4 Lessons from the First Semester of the Flipped Classroom


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Alan Earhart’s students, like many, were procrastinators.

The Southeast Community College (Lincoln, NE) instructor realized his chemistry students delayed most of their studying until just before tests, at which time it was too late to review and re-teach what they didn’t understand, and therefore, too late for their grades.

So, last semester Earhart tried something different: he flipped the classroom.

Hesitant, at first, to attempt the controversial teaching method because he’d always encouraged student interaction during lectures, he hoped that by requiring students to view recorded lectures and complete assigned readings before each class session, he’d flip their study habits.

Setting up the Flipped Classroom

Flipped classrooms come in all shapes and sizes, so Earhart’s is just one example of how an instructor, particularly of a science course, might choose to approach the flip.

Relying on resources he’d collected over time and posted on the class website, he required students to access the website, as well as relevant video and audio podcasts and the textbook to become familiar with concepts they would cover  in depth during class.

Students completed a pre-class worksheet based on concepts from the podcasts and readings, which Earhart spent 10 or so minutes reviewing at the beginning of each class. Then, in groups, students worked on corresponding problem sets. This routine was peppered with mini lectures and class discussions as needed.

Earhart admits mistakes, but overall felt the experiment was successful, and this fall, he’ll flip all of his classes.

Four Lessons for the First-Time Flipper

Earhart has some advice if you’re attempting your own flip.

Start slow. Whether that means choosing to flip just a few sections of the course, or adopting some but not all of the techniques and principles of the flipped classroom, Earhart encourages experimentation. Beyond influencing his students’ study habits, his own goal was to lecture less, not get rid of it completely. The daily pre-class worksheet helped him monitor students’ understanding of concepts, and allowed him to adjust class lectures and discussions accordingly. “Instead of starting something from scratch, I got to build off what I wanted them to try to learn,” he says.

Give students a carrot. Assign homework to go with the targeted readings, podcasts or vodcasts. Earhart made the daily pre-class worksheet worth credit, and therefore, worth students’ time. “I can give students all sorts of reasons as to why studying ahead of the lecture is rewarding and also give them actual examples of how students’ performance changed drastically upon changing their study habits, but many students will not do it unless I give them specific work to do [and make it worth points],” Earhart says.

Use “Jedi Mind Tricks” to get students on board. In other words, frame the flipped classroom in a positive way. Earhart suggests the following script: “I’m going to ask you to learn new concepts before the class period and then we can discuss them. If you trust me and work with me, you’ll find that you understand the concepts better and will be able to demonstrate a stronger performance on the exams.”

For those students who complain about or question the method, it might help to have some data up your sleeve, such as this 2011 article in The Economist highlighting a study published in Science in which a group of 850 undergraduate engineering students were split for one week into two groups — one attending traditional classes and the other attending flipped classes. At test time, the traditionally taught group scored an average of 41 percent on the test, while the flipped group scored an average of 74 percent.

Of course, gathering and sharing your own data will be more powerful than anything else. Show students how they are learning.

Accept that you’ll make mistakes. As James Joyce said, “Mistakes are the portal of discovery.” Earhart, for example, admitted to misjudging how much he thought the class would cover in a particular session. As a result, he regularly would have to adjust the pre-class worksheets and other activities on the fly. When this happened, he simply explained the situation and made notes for future classes. As long as students understand your rat
ionale (see lesson number #3), they will roll with the punches.

Whether you choose to flip your classroom or not, Earhart has the following advice: “Don’t let someone dictate what you must do in the classroom. Experiment. Find out what works and what doesn’t work for you,” he says. For him, the flipped classroom works.

What about you? Have you experimented with flipping your classroom? Let us know in the comments.


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