Flipped Classroom Debate

Educational innovations are a bit like political parties; people tend to advocate them passionately or dismiss them disparagingly, with both groups relying on legacy rather than evidence for their views.

Flipped Graphic from http://ctl.utexas.edu/teaching/flipping_a_class/what_is_flipped which gives a useful overview
Flipped Graphic from http://ctl.utexas.edu/teaching/flipping_a_class/what_is_flipped which gives a useful overview

This week, the flipped classroom hit the headlines, with a USA Today article that presented a study of flipping the “STEM classroom”. The preliminary results found that flipping the classroom had no difference in problem solving, attitude to learning, and exam performance. It was remiss of the journalist of this article not to pick up what others later did; that the staff-student ratio at the institution in question was 1:9 and therefore any innovation is likely to struggle to improve results (Edit: the authors of the study have since stated that the USA Today article does not accurately reflect their opinion). In contrast, the New York Times also carried a piece this week which was a more comprehensive, largely positive, Opinion Piece on the flipped classroom at school level.

Whatever your view, it can only be a good thing that teaching and teaching methods are being openly discussed. The problem for advocates of the flipped classroom is that there is little evidence so far on its effectiveness, and I think some more passionate advocates may actually be doing the innovation a disservice by promising more than can be delivered, often without any real evidence. Nevertheless, one can’t sit in front of your lectern waiting for the evidence to come before you change from the status quo. It is difficult in education to amass this evidence without trial and error, so trials are necessary.

Thanks to the articles above, I joined the Flipped Classroom Ning this week, and I am impressed by the enthusiasm of a lot of educators wanting to improve their students’ learning. There is a growing chorus of people who have tried it, like I have, and see its potential, like I do. I imagine the coming year will be an interesting one in the education literature.

What do students think of flipped lecturing? On to this week’s Journal Club:

#7: J. D. Smith, Student attitudes toward flipping the general chemistry classroom, Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 2013, 14, 607-614. (free to access)

Smith created 200 mini-lectures ranging in length from 1:08 to 17:02 with an average length of 7:10. The list of lecture titles are in the supplementary information. Over the two year trial, two different pre-lecture assessments were used. In the first year, students were given questions to help them gauge their own level of understanding, with no grade. There was low take up. In the second year, clickers were used in the classroom (after initial clarifying questions) to gauge understanding of pre-lecture content. Then followed in class work; problem solving, discussing, teasing out issues and difficulties. The author writes

Generally, much more time was available for explanation, interaction, and conveyance of insight than had been in the past.

The students were surveyed on their experience of the flipped classroom model. They agreed (97%) that the online material was useful, and didn’t indicate any preference between streaming and downloadable content. Some students wished to be able to annotate lectures. Students felt the length of lectures was appropriate, but didn’t think they should be any longer. About half the students felt that shifting the work outside the class was a burden to them, but agreed that this made the class time less boring/more engaging, and more useful to them. Students watched the pre-recorded lectures on average three times, using them for class preparation, assisting with homework, and preparing for tests. Students found the lecture explanations more useful than the textbook explanations. In class, students were neutral on whether the in-class questions aided them to gauge their own understanding, but felt the in-class problem solving helped them prepare for homework and tests.


I like this paper because it is a reflection of what really happens when most of us try out something new (we don’t all have $200,000 grants to pilot something). Here, an educator has done a huge amount of work in preparing a suite of materials for his students to use, incorporated it into the flipped class model, and made significant attempts to see how it went. I find the student responses encouraging.  It also highlights to me how important it is to consider how the time in class is used.

  1. Have you tried or are you considering trying flipped teaching? If so, what do hope to achieve? If not, why not?
  2. What kind of topics do you think lend to the flipped class model?
  3. Have you any thoughts on what can be done in the class hour (specifically)?

Off to prepare some screencasts…

2 thoughts on “Flipped Classroom Debate

  1. As you know I am hoping to trial this soon so whilst I am by no means an expert I am perhaps an enthusiastic amateur flipper. What I hope to achieve is to improve interaction in class, note taking is such a passive activity and even in my smallest class with a 1:7 staff:student ratio, I still have silent students (well I don’t because I don’t let them but they would be silent by choice). Flipping the classroom should allow me more time for focused practical work that goes over multiple lessons, useful in synthesis where it is difficult to achieve everything in 50 minutes. I am hoping it will decrease variability in how students approach problems since I will be there for the more active part of their learning, no more rushed pieces of homework done on the bus!?
    Potentially all topics lend themselves to this if you’re using sophisticated lecture capture software. I wouldn’t ‘t like to be an English or history teacher trying it though although I’m sure they could adapt it.
    Class hour (or 50 mins in my case), problem solving, discussion beyond the syllabus, time spent decoding examination questions, practical work (where labs aren’t separate), quizzing, modelling,….

    1. Thanks Kristy, am looking forward to hearing how you get on.

      The point about having more time to work with students through problems is the one in hoping to capitalise on; help them see a generic common approach rather than just a bunch if numbers each time. Once they have that, can raise the bar a bit in terms of types of problems they do.

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