Flipping a classroom or flipping out?

Dec 04 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Flipping the classroom: it's all the rage! Certainly there are enough data out there to support the case that students learn better in an active learning situation than a straight lecture. So obviously we should all be rushing out to modify our classes to fit a new paradigm, right?

At what cost? Superstar scientist, Meg Duffy, has a post up about flipping an intro bio classroom. Granted, 600 students is a rather extreme case, but the workload realities of this course change are real. It's clear she is seeing benefits of the transition, but it's also clear it is coming at a significant personal cost.

Will it be rewarded?

How does your university reward teaching? Does it? Does it care only for the end-of-semester student evaluations? If so, will flipping the classroom result in better evaluations? I don't know the answer, but I know that there is little correlation between how much the students learn and the tenor of their evaluation of the course.

For people in non-teaching focused institutions considering flipping their classroom, what is the incentive? To me, it is improving the retention of my students. Will that help at promotion time? Will that be recognized as an achievement by The Powers That Be? In many cases advancement is strongly tied to research output and teaching is considered only if the person falls in the "needs improvement zone". Your results may vary.

If using novel strategies to education comes at an enormous personal cost to educators, with little recognition for the effort, then our current incentive structure is unlikely to promote adoption of active learning strategies.

16 responses so far

  • Wait, you guys don't have active hands-on 8hrs/week introductory courses for every biological subject to go with the 2hr/week lectures? IncludingAnatomy/Morphology for each botany and zoology, as well as microbiology, genetics, anorganic and organic chemistry and physics - and field trip courses accompanying lectures and practice hours in taxonomy? Advanced courses in the second half of the program being 40hrs/week hands-on courses plus lectures? And students pay how much for their higher education?! I had that 14 years ago in Germany. Publicly funded.

    But relax, German universities made their programs 'internationally compatible', now. 🙁

    le sigh.

    But I can attest: it was hard but it also was pretty awesome... especially in hindsight. So... yay for more experience focused teaching styles!

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    P.S. Also very expensive. Some Professors saw themselves forced to spend research money to buy supplies for these courses.

  • Pascale says:

    I flipped my classes a couple of years ago. The student response very negative. They aren't paying medical school tuition for me to "not teach." I shouldn't be wasting their lecture time, making them learn the material on their own.


  • Ha! Didn't see that coming.

  • DJMH says:

    Anyone who's ever taught a pre-med can't be surprised...just sad.

  • GMP says:

    I never flipped a class but there are several flipped-classroom enthusiasts in my department. They invested the time to prerecord the lectures and develop the materials. After a couple of years, all but one, who's a die-hard flipper, reported that they were underwhelmed with the student response. The main issues are 1) what Pascale says -- students feel like they are being cheated out of the education they are paying for, because they don't see the effort than went into the prep, they expect the lecture but don't get it, and 2) you cannot make the students come prepared to class and near as I can tell most flippers didn't do the quiz-per-class approach to coerce the students to preview the lectures. So most flippers said that they ended up lecturing anyway at least a little bit during most meetings because so many students didn't come prepared; one even formally said "Screw it" and reverted fully to the traditional format about 1/3 of the way through the semester.

  • TBH, I gave up on clickers last semester for a similar reason: they were not achieving the goals I wanted in a way that made them more cost effective than a manual process.

  • JGB says:

    I haven't seen anyone propose this elsewhere, but I suspect that the reason a lot of these great ideas produce initial results that fade is due to novelty. These transformations initially produce results because the students are surprised and respond with increased focus. Flipping and other similar ideas though lose that impact as they become more common.

  • Alex says:

    Education works best when everybody is motivated and working on understanding the subject, and class time in some way helps people with all the stuff they need to do outside of class. Flipping, clicking, and whatever the next hot thing might be all work best when the instructor is truly, completely enthused about it, and is able to transmit that enthusiasm and also do the work work to make one quiz per class or whatever the appropriate tactic is for that method.

    I use clickers in large classes, but I'm not a True Believer. I mostly do what I was going to do anyway, and then at some point in the middle of class I use the clicker questions to see how well they're getting it and see if I need to spend more time on something or just move on. Keeps them paying attention and thinking, so it's not a bad thing, but it's not getting the amazing results that some of the enthusiasts claim. In small classes I don't even bother with the clickers. I just pose questions to the room, take questions, and have a lot of back-and-forth with them. It works fine.

    But what works best is when they spend a lot of time on the assignments and come to office hours and ask questions. Nothing works better than that.

  • Established PI says:

    I haven't tried flipping a class yet but my I can report on the experience of my spouse, who has been doing this for a few years. The key is to use classroom time for more active learning - solving problems, calling on students to go to the board. The only way to ensure that students actually view the video is to quiz them at the start of each and every class (and have the grade count), which can be done using assigned clickers or with a paper test. The class reviews have been mixed: some semesters the students love it, others they are less enthusiastic about essentially the same material and format.

    The frustrating part is that the real measure for an educator is whether one method is more effective than another. My spouse tried measuring this by teaching the class as flipped one semester, traditional format the next and then comparing final grades, but there is just too much variation among students (and other uncontrollable variables) to have made that a valid comparison. There needs to be a better way to assess different approaches but this is very hard to do, especially for an individual teacher. For now my spouse is sticking to this format for this particular (undergraduate) class but hasn't tried it for any others. One side benefit is that a few of the videos have garnered very large numbers of views (>10,000), suggesting that there is an audience well beyond that university that appreciates the video lectures.

  • anon says:

    In mathematics, this is an old method called Moore Method. Very effective but never caught on in mass

  • flipper says:

    I just finished my first semester of a partly flipped course. I figured it would be easier on everyone if I eased into this, so about 1/3 of the lectures were essentially flipped. Half of those were computer-based tutorials, for which I prepared instructional videos. The other half were jigsaw style discussions. As far as I can gather, the response was quite positive. Several of them told me they were very appreciative of the videos, and the discussions were generally quite lively and mostly acheived what I intended. I will be doing it again next year, if I'm still teaching this course. I think mixing approaches was a good idea, if I'd tried to find ways of flipping everything, I would have driven myself (and the students) crazy. I think having some of the classes flipped also made them more interactive during regular lectures, as well... or maybe that was just the particular group. So hard to tell.

  • Getting research done also comes at a tremendous personal cost. The incentive structure is only messed up depending on what is considered to be a reward.

  • […] came to the article linked above via the blog of Prof-like Substance, a blogger I’ve been following for a while. Prof-like is at a research university and brings […]

  • Katie Stofer says:

    Forgive me if you've posted this elsewhere, but I just happened upon your blog and this post. There's a meta analysis out on active learning: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/23/8410.abstract

    Maybe that will help convince some of your department heads, colleagues, tenure committees, etc. ... someday.

    In the meantime, I think there will definitely be a period of time where students are not expecting flipped classrooms, especially when they are still not the norm, and therefore may rebel. I don't know how much time professors try to set expectations and rationale up front about why the course is flipped, etc., and give the students a chance to understand why it's done that way. Maybe even presenting the research that it's more effective. Perhaps even doing a mini-evaluation halfway (or earlier) through the course to assess lingering questions on the format would help buy-in. Maybe some of the ones who hate it at the beginning are the ones who would drop anyway.

    unfortunately, I think it still comes back to many univ. profs are not given any more than minimal support in how to teach (let alone demands on time to actually prepare something effective).

  • […] was pretty stressful for me. But part of it is also because I don’t think all that effort will be rewarded in terms of increased student evaluations. In my case, my teaching evaluations last semester were […]

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