roam around the class, we notice the students developing their own collaborative groups.  Students are helping each other learn instead of relying on the teacher as the sole disseminator of knowledge.

One of the greatest benefits of flipping is that overall interaction increases: teacher to student and student to student.  Since the role of the teacher has changed from presenter of content to learning coach, we spend our time talking to kids.  We are answering questions, working with small groups, and guiding the learning of each student individually.

When students are working on an assignment and we notice a group of students who are struggling with the same thing, we automatically organize the students into a tutorial group.  We often conduct mini-lectures with groups of students who are struggling with the same content. The beauty of these mini-lectures is we are delivering “just in time” instruction when the students are ready for learning.

Changing the focus in the classroom from the faculty teaching to the students actively learning may prove to be challenging to the instructor used to actively teaching. Terry Doyle, a professor and author of two books on learner centered teaching, tells us, “It’s the one who does the work who does the learning.” [Helping Students Learn in a Learner Center Environment: A Guide to Teaching in Higher Education, Stylus, 2008, p. 25].

Robert Talbert, who teaches mathematics at Grand Valley State University in Michigan and writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education, has posted about his experiences with flipping his classroom on his blog, Casting Out Nines. His posts speak honestly about his experiences including receiving pushback from some students. One of his recent pieces, We Need to Produce Learners, Not Just Students, looks at the concept of producing life-long learners mentioned above.

On the practical side, there are DIY guides. Julie Schell, a post-doc working with Eric Mazur – the Harvard University physics professor who developed Peer Instruction, a research-based, interactive teaching method – has created a Quick Start Guide to Flipping your Classroom with Peer Instruction. Closer to home, JHU Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Michael Falk, has been flipping his classroom since 2010. In an article for the Innovative Instructor Pedagogy Forum entitled Lectures on Demand, he outlines the technology solutions he has used to produce the video content.

Faculty writing about the applied components of the flipped classroom agree that using shorter, topic-focused videos for the out of class content is more effective than video-taping their traditional 50 minute (or longer) lectures. As was discussed in our post on micro-lectures, students’ attention begins to wander after 10 minutes. Professor Falk notes in his article that creating the online content requires thought and up-front time, but pays off later, as this content can be reused in subsequent offerings of the course. Faculty can use video-recordings of themselves explaining key concepts or problems, borrow from Khan Academy or similar materials available on YouTube educational channels, offer animations or other didactic resources.

Faculty who have made the flip are enthusiastic about the benefits for their students. After the discussions at the GSI Symposium, we hope to see more flipping at JHU.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft clip art edited by Macie Hall