Flipped Classroom

'Traditional' teaching model:

  • Students get their first exposure to concepts/material during lecture.
  • Using the textbook or class notes and completing homework assignments, they practice the material.
  • Students take quizzes and exams to demonstrate their understanding of what they learned.
  • In most STEM fields, understanding is tightly connected to being able to apply content knowledge and skills in various concrete situations, and the traditional model rarely provides sufficient coaching and feedback in this regard.
  • Instead, students are typically expected to be able to apply knowledge in diverse situations by going to lectures and by working out homework problems on their own in an unsupervised environment.
  • The instructor rarely knows if students are practicing appropriate knowledge and skills while solving problems and cannot correct unproductive approaches to problem solving or coach students as they practice applying relevant knowledge and skills in diverse situations.

Flipped classroom model

  • Lectures are moved to out of class so that in-class time can be used to provide students support and feedback as they practice applying knowledge in new situations and develop problem solving, reasoning and higher order thinking skills.
  • An effective flipped classroom is based on the cognitive apprenticeship model of learning which includes modeling or demonstrating the criteria for good performance, providing coaching and scaffolding support to students as they learn to apply knowledge in different contexts and develop useful skills and then reducing the support as students develop self-reliance.
  • In the traditional model, coaching is very limited or non-existent and instructors demonstrate criteria of good performance in class and all practice by students is unguided and outside of class with minimal feedback.
  • In the flipped classroom model, the lecture is relegated to outside of the class and class time is devoted to coaching students and providing appropriate guidance and support.
  • Also, in Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is a taxonomy of levels of cognitive achievement, comprehension is a lower level of cognitive achievement than being able to apply knowledge in diverse situations or being able to analyze and synthesize problem solutions involving different knowledge elements.
  • Students need more coaching in learning to apply knowledge in diverse situations and in learning to organize their knowledge into a coherent structure.
  • Students watch lectures (either developed by the instructor, or from free or other online sources) and/or read instructional materials (book sections, handouts etc.) before they come to class.
    • This provides the benefit that each student can learn at his/her own pace and spend as much time as they require learning new concepts (e.g., they can pause lecture videos and read up on relevant concepts, go back and rewatch parts that are unclear etc.)
  • Often, students answer questions about what they learned, either by taking short online quizzes before coming to class or at the beginning of each class or both.
  • Class time is reserved for group activities that foster student collaboration and require application, analysis, evaluation and synthesis of the material learned outside of class.
    • Students working together can learn a lot from each other.
      • Students who have recently understood how to apply various concepts to different contexts can guide other students.
      • Articulating one's own ideas to peers helps solidify understanding.
      • In addition, students can co-construct knowledge, that is, students working together can achieve more than the sum of their individual efforts.
        • In one study (Singh 2005 – see below for reference), two students who each has answered a question incorrectly (in the previous week), when working together, answer the question correctly.
    • The group activities communicate to students what the instructor expects them to know and be able to do.
      • In addition, students get feedback from the instructor and TAs, as well as from each other about their understanding of the material and can work to repair their knowledge early (as opposed to for example, after the first test, when the class has moved on to new material).
  • The instructor (and perhaps undergraduate and/or graduate teaching assistants helping with the in-class instruction in a flipped class) can observe how students are applying new knowledge and provide coaching and feedback to help students acquire knowledge and develop useful skills consistent with the goals of the course.

The important aspects of the flipped classroom model are the following:

  • The in-class activities should be very carefully designed to:
    • Support student understanding and address common student difficulties
    • Promote active engagement and ensure that students take advantage of their peers' expertise
    • Help students develop skills of applying knowledge in various situations and organize their knowledge in meaningful ways
    • There is a wide range of options for in-class activities in a flipped class, including but not limited to:
      • Clicker questions with peer instruction (in which students talk to their peers about the questions posed in the multiple-choice format)
      • Cooperative problem solving
        • Helpful if the problems are challenging and engender significant student interaction (e.g., via context-rich problems)
      • Project-based or case-based activities
      • Question/experiment design
      • Inquiry-based activities
      • Tutorials
  • The online lectures should:
    • Be organized around a particular concept or idea (i.e., short and to the point in order to take account of relatively short student attention spans)
    • It is better to include several short lectures (10-15 min or less), each organized around a particular concept, than to add a long lecture (~50 min or more) which discusses several concepts
  • In addition, it is important to frame the reform (flipping) in a positive manner to students
    • Many students expect the traditional lecturing model in a STEM course. Therefore, many may resist and dislike the flipped model
    • It is important that students understand your goals for flipping and especially the fact that enhancing their learning is the primary reason for flipping the class
    • Discussing your expectations and describing what they should expect from the course can set a positive tone for the semester
  • One should also include accountability to ensure that students are indeed doing what they are supposed to be doing outside of class, e.g., viewing the lectures in a deliberate manner. Examples include:
    • Embedded conceptual questions in and/or after the lectures (the ones at the end should count for grade)
    • Quizzes at the beginning of the class based upon the material that students were supposed to have done outside of class
    • Telling students that the lecture videos can be stopped and they can even go back as needed
    • Students should be given effective study tips (e.g., it is important that they try some problems on their own after watching the video lectures to ensure that they have actually understood the material)
    • It is a good idea to turn the flipped classes into Just in Time Teaching (JITT) classes by asking students to submit answers to some conceptual questions based upon their out of class work on the course web before the class (it can include a question about what was the most challenging thing about the lecture videos). Then, the class can be structured to address those things that are challenging for most students.

More information and/or free resources:

The Engineering Education Research Center at University of Pittsburgh has been supporting efforts to flip introductory engineering courses during the past few years.

Scientific articles/books on flipping:

Articles on using various collaborative methods in the classroom: