Is the ‘flipped classroom’ the answer to all our problems ?

27 Oct


Since the beginning of the summer I’ve been heavily involved in by institution’s introduction of a pilot of lecture capture technology. So far I’ve been hugely impressed by the software we’ve decided on from Panopto. This week I attended a conference run by Panopto at Senate House in London, and was intrigued to see that the debate had moved on from just recording all lectures to the concept of the ‘flipped classroom’. Whilst the idea goes back as far as Eric Mazur work in the 1990’s, it was in the early 2000’s that genuine discussion appeared of the idea pre-recording materials for students to watch before attending a teaching session. Indeed, the Learning & Teaching management of my own institution seem really keen that we move towards flipping our classes.

I’m genuinely torn as to whether the ‘flipped classroom’ is a good idea for me or not. I can well understand that if I were teaching Research Methods I would be rushing towards this approach, but for what I do, I still can’t decide whether it’s a good idea or not. I’ve always been a supporter of the ‘lecture’ as a  great way of demonstrating ‘the academic process’ to students, so hopefully the best of my lectures set out to make a specific point, and along the way use evidence as ‘scaffolding’ to get to that point. In my case it may well be that there are small chunks of my lectures that I could ‘flip’ in order to free up class time, rather than it being whole sessions. What I found interesting about the Panopto Conference I attended was that the speaker giving an example of a flipped classroom seemed equally as conflicted as I am. The big question surrounding ‘flipping’ seems to be ‘what do you do with the freed up class time’, and it was that point that seemed to be lacking from the conference presentation. (I should confess that my other fear is ‘What if they don’t all watch the flipped material before the teaching session?’)

I suspect I’ll give this a go next year on a small scale, but in the interim there are a range of examples I’m looking for :

1) Flipped classes in universities that are not highly selective

2) Flipped classes with cohorts of 200+ students

3) Flipped classes at 1st year (freshman) level, rather than final year

As an aside, for anyone considering lecture capture software, Panopto is an excellent solution. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised as to how robust the software is, and how easy it is to use.

5 Responses to “Is the ‘flipped classroom’ the answer to all our problems ?”

  1. chemvig October 27, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    Flipping is not an end in itself. What you do in the freed up time is everything. Practise something constructive. For large cohorts I would recommend peer instruction. Peer instruction is so much more effective than ‘lecturing’ it becomes a reason to free up time, a reason to flip.

    • Teaching Rational Thinking October 27, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

      Having lived through the era (error) of ‘Learning Styles’, I think I’m just naturally sceptical of anything that is ‘the next big thing’ ! I particularly worry about how I would ‘police’ social loafing in a class of 200+ 1st years.
      I can completely see the argument for wholesale flipping of final year classes, when the aim of teaching is critical analysis rather than the imparting of information, but I worry that in other circumstances the quality of the flipped material is just as important as what occurs in the freed-up class time.
      It may also just be my institution, but I worry about ‘chalk and talk’ becoming a term of abuse. After all, if you look at the great science communicators of the last 40 years (Sagan, Attenborough etc) what they did was just very professionally presented ‘chalk and talk’

  2. Ross Galloway October 27, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    Interesting stuff. I think Betteridge’s Law of Headlines applies to this post, though: I use the flipped classroom, and in answer to “Is the ‘flipped classroom’ the answer to all our problems ?”, I would say no! I’d also be very wary of anyone who claimed it always was.

    I’m not terribly interested in ideology, I’m interested in what works. If flipped class works in your context, use it; if it doesn’t, don’t. When I talk to people who puzzle over what to do in the freed-up class time, often I discover they are already pretty far down the path to what I would describe as the flipped classroom anyway. I think the reason that STEM folk are so enthusiastic about flipping is that STEM lectures are probably some of the worst of the genre. In some cases, they really are an exercise in turning 200 people into human photocopiers for 50 minutes, and I’m not exaggerating there. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s push-back to that sort of thing. I’m not that keen on labels, so my philosophy is this: are you making the best use of your precious contact time, and if you’re not, what would be better?

    In answer to your specific questions, I’ve used flipped class with freshman physics classes of 250-300 students, and I’ve found it to work well. If you’re interested, there’s a conference proceedings paper that describes and evaluates it available here:

    Click to access Simon_Bates_Ross_Galloway.pdf

    Also, I’m in full agreement with you over the importance of modelling the academic process. I think that’s one of the most important things we can do. Transfer of factual information is relatively easily flipped; process is much harder. That’s what I use my contact time for, and flipping gives me the space, time and opportunity to do that.

    • Teaching Rational Thinking October 27, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

      Guilty on the headline, i spend a lot of my time encouraging students to read further than the headline and first paragraph, and so tend to be over-dramatic out of habit !

      Thanks for the link, it’s a really intersting paper, which i’ll circulate around my colleaugues here. What do you think about the impact of individual student motivation on the flipped classroom ? I remember some years ago listening to Steven Schwartz, the then VC of BRunel saying that problem-based learning only really worked with highly self-motivated students.

      I guess what i really need to do is to flip a couple of classes and see how it goes. All the literature reviewing in the world won’t top some hands-on data

      • Ross Galloway October 27, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

        Student self-motivation is key: I’m very up-front with my students at the start of the semester that the onus is on them to do what is needed or things won’t end well for them. By and large, they’ve been pretty good on that front. There’s research that shows students pick up very quickly on what the classroom norms are, so long as you stick to your principles and don’t accommodate people who don’t do the prep (by “quickly going over the main points” at the start of a class, for example).

        That said, realistically, I think student self-motivation is the key in *all* classroom approaches. Sure, people might be able to cram their way through a traditional course, but do they still have the knowledge, understanding and skills they need the next year?

        I couldn’t encourage you more strongly to give flipping a go, even if it’s just for a trial session or two initially. I’ve never looked back. Come to think of it, I can’t think of anyone I know who has.

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