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

The ABCs of MOOCs

If you haven’t heard about MOOCs, you’ve probably been trapped in your office and the classroom for the past six months. Even if you have been hearing talk about MOOCs, you may be wondering what one is and why they are suddenly so much in the press.The Innovative Instructor offers this post on MOOC basics.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. The two fundamental components are open access and the ability to support large scale enrollments. These courses are typically pitched to college level learning without offering credit. In some cases, certification is available (usually at a small cost); several universities are exploring credit options through fee-based MOOC offerings.

MOOCs are new and the landscape is rapidly changing. Although the companies offering these courses point to enrollments in the millions, the average course completion rate is under 10%. An article in The New York Times this week examines the current status of MOOCs and suggests what the future might hold. It is accompanied by a short video that summarizes the start-up period and features clips of faculty teaching MOOCs.

The concept behind MOOCs – offering greater and affordable access to higher education – isn’t new.  Previous models for open access to course materials include the OpenCourseWare initiative started at MIT.  The OCW movement has international participation of hundreds of institutions including the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The Khan Academy, created by MIT and Harvard graduate Salman Kahn in 2005, was another inspiration for MOOCs. The first MOOC was launched at Stanford in 2011 when Sebastian Thrun, a computer science professor, offered an online open-access course on artificial intelligence. 160,000 students from 190 countries enrolled. In early 2012 he founded Udacity to offer MOOCs on a larger scale. Currently the three biggest players in the MOOC field are Udacity, Coursera, and edX.

Course design varies from MOOC to MOOC, and learner experience may differ considerably. In some instances participants watch professors who have video-recorded their face-to-face class lectures and posted them online, accompanied by tests to confirm student comprehension. Other courses may provide short explanatory modules interspersed with quizzes. Some MOOCs make use of discussion boards and other collaborative activities. The faculty member who teaches the course is not likely to grade assigned papers and projects. With the large enrollment in these courses, assignments that can’t be computer-scored tend to be evaluated by peer review.  In those cases, participants serve as both reviewers and submitters, an exercise that can be viewed as a skill acquisition for students.

The appeal of MOOCs is obvious. Want to learn the basics of computer programming? Didn’t have time to take a course on American poetry as an undergraduate? Looking to boost specific knowledge or skills for college, graduate school, or a job? MOOCs offer a low-stakes opportunity to do so. If the teaching method in one course doesn’t match your learning style, it’s easy to move on to another offering. In fact, the best way to learn more about MOOCs is to sign up for a course.

Coursera has 211 course offerings starting in January 2013, with courses running from 4 to 16 weeks. Topics range from Genes and the Human Condition (University of Maryland) to Introduction to Improvisation (Berklee College of Music), including 8 offerings from JHU’s School of Public Health.

edX is showing 23 course offerings as of this posting, with titles such as The Ancient Greek Hero (Harvard), The Challenges of Global Poverty (MIT), and Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Computation (Berkeley).

Udacity is now offering 19 courses in computer science and math from Introduction to Physics to an advanced Applied Cryptography.  All of the courses are open, which means you can sign up any time and complete the course at your own pace without problem set or exam deadlines.

How will MOOCs impact higher education and how will they affect student learning opportunities? These questions were examined in a recent Educause Review article, Online Educational Delivery Models: A Descriptive View.  Here you will find a comprehensive overview of online educational delivery models (including MOOCs) characterized by modality and by method of course design.

Looking for more on MOOCs? Following are links to articles that will provide general information, discussions of the advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs, and examinations of the economics and politics of this so-called “disruptive technology.”

University Affairs/Affaires universitaires, July 31, 2012, Following the herd, or joining the merry MOOCscapades of higher-ed bloggers, Melonie Fullick.  An examination of disruptive innovation, the politics of higher education reform, and the economics of MOOCs.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13, 2012, Why Online Education Won’t Replace College – Yet, David Youngberg. MOOCs may have some fundamental problems, but we still need to pay attention.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13, 2012, Don’t Confuse Technology with College Teaching, Pamela Hieronymi.  An opinion piece discussing what educators do and why MOOCs are not a panacea.

Inside Higher Ed, August 31, 2012, Elitism, Equality and MOOCs, Ryan Craig. Accessibility versus elitism: are MOOCs being used to address the real problem in higher education?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2012, Teaching to the World from Central New Jersey, Mitchell Duneier. A thought provoking commentary from a Princeton sociology professor who taught a course in a MOOC platform in spring 2012.

Inside Higher Ed, September 7, 2012, MOOCing on Site, Steve Kolowich. New site-based testing will strengthen credentialing for MOOCs.

Time, October 18, 2012, College is Dead. Long Live College! Amanda Ripley. The author examines the question of whether MOOCs can offer greater accessibility to a college education. Who will benefit and what does this mean for elite (and other) institutions of higher learning?

Inside Higher Ed, January 9, 2013. Paying for Proof, Paul Fain. Lengthy article on monetizing MOOCs, with considerable attention to the new Coursera “pay for proof” verification initiative.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: MOOC Wordle created by Macie Hall