“Flipping” the College Student Development Classroom

This post is written by Jim Barber, Assistant Professor of Education.

About the Project

My project will use rich media to create short, online learning modules to introduce concepts for my course, College Student Development Theory (EDUC 603) in the Higher Education Program.  I am very excited to have April Lawrence from Academic Technology and Paul Showalter from Swem Library collaborating with me on this project.

My vision for this project is to have a brief learning module (approximately 10 minutes) to introduce the major theories we study in the semester.  I would expect 8-10 of these modules to be necessary, positioned about every other week in the semester.  The concepts in this course are often abstract (e.g., cognitive development, moral judgment, identity intersections, psychosocial development) and I think students will benefit from short “mini-lectures” to introduce the key concepts and let the ideas sink in before our class meetings.  The term “flipped classroom” has been coined recently to describe the format of introducing topics to students at home or on the move via online delivery, and maximizing class time for application exercises (as opposed to the traditional sequence of introducing ideas in a class lecture and applying learning at home through homework assignments).

Why Do I Want to Do This Project?

I have tried this approach before in a very amateur manner with 5-minute voice-over-PowerPoint videos using the free screen capture software Jing. I received strong positive reaction from students to the model, and think I can improve on the idea even more with professional tools and technical assistance. We’ve decided to use Adobe’s Captivate 5.5 software to create the modules.  With this more advanced software, and the equipment in the Swem Media Center and the School of Education Technology Integration Center, I will be able to incorporate new elements such as short videos or interview sound bites from theorists we are reading and students describing key developmental experiences. I also plan to add short quizzes or interactive elements at the conclusion of each module to reinforce key points.

How is This Different from What I’ve Done Previously?

In past iterations of my College Student Development course, I’ve followed a traditional instructional format: students read selected texts about a particular topic before class, I spent the first part of class reviewing the key concepts from the readings and trying to figure out where students needed more explanation, and then we would engage in discussion or an activity to apply the concepts. We almost always ran out of time during the discussion and interaction (unfortunately, often running short exactly where I think the best learning takes place).

This project will improve instruction by introducing core concepts to students before class sessions, preserving our face-to-face time for discussion and activities.  This approach has been called “flipping the classroom” to describe the inversion of the traditional lecture followed by homework model (Berrett, 2012; Saltman, 2011).

By creating online introductory modules, students will be able to learn about the more abstract concepts (in this class, theories of personal development) first in a short, asynchronous online module, then through course readings, and be better prepared to discuss and apply learning during our class meetings.  Students will be able to view the module as many times as they like before class (and throughout the semester), pause/restart/rewind the presentation if desired, and have great personal control over how they experience the module.

How Will We Implement This Project?

We plan to develop the modules during June and July, and make final adjustments in August to be ready for the Fall 2012 semester. I fully expect I would continue to use these modules in future years, as I teach this course every fall and it is a required course for our doctoral programs in Higher Education Administration.  Ideally the modules will be approximately 10 minutes in length and available via Blackboard for students to review before they do their readings for the upcoming class session.  As I see more and more of my student using iPads and smart phones to access course materials, it will be a priority to find ways for these modules to be accessible on mobile devices and all elements are available across formats/devices from desktop PCs down to iPhones.  We’re currently looking at solutions to the Flash vs. Apple dilemma (via HTML5 conversion) to be able to access the Abode Captivate content on Apple products.


  1. I think your students will really benefit from these mini-lectures. When I have studied the more obscure topics in school I have found video explanations of the material (on websites like youtube) to be incredibly helpful with learning. The ability to pause, rewind, and re-watch video makes it a very, very valuable resource for learning difficult material.