Why You Should Flip Your Classroom

When I first started teaching, I wrote detailed outlines for each class period covering which topics I’d lecture on, questions I’d pose to my students, and activities they would complete.  Despite these plans, however, I inevitably would run out of time.  And what always got cut?  The application exercises and activities.  

I quickly realized this pattern was problematic, but I struggled to find a way to fit content delivery and application into a single class period in a way that did justice to both.  I tried shortening my lectures as well as dividing the week into lecture days and activity days, but both of these approaches resulted in not covering as much material as I wanted and needed to.  It wasn’t until I started working with TLT that I discovered the solution to my teaching challenge: the flipped classroom model.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re more than likely familiar with the education buzzword “flipped classroom.”  Originally conceptualized by Colorado high school science teachers, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, the flipped model seeks to change the traditional classroom structure.  In many (if not most) college classrooms across the country, instructors lecture and students listen.  Unfortunately, this method of content delivery has consistently been demonstrated to be ineffective.  As Nobel laureate Carl Wiseman argues, the college lecture is the educational equivalent of bloodletting, one long overdue for revision.

What is the Flipped Classroom Model?

The flipped model attempts to address the weaknesses of traditional lecturing by moving it out of the classroom and bringing in more active learning strategies.  To deliver content, instructors record mini-lectures and students watch them outside of class.  These videos prepare students for hands-on application exercises which occur during class.  Now, you may be thinking, “but students are still listening to a lecture whether it’s in class or on a video!”  That is true.  But there is also a significant difference.  

We know that learning occurs best when students are given multiple opportunities to practice (this research is discussed in depth in James Lang’s Small Teaching and Benedict Carey’s How We Learn).  Students need the most assistance and guidance while practicing, but this typically occurs when the student is alone at home.  So the value of a flipped class is in the repurposing of class time into a workshop where students can inquire about lecture content, apply their knowledge, test their skills, and collaborate with others.  When we lecture for an entire class period, this is less likely to happen.

Chart comparing the traditional lecture model with the flipped classroom model.

Image by Jason Rhode

Why Should I Flip My Class?

Both empirical and anecdotal evidence demonstrates the positive impact of the flipped model.  For example, at Penn State, Dr. Kenneth Pasch teaches an undergraduate accounting class to 1,300 students (yes, you read that right).  It’s a course in which students struggle and a large number fail.  But after implementing the flipped model, the class average jumped from 60-70 percent of students passing to over 80 percent. The percentage of students earning As also increased from 12 percent to 26 percent in a single semester.  As another example, students in a flipped statistics course earned higher scores on exams and higher final course grades than students in the lecture condition.  In addition, while students in both conditions performed similarly on a departmental pretest at the beginning of the semester, the students in the flipped class scored significantly higher on the posttest.¹  

While the flipped model can improve exam scores and grades, it also impacts student learning in other meaningful ways.  For example, in a large-enrollment physics course, the researchers found increased student attendance and higher engagement in the flipped condition than in the lecture condition.  Another study of linear algebra courses found that while flipped classroom students performed only slightly better on a final exam than their traditional classroom peers, they reported enjoying the class more.  These students also seemed to develop a greater belief that linear algebra is relevant to their futures.  When asked to rate their agreement with the statement “linear algebra is likely to be relevant to my career,” flipped classroom students agreed significantly more than lecture section students.²  These research results are encouraging because engagement, enjoyment, and perceived relevance all impact student learning.

While these studies demonstrate positive outcomes, there are others demonstrating that students in flipped classrooms perform the same as students in lecture classrooms (though there aren’t too many indicating that students in flipped classrooms perform worse).  For an excellent scoping review of research on the flipped classroom, check out: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1096751615000056. While we need more rigorous empirical research to assess learning outcomes, I believe there is sufficient evidence that the flipped classroom model is worth implementing.

This post will be the first in a series on the flipped classroom.  I will particularly focus on the problems instructors encounter and offer solutions based on the education literature and my own experience.  I won’t sugar coat it: flipping is labor-intensive.  But the outcomes are worth it.  So I hope this series will help you flip your classroom without flipping out!

  1. Wilson, S. G. (2013). The flipped class: A method to address the challenges of an undergraduate statistics course. Teaching of Psychology, 40(3), 193-199.
  2. Love, B., Hodge, A., Grandgenett, N., & Swift, A. W. (2014). Student learning and perceptions in a flipped linear algebra course. International Journal Of Mathematical Education In Science & Technology, 45(3), 317-324.
  3. Feature image for this post comes from Washington University’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

About pastprof

Recovering academic. Starting a new adventure as a college instructional technologist. Ph.D. in Communication & Information. Reside in the lovely Charleston, South Carolina, USA.
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