What are your thoughts on lecture flipping?

I am giving a keynote at the AHEAD conference in March, and the lecture itself will be a flipped lecture on lecture flipping. The audience will be a mixture of academics and support staff from all over Europe and beyond, and the idea is that they will watch the presentation in advance (hmmmm) and we will then use the time during the actual conference presentation to discuss emerging themes. I will be highly caffeinated.

In order to address some of the issues around lecture flipping that face most educators, I would be interested to hear thoughts from lecturers and support staff on the idea of lecture flipping. Any and all of the following… please do comment or tweet me @seerymk:

  1. What do you think the potential of flipping is?
  2. What concerns you about the model?
  3. Is it scalable?
  4. In terms of resources, have you any thoughts on the materials prepared for lecture flipping in advance of and/or for lectures.
  5. How do you consider/reconsider assessment in light of lecture flipping.
  6. Any other genius ideas that I can rob…


12 thoughts on “What are your thoughts on lecture flipping?

  1. What do you think the potential of flipping is?

    Flipping de-emphasises “covering the material” and creates space for in-depth learning of how to apply the concepts, which arguably fits better with the “information is everywhere” age we’re supposed to be preparing students for. Also potentially gets around the tyranny of the timetable and having to shoehorn things into 50 minute slots.

    What concerns you about the model?

    People seeing it as a way to reduce the amount of work they have to do and reducing contact hours – done properly neither of the above should happen, it just means that the lecturer’s time is used more effectively. Potential student workload issues if every module gives them hours of pre-reading/watching.

    Is it scalable?

    One of the big strengths is that you can flip just one lecture, you don’t have to do the whole course in one go, so you can easily try it out and see what the resource issues are in your particular scenario. It’s no less scalable than a traditional lecture + seminars/tutorials set up.

    In terms of resources, have you any thoughts on the materials prepared for lecture flipping in advance of and/or for lectures.

    Keep things granular – short screencasts on specific points rather than recording an hour’s lecture because that’s what you’re used to doing. Not only are short screencasts more likely to encounter attention span problems, it’s much easier to just update one segment where there has been a new development than have to redo the entire lecture.

    Also make use of OERs and things like BoB (or similar services) rather than reinventing the wheel.

    How do you consider/reconsider assessment in light of lecture flipping.

    Closed book exams seem increasingly inappropriate with this model where the emphasis is on applying rather than remembering information.

    But other than that, there shouldn’t be too big a change, as we teach students about the topic, not just what they need to pass the exam. Don’t we? 🙂

    Any other genius ideas that I can rob…

    Just in Time Teaching (Novak et al) is definitely worth implementing as a way of getting students to actually look at the material ahead of the face to face session.

  2. I did, of course, mean that short screencasts are *less* likely to encounter attention span problems.

  3. What do you think the potential of flipping is?

    Improved learning. Greater efficiency (better impact and/or reduced unit costs)

    What concerns you about the model?

    Management do not properly recognise the effort to get it up and going and try to exploit efficiencies too soon or before it is scaled.

    Is it scalable?

    Yes, eg. if 30% of content is electronic (self-teach online content, objective (MC) tests) and classes are scaled up savings can be made (peer assessment can also be used at scale as well)

    In terms of resources, have you any thoughts on the materials prepared for lecture flipping in advance of and/or for lectures.

    There are generally very good OER available – need to be carefully curated. Relatively easy to create short recordings – very little extra effort over delivering in class (As long as you don’t aim for studio/TV quality). Objective tests are a bigger challenge than generally expected but if not too bad if some tips are followed.

    How do you consider/reconsider assessment in light of lecture flipping.

    I need not be that different except in one important way. It is important that students engage with the materials before attending class. Simple MC quizzes that are only available until the start of classes should be very useful in achieving this.

    Any other genius ideas that I can rob…

    If you are going to flip your classroom you may as well build a simple MOOC – see http://moocs4all.eu/ – allow external students enrol at the same time – consider peer assessments for the educational value as well as the incentive to engage with the course.

  4. What do you think the potential of flipping is?
    For me in teaching 14-18 year olds, it allows me to include all my students to a much greater extent than a traditional lesson. The are times when a certain amount of material needs to be presented in a lesson and it is becoming increasingly apparent that it isn’t appropriate to deliver this in a lecture style. The needs of students are increasingly diverse and a crowded classroom (or lecture theatre) is a difficult place to concentrate. In the feedback I have received from students, one thing that has been highlighted is how much flipping has facilitated learning for students with special educational needs. For students with dyslexia it allows them to take greater care with organising their notes and with spellings of keywords, for students with disorders affecting their concentration such as ADHD, it allows them to ‘zone out’ external distractions and prevents them from distracting others.
    What concerns you about the model?
    Large classes! I have found it easier to flip with the older students as the classes are smaller. This is mainly because of the question of what to do in lessons when some have accessed the material and some haven’t and also with scheduling for things like homework assignments.

    Is it scalable?
    Scalable to a whole course or topic, yes, I have done this successfully. I imagine it difficult to scale to a large lecture say a first year undergraduate lecture as it could easily lose its advantages. With 200 students in a lecture hall but no lecture, only interaction with one lecturer (unless your institution is going to provide more bodies and make it a more workshop type experience) then the lecturer could easily be run ragged.

    I have found that 15 mins is about the maximum time my screencasts are effective for, with pausing that can be 30-45 mins for the students. It is surprising how much it is possible to cover in 15 minutes of focused screencasting! With more complicated work (mechanisms etc) I have sometimes provided outline sheets similar to those you would give for a lecture course but these complicate the model for me and seemingly just make everything more difficult!

    For me, assessment will be the same as always since we are aiming towards public examinations set externally. What we have to cover, we have to cover! In a lecture course I imagine it would likely that a different emphasis above and beyond the ‘learn and churn’ could be developed.

    Any other genius ideas….
    Definitely look into the impact on students with learning needs, it is one thing that surprised and delighted me when I began flipping.

  5. Actually, it’s only one step towards considering using Learning Design to fully design an open learning (that’s what it used to be called before the word ‘open’ changed its meaning again) style module. That wouldn’t need to mean shoving everything onto video or even online interactive stuff. About 20 years ago I was lecturing Physics and I decided instead of traditional lecture delivery to produce a course-book which covered the entire module, told students which part of the textbook to read, summarised key points and asked them a series of reflective questions along with examples of worked problems etc. Then the lectures were scheduled in the normal slots but we focussed on conceptual difficulties they had, or had special one off discussions about applications or other topics. The key thing is getting a clear picture of the student workload – what is possible without being overkill, and also working on the ‘psychological’ aspects to keep them on track and not fall behind. So a lot of the stuff in the ‘course-book’ was written in a friendly, encouraging style and structured on what was expected each week.

    A lot of effort, but it worked for that class of about 150 or so students and I extended it to some other topics. Flipping it probably was, but the key thing was to use learning design principles paying close attention to goals, etc.

    Of course this is how a decent distance learning course is designed and the principles can be effective for on-campus courses too. But don’t record lectures as an alternative cheap way of doing it. It’s about engaging, doing, thinking, working things out for themselves etc. recordings of lectures might be ok for those who were at them to quickly replay parts they got stuck at, but they are utterly tedious to watch if it is being used to ‘deliver’ a whole module.

    As to scalablity – it depends ….if you are looking at advanced level, conceptual stuff it is always going to need feedback and tutorial support. very few university courses can be turned into MCQ only. Fine for factual content, quick recall tests.

  6. Hi Michael. Good luck with the AHEAD presentation. It’s refreshing that you are using the flipped method to discuss ‘flipping’ – the title of a 2004 paper “Excuse Me, But Did I Just Passively Learn about Active Learning?” applies all too often. Apologies in advance – what started out as a few thoughts on the questions you posed turned into an essay.

    1. What do you think the potential of flipping is?
    Although I have only tried it in two courses, I think the chief advantages are: (i) it challenges the teacher to redesign the course so that it has a clear focus on the key skills that the learners should be able to perform (as opposed to what they should be able to describe); (ii) it creates much more time for the learners to actively practice those key skills in a supportive environment; (iii) it provides an opportunity for the learners to work effectively together in teams. The first point is particularly important, it is difficult to imagine a (properly designed) flipped course that was not learner-centred and concept-focused by default. Flipping seems a particularly good choice when the only valid test of learning is whether the learners can actually perform a task, e.g. designing synthetic routes or solving structure determination problems, to choose examples from organic chemistry.

    2. What concerns you about the model?
    If the teacher feels they have to ‘cover’ a large amount of material, or if the material is heavily descriptive, flipping may not be the best strategy. It is more difficult to plan flipped classes and to keep to schedule. There is a danger that learning might not be as ‘efficient’ in a loosely structured flipped environment, so careful attention must be paid to the key design elements, such as the preparation of high quality resources, tactics for ensuring that learners do engage with the resources in advance, mechanisms for identifying topics that are causing difficulty, and strategies to promote effective collaboration between the learners.

    3. Is it scalable?
    Don’t know; works with 65, but >100? My concern would be that facilitation of the active learning activities would be difficult with large classes. However, careful design of the active learning classes might solve that problem. “Team-based learning”, which is a flipped strategy has been used in very large classes in tiered lecture theatres.

    4. In terms of resources, have you any thoughts on the materials prepared for lecture flipping in advance of and/or for lectures.
    As a recent adopter I’m still working on developing the resources. The workload involved is large, so I am doing it in a stepwise manner over several years. I think the essentials are good course notes/readings, good pre-class quizzes, and good problems/activities. Screencasts and other resources may be desirable but are not absolutely essential. The quality of the resources is more important than in a traditional course because there are fewer opportunities for learners to seek additional clarification and support from the teacher, especially in the initial learning that takes place before class. Also, the resources should have a clear focus on developing the skills that will be practiced in class, in addition to providing the foundational knowledge needed. The pre-class quizzes have to be pitched at the right level to challenge without being off-putting, and that can be difficult, especially within the technological limitations of an LMS. Ideally, the problems/activities should foster collaborative learning and lead the learners through a sequence of activities of increasing complexity within the time constraints of the class – not an easy set of criteria!

    5. How do you consider/reconsider assessment in light of lecture flipping.
    Apart from assigning a significant weighting to assessment of the pre-class quizzes and the solutions/products of the in-class activities, I don’t think flipping, per se, has major implications for assessment. Ideally, the methods of assessment should be aligned with the intended learning outcomes just as for any learning design. If flipping results in an increased emphasis on the development of certain skills, that should be reflected in the assessment strategy, but the same is true of any T&L strategy.

    6. Any other genius ideas that I can rob…
    Consider “team-based learning”, which combines a flipped model with carefully designed strategies for effective learning in teams, but for really genius ideas contact HSBC Bank (genius tax avoidance), Jose Mourinho (genius by self-definition), or Dail Eireann/Houses of Parliament (instant genius ideas on any topic for modest consultancy fees).

  7. My problem is what to do with very large classes. Having flipped the lecture, it is not really feasible to engage in discussion with 160 students (this morning). The schemes for world domination of our masters involve classes of at least 200 (and possibly 1000 by combining students from different depts..

    For the past few years I have taught a computer course, providing short tutorials n the software which should be done in advance, so that we can get on with the actual exercises. However, too many have not done so, and expect to be told individually which button to press. This is again limiting in a large class.

    A side issue is the belief by managers that contact time constitutes the majority of the work done. Preparing online material has taken a lot of my working life.

  8. Martin – have you tried giving them quizzes covering the material that had to be completed before class started? In regards to activities for large classes, have you seen Eric Mazur’s “Turn to your neighbour” techniques? http://blog.peerinstruction.net/2014/05/20/eric-mazur-wins-first-ever-minerva-prize-for-advancements-in-higher-education/ – At last year’s edtech conference in UCD i noticed that they had designed a very large lecturer theater so that seats could swing around and students could form groups of 4 – looked expensive and took up a lot of space – I wonder do many lecturers in that theatre use it.

  9. Thank you all very much for your comments – it is great to have such rich material to draw from – i will be using these as a basis for some discussion at the conference tomorrow.

    I have pointed to your comments in the pre-conference video introducing the concept of flipped lectures: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4wLL4WN9uQ

    Thanks again,

  10. Brian – yes I am aware of the lecture theatre seat design which allows students to turn around into groups, and passed on the suggestion for the new buildings. This has not been adopted, and standard lecture theatres have been /are being built. (The book “What’s the use of lectures?” makes the point many years ago.)
    For an upcoming activity in order to get the class sitting in groups, I have been allocated 4 rooms in two buildings.

    As I say above, many students do not use quizzes or other materials provided in advance.

    1. Martin,

      does Michael’s suggestion of awarding continuous assessment marks for quizzes taken ahead of the meeting time help in encouraging students to take quizzes.

      The design for that tiered theater looked very expensive and not very flexible. It might be difficult to justify. Michael seems to suggest that a regular theater works well in groups of 3. I’m sure that Eric MAzur piloted the “Turn to your neighbour” in regular theaters.


      great video – would you consider converting your Thermodynamics course into a MOOC that others could use to flip their classrooms. We have an Erasmus+ grant to help people do that see mooc4all.eu – to be honest you would know most of the stuff we’ll be covering, but we’d love to have you in the course to provide additional comments (the cMOOC part).


Comments are closed.