Flipped Classroom Update

href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rogersmith/3882455591/" title="Chinese Alligator by Roger Smith, on Flickr.

Photo by Roger Smith, Flickr Creative Commons License

There’s an old saying among project managers that “when you’re up to your eyeballs in alligators it’s hard to remember that the ultimate objective was to drain the swamp.” There are times when even the most reflective faculty are so swamped with the details of teaching their courses that it’s hard to find the time or the energy to reflect on the experience.

I’m in the midst of the last week of my flipped class, and there are lots of lessons being learned — most of them by me. I’m going to be providing a more complete autopsy at a Charles Center Program at W&M on March 19th at 12:30, but for now let me share a few thoughts.

As I indicated in my initial post on the topic, I’m teaching a course in the Mason School of Business called Using Computers for Business Decision Making. Based on my experience with teaching the course last spring and the growing on the effectiveness of blended learning, I was convinced that this course was made to be flipped, and I started on the redesign in mid-December.

Redesigning My Course as a Flipped Course

When I started, I had a vague idea about what we would do in the class sessions, a set of broad assumptions about the use of video, and an idea about the general organization of the exercises. Veterans of online teaching had convinced me that this sort of class — one that is mostly online, is graded, and consists of self-directed learning — requires much different planning than traditional face-to-face teaching. My plan was to carefully work through one development model and evaluate how useful the methodology might be to other flippers. (The results of this experiment will be included in a faculty development resource funded by a Creative Adaptation grant.)

I’ve used Jossey Bass guides throughout my professional career and I’ve recommended books in their e-learning series to colleagues with some success. My well-thumbed copy of Conquering the Content in hand, I started through the steps that Robin Smith suggests to convert a course from a face-to-face format to a blended one. Smith’s book is practical, hands-on, and provides useful templates to move through a proven method of translating a course from face-to-face to online delivery. Her tools and techniques make a good introduction to the basic concepts of instructional design for the online component of a blended course. The chapter titles give a flavor of the flow of the process she outlines:

  • Design with Learning in Mind.
  • Design with the Future in Mind
  • Design with Assessment in Mind.
  • Design with Organization in Mind.
  • Design with Content in Mind.
  • Design with Process in Mind.
  • Design with Navigation in Mind.

The Reality of the Flipped Classroom

Working through this material I found myself facing one reality of flipped classrooms (and other kinds of hybrid learning) that sometimes gets lost in the blogs and books on the topic. To make this kind of learning work well, you need to do all the upfront planning and organization of a good online course. Then you also have to figure out how to make your face-to-face time more engaging, participatory, and involving. (Evaluating the success of your course also requires deciding how to measure the learning that takes place in those interactive assignments — no easy matter.)

Converting to a flipped classroom isn’t just more work; it’s LOTS more work. Not just for the faculty member either. Participating in a flipped classroom makes new demands on students as well, and you need to spend time making sure they understand the differences between this process and the more traditional course structure.

Thoughts if You Want to Flip Your Class

Here are four thoughts to share with anyone who might be thinking about using this model next fall.

  1. Moving from a teaching model to one that emphasizes greater student interaction is scary, but it’s a transition that more and more of us are going to have to make. No one really knows where the whole MOOC mania is going to take us, but my sense is that before too long instructors will be able to find high quality online sources that can replace much of the lecture material that is currently developed and delivered locally. Ultimately, this is a good thing. I’m perfectly happy never to have to explain “two standard deviations above the mean” again.  Finding interesting problems that guide students in how to apply that knowledge is a much more fulfilling activity.
  2. For me, assessment was the most difficult task that needs to be addressed. Defining the content for a course is relatively simple. Defining in advance what we want students to do with that content and how we’re going to measure it is tough — torturous even. The flipped classroom doesn’t work well without well-planned, well-executed assessments. Nothing in my previous teaching experience prepared for how important this was. Don’t skip Chapter Three!  (The videos are actually the easy part!)
  3. This type of instruction actually provides great opportunities to help students become more involved in defining, managing, and evaluating their own learning. The design of the course needs to provide opportunity for students to be active participants in charting and evaluating their own learning. Using technology-enhanced learning to foster self-directed learning should be a key part of the course design of every classroom flipper.
  4. Keep in mind that it’s possible to get your feet wet with this process by converting a few activities and assignments to the flipped format, but doing a whole course can be pretty demanding. The investment of time makes most sense for courses with fairly high enrollments and that are taught fairly often.

I hope that the above will help you think through whether you’d like to flip your class, and help guide you through the planning for flipping it. If you’re thinking about a fall launch, it’s probably not too early to start thinking about it now — there’s no need to wait until you’re up to your eyeballs in alligators!

About Gene Roche

Gene Roche is director of Academic Information Services with responsibility for assisting faculty in using technology effectively in their teaching, learning and research. He also has an academic appointment as Executive Professor in the School of Education where he teaches courses in educational technology planning, emerging technology, and adult education and works with with students on independent study, dissertations and comprehensive exams. Current projects include working with the SOE’s Executive EdD program, co-chairing William and Mary’s Survey Center, and serving as chair of the Electronic Campus of Virginia. Gene completed his AB degree at Hamilton College and his MS and EdD degrees at Syracuse University–all in the snow belt of upstate New York. Before coming to William and Mary, he was the Director of Career Services at Hamilton and taught in graduate programs in Adult Education at Syracuse University and Elmira College.