January 25th, 2016

Ready to Flip: Three Ways to Hold Students Accountable for Pre-Class Work


students working college classroom

One of the most frequent questions faculty ask about the flipped classroom model is: “How do you encourage students to actually do the pre-class work and come to class prepared?”

This is not really a new question for educators. We’ve always assigned some type of homework, and there have always been students who do not come to class ready to learn. However, the flipped classroom conversation has launched this question straight to the top of the list of challenges faculty face when implementing this model in their classrooms. By design, the flipped model places more emphasis on the importance of homework or pre-class work to ensure that in-person class time is effective, allowing the instructor and the students to explore higher levels of application and analysis together. If students are unprepared, it leads to frustration, stress, and anxiety for everyone.

First, let’s clarify what we mean by a “flipped” classroom. Findings from the recently published Faculty Focus survey clearly show there are many variations and interpretations of what flipped means in higher education. For many educators, the definition of a flipped classroom moves beyond one that uses videos as the only instructional tool. In my work, FLIP means to “Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process.” In this model, the pre-class work focuses on the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and the in-class work focuses on the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I encourage faculty to integrate active learning strategies to involve learners in the process of applying, analyzing, and creating knowledge during class time. Students work through foundational material prior to class so the time spent in class with their peers and the instructor becomes more valuable as they explore higher levels of critical thinking and analysis.

Make your expectations clear
The flipped classroom—or any active learning environment—often asks students to come to class “prepared.” What do you mean when you say you want students to be prepared? How do you know if they are prepared? In the flipped classroom, it’s critical for the instructor to clarify exactly what being prepared means and what the expectations are.

For example, if you assign a chapter for your students to “read before class” or tell them to “come to class prepared to discuss the chapter,” what exactly are you expecting students to be able to do? Can you be more specific? What information will be used during class time? How will it be used? What details are important? Do students need to know how to define all the terminology in the chapter so they can use it to analyze a case study during class? Do you want them to be able to answer review questions at the end of the chapter to prepare for a class discussion? Do you want them to be able to compare two points of view from the chapter as part of an in-class debate?

Many instructors use video in their flipped classrooms. The same questions apply. It’s not enough to say “watch the video” and expect students to magically know what to look for, identify what’s important, and understand why it matters. What do you want students to do while watching, or after watching, the video? Do they need to answer questions before, during, and after the video? As they watch the video, should they pause it at key points and complete a task before proceeding? Do they need to fill in a worksheet, draw a process, or solve a problem shown in the video? Is it clear how the information in the video will help them succeed when they are in class?

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Hold students accountable
Once you clarify what you want students to actually DO prior to class, then what? How will you hold them accountable? How will they hold themselves and each other accountable? To address this challenge, here are a few strategies you can integrate into your flipped class to help clarify what you want students to be able to do, connect the pre-class assignment to the beginning of in-class time, and make visible who is prepared to help you (and the students themselves) hold them accountable for completing the pre-class work:

  1. Ticket to enter: If you asked students to complete a task as part of their pre-class work, make sure it’s something they can bring with them and use as a “ticket” to enter class that day. For example, ask students to write three questions they have from the video or reading, including the time stamps or page numbers that correspond with their questions. As they enter the classroom, ask them to hand in their ticket to enter class. Bonus: After you collect all the tickets, you can use them as part of a small group activity, to review for a test, or to start a class discussion.
  2. Choose a side: This strategy works best if your pre-class work involves two points of view, an argument, or opposing interpretations of a topic related to the course material. In the pre-class work, send them a question or comment they need to be prepared to take a stance on. For example, suppose your pre-class reading or video showcases two researchers presenting different sides of a case involving stem cell research. On one wall of your classroom, post a sign with the name of one of the researchers. Then post the name of the other researcher on the other wall. As students enter class, ask them to write their name on a sticky note and post their note on the wall with the name of the researcher they believe had the best argument. Bonus: This is can be a strategy for taking attendance too.
  3. Pass-the-problem cheat sheet: If you have several problems, cases, or scenarios you want students to solve or analyze, try the Pass the Problem flipped strategy in class. To prepare for this activity, ask students to come to class with a one-page “cheat sheet,” which will be the only resource they can use to solve the problem. I’ve seen this strategy used during final exams, often in courses requiring high levels of memorization. Using the cheat sheet in this way, however, allows students to collaborate and develop sheets as a group rather than as individuals. They will be held accountable both as a team member and as an individual. This activity could be combined with the “ticket to enter” strategy as well.

These teaching strategies combine assessment, accountability, and active learning into one learning experience for students. Preparing for these questions and activities challenges you to take your directions about pre-class work one step further to specify what you want the students to DO with the pre-class work and why their preparation will matter in class. Students need to see the value of pre-class work or they will quickly realize they can get by without doing it.

Do you have more teaching strategies to encourage students to come prepared for class? Let’s keep the conversation going!

Barbi Honeycutt is the owner of FLIP It Consulting in Raleigh, NC. Dr. Honeycutt is also an adjunct assistant professor at NC State University. Connect on Twitter @BarbiHoneycutt or the FLIP It blog.

  • Steve Markoff

    There really is no secret to getting students to prepare for class, other than solid leadership skills. This is just an excuse used by the mass of instructors who want to blame the students for their own poor leadership ability. Learn how to lead, and the students will follow. Period. Learn WHY people (and students ARE people) behave as they do, and utilize this. Most professors don't really want to fix this problem, because then they would have nobody to blame for their poor outcomes except themselves. Sad fact, but, nevertheless, true. Seriously, very few in academia really want to hear anything except a magic bullet. If it means learning solid leadership skills, they don't want any part of it.

    • Stan Converse

      This sounds like a great start to an article, Steve. Don't be a tease – we'd all like details your leadership style so we can adapt it, and to know WHY people behave as they do.

      • Steve Markoff

        Stan — I'm not being a tease, nor was my comment meant to be "teasing". It goes FAR beyond the scope of what I could, or would even try to, write down in a little box at the end of an article. It's much deeper than that. But it's a problem endemic with those in the profession.

        • Johnny

          What a load of barnyard manure. Where do you come up with the idea that "most professors don't want to fix the problem" or that "very few in academia really want to hear anything except a magic bullet"?

          • rickhenderson

            Maybe he came up with the idea by attending teaching conferences with motivated, dedicated, colleagues and then realizing it's always the same 10 people.

    • Brad

      As usual, a Pavlovian response on your part…sounds good…"leadership skills"…like THAT is a magic bullet. There are so many variables here, it is nye to impossible to give a solution to this issue by such a cavalier, non-contributory response.

      As to the article, nearly useless info there also. Too much assumption that once you 'try' one of the suggestions, they will miraculously attend class fully prepared. What if they DON'T do the "ticket" to enter? Do you turn them away (since they can't contribute, that's what I do)? What if the number is significant enough as to affect the class itself?

      We need less discussion solely of what we might do…what we need is a full discussion…if you suggest something to try, also suggest something to do if it goes wrong.

      Leadership? Pffffffffffffft.

  • uncle dave

    Combine the flipped classroom with gamification & a degree of individualization.

    When they come to class, give a short quiz to see if they studied the material.

    Those who do very well on the quiz, usually students who already knew or learn fast & are sometimes bored with a slower pace in the class, can do a different fun but challenging activity while the others get more instruction.

    The gamification element motivates all the students to do their best with the next flipped-classroom task.

  • Andrea Ziegler

    Having been an instructor for a large multi national company for 30 years I can say the struggle continues even after adult “students” enter the work environment. Just throw in additional time pulls on the employees such as completing projects etc in order to carve time out to attend class.

    The strategies listed in the article are worthwhile suggestions. It rewards those who invest the time and allows you to demonstrate the value of the pre class investment. You definitely have to have plan a and plan b in case some or most learners don’t complete the assignment.

    Once they begin to experience the more interactive and engaging workshops on known material more will begin to complete the assignments.

    • Irene


      Andrea, thank you for sharing your comments.

  • Finn-Steinar

    Constructive alignment solves the "problem"; let the students solve old exams in groups at home. The teacher present the solution in class. In that way they get a lot of practice in solving/writing, are well prepared for class and have a lot of questions. I practice this consept for university students in economy, and experience better grades and increased student satisfaction. Entusiasme in classroom is key experience for stundents as well as for teacher.

  • Steve Markoff

    "Holding students accountable" is easy. This doesn't produce the behavior change that professors seem to want. Anyone can do that. The real questions is, "How do we get students to feel accountable TO THEMSELVES for their own results, and for doing things such as preparing for class, WITHOUT appearing mean spirited. Once this is achieved, they come prepared because the WANT to.

    Unfortunately, professors carry around many limited values, behaviors, attitudes and expectations that discourage self responsibility on the part of the students. These do NOT change overnight, or with a 1-2-3 list. They require substantial effort on the part of the professor. They also require that, as leaders, we understand:

    a) the basics of human behavior that affect student performance;
    b) the importance of 'connection' with students, and things that studies have now proven that increase this;
    c) an understanding of the professors role as a leader, salesperson and people developer; and
    d) the payoff students REALLY want.

    Students will prepare when they see "preparing" as a high-payoff activity that will help THEM achieve THEIR goals and what THEY WANT! Students will prepare when they see clearly that PREPARATION = BETTER TEST SCORES. Accordingly, how you test also greatly affects the degree of preparation.

    I teach Managerial and Cost Accounting. My students must submit computer-prepared problems in advance of EVERY class, including Day #1. I use the Socratic Method to review problems and cold call, so, they cannot hide, and it's obvious who is prepared. There is no lecture. No PowerPoint. They must read the material and come to class FULLY prepared to discuss it. Preparation of homework, by syllabus, counts for ZERO. Yet, over 90% of the students are 100% prepared for ALL classes. Frankly, I cannot ask for more. Yeah, I can dream about 100%, but 90%-93% works fine.

    I do a presentation entitled "Influencing Student Behavior" which discusses many of the basics of creating this environment, as well as outlining MY SPECIFIC PROGRAM step by step, what I do for an upcoming semester, STARTING BEFORE THE PREVIOUS SEMESTER IS EVEN OVER.

    • Anthony

      Steve, you appear to have a very low opinion of college and university professors, and your previous suggestion of leadership in the classroom seems to have been usurped by despotism rather than people skills. I am also intrigued by why your a-b-c list is any better than a 1-2-3 list. Actually, I am not interested in the slightest, but I do sympathize with any student who does not toe the line in your class.

  • Beth Oldfield

    I avoid the "quiz-to-see-if-they-read it" approach—it comes off as punitive to me and, in a college setting, it feels "high-schoolish". And frankly, what I ask them to read is usually information that, if they don't read it, will impact their ability to successfully APPLY it, so there is a natural consequence to their decision to not read it. I take the mindset that all my students are scholars and I even address them as such. If they choose to behave otherwise, that is their choice!

    • rickhenderson

      I have done the quiz-to-see-if-they-did-it approach, and what I have them do does impact their ability to complete the work. At the moment I am letting them ask questions during a computer lab specifically because over the years many students don't do the work, and leaving it all as out-of-lab material and having them "test out" to me feels like they are learning less then they could through help or "personalized instruction". The fact I've found is that many students are happy with a 70 or higher without working for it, and some are happy with a 60 if it means they get out of the work load and slide by.

  • gmunevar

    When I was a philosophy undergraduate in the late 60s, my best professors all expected us to read the assigned material very carefully and come to class prepared to discuss it intelligently. I could be called upon to explain any passage and to have to defend my explanation. There was hardly any lecture, but a tough Socratic approach instead. It made us better readers, thinkers, and writers; and it prepared us well for graduate school. And this is pretty much what I did, once I became a professor, in all my humanities courses (I also taught some literature), whether teaching Freshmen or Ph.D. students. Typically students would discuss the material in small groups at the beginning of class for about 15 minutes, and then the general, Socratic discussion would begin. I would ask a question and a lot of hands would go up. Students would have to tell me what Plato's most important claim was, for example, and then defend their answer by pointing to the exact places in the text that would back that answer (which opened the door to follow-up questions). About half way into the session I would point out that certain students had not yet participated and they would be given priority. A few minutes later I would call begin to ask those students questions directly, one at a time. Participation, as I judged by the quality and quantity of interaction, was 20% of the final grade. If a student was clearly not making much of an effort twice in a row, I would take him aside after class and give him a choice: come prepared or drop my class, for he was sure to flunk otherwise (only students who did the careful reading and thinking involved in preparation were really able to write acceptable papers). Very few dropped. Very few came unprepared after that. By the middle of the semester people were challenging each other, and most were enjoying the give and take. And they learned. I should add that I also gave them specific instructions on what being well prepared meant–instructions that would be reinforced in class discussion. An example would be too long to post here, though.

  • Christine Carlson

    I was hoping for some advice about what to do with students who do not have a “ticket” to enter class. We don’t have resources for having students go somewhere to complete what they should have completed the night before.

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