March 2nd, 2015

Three Critical Conversations Started and Sustained by Flipped Learning


small group of students with professor

The flipped learning model of instruction has begun to make the transition from an educational buzzword to a normative practice among many university instructors, and with good reason. Flipped learning provides many benefits for both faculty and students. However, instructors who use flipped learning soon find out that a significant amount of work is sometimes necessary to win students over to this way of conducting class. Even when the benefits of flipped learning are made clear to students, some of them will still resist. And to be fair, many instructors fail to listen to what students are really saying.

Most student “complaints” about flipped learning conceal important questions about teaching and learning that are brought to the surface because of the flipped environment. Here are three common issues raised by students and the conversation-starters they afford.

Student comment: “I wish you would just teach the class.”

Conversation-starter: Why do we have classes?

This issue is often raised once it becomes clear that class time will focus on assimilating information, not transmitting it. For many students, the only kind of instruction they have ever known is the in-class lecture, so it is quite natural for them to conflate “teaching” and “lecturing”. Hence, students are perhaps justifiably unsettled to see their teacher not “teaching”.

When students raise this concern, it is an opportunity to have a conversation about why classes meet—or for that matter, why they exist—in the first place. When students want the professor to “just teach”, the professor can pose the following: We can either have lecture on basic information in class, and then you will be responsible for the harder parts yourselves outside of class; or we can make the basic information available for you prior to class, and spend our class time making sense of the harder parts. There is not enough class time for both. Which setup will help you learn better?

Student comment: “I learn best through listening to a lecture.”

Conversation-starter: How does one learn?

Students who have made it through secondary schooling believe that since lecturing “worked” in the sense that they made it to college under a lecture-centric system, lecture is the most effective means of teaching— in fact, the only means of teaching that “works”. (Indeed, many university instructors believe the same thing.)

I respond to this with a question: What are the three most important things you have ever learned? Here are my three: speaking my native language, feeding myself, and going to the bathroom. When the student comes up with his or her list, I follow up: How did you learn those things? The answer is always that it’s a mixture of a bit of direct instruction (which is largely ignored), along with a lot of trial and error and peer pressure. No student has ever responded that they learned these things only by listening to a lecture. No student ever will!

If a person has demonstrated repeatedly that he can learn important things in his life without lecture, on what basis does one say that they learn best through lecture? Maybe the ability to learn on one’s own is more deeply connected to one’s humanity than we suspect. Which brings up the last issue:

Student comment: I shouldn’t have to teach myself the subject.

Conversation-starter: Why are we here?

In the flipped classroom, students are expected to gain fluency with basic ideas in preparation for class time, rather than as the result of class time. It is easy for a student to see this as self-teaching and respond negatively. A variant of this is, “I’m paying you to teach me!” At its core, this is not an issue about who is paying whom, but about the purpose of higher education.

We might approach the student simply by asking: What is the purpose of college? Why are you here? Among the more noble answers include career preparation, personal growth, and obtaining life experiences. What do these good things have in common? I am convinced that each student’s reasons for being in college will intersect at the notion of learning how to learn. Career success, meaningful growth, and formative experiences all involve acquiring the ability and the taste for learning new things, independently and throughout one’s lifespan. Why not start that process now?

It’s easy to be defensive when, as an instructor, students voice seemingly belligerent opposition to the flipped classroom. But if we listen closely, we’ll hear those complaints as invitations to important conversations that can shape student learning for the better.

Dr. Robert Talbert is an associate professor in the mathematics department at Grand Valley State University.

Strategies for Getting Started in the Flipped Classroom

Hear the latest on flipped class design as Robert Talbert, associate professor at Grand Valley State University, shares how and why he started using the flipped learning model, dispels common myths about flipping, and provides evidence that the flipped model can improve student learning.

Recorded 2/10/2015.

  • These are great ideas, Robert. I think it's critically important to take the time to talk to students about learning and the meaning of an education. Thanks for your article.

  • Flipped Learning will only work if lecturers and students have growth mindsets and start planning and being proactive. When will that happen?

    By the tie they are in HE students have had years of teaching and what they perceive as 'learning'. To change that and help them relearn how to learn is a challenge.

    All for this approach if there's complete engagement up front.

    • Excellent point. I would go further to even say that we, in higher education, need to change the mindset of the "lecture" equating to "learning." Faculty who engage their students and deliver content effectively won't hesitate to say that lecturing is not teaching nor learning, just a possible component of the process. It's no easy task, but having faculty in higher ed. model effective teaching and learning is a good start for learners coming out of the K-12 arena.

  • Bob Kostrubanic

    I've been doing flipped in my senior-level courses at a university for four years now. I have had almost no students who don't like it. Many have been enthusiastic, and several have said that this is the first time they learned something in college (sad, no ?)

    Yes, it takes a bit of advanced planning ,but it then frees up my time on a weekly basis to incorporate the newest information, and react to how the students are doing so as to modify the next week's lesson appropriately.

  • I am using flipped classroom. So far, we have found that the gains are small as compared to a blended class (not a droning for 75-minute lecture – anything is better than that).

    We can teach some topics flipped, some blended, some self-study. Data can allow us to make that judgment. Extremes in pedagogy or anything else in life are seldom the best solution.

  • Kudos !!!
    Clap Clap Clap 🙂

    "Why are We here" is perhaps the secret ingredient leading to an independent learner outcome BUT not many can see immediately until many many years later 🙂

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  • Tom Mertz

    I agree with the author that it is important to communicate to students the reason for your teaching style and to try to get them to take ownership of their learning. I don't believe that "for many students, the only kind of instruction they have ever known is the in-class lecture." Given the many different pedigogies being practiced in the high schools, I suspect students are more familiar with "flipped" classroom models than we are. There is a study that suggests students prefer lectures simply because it's easier and less work for them. So I guess I wouldn't waste too much angst on worrying about what the students like or dislike, so long as you're helping them learn by giving them thoughtful assignments and promptly evaluating their work.

  • Elaine Roberts

    Also agree with Tom. I started a new subject and knew that I might have difficulty delivering for the first time. During the first session we talked about how we would "learn" the subject. When students understand the learning mode they are better able to cope. My class room is a modification of "flip" but leaning very much that way. So take hold of the article above and make sure the students understand the mode.

  • This is an excellent read. For faculty new to the flipped learning model/concept, consider flipping just one lesson or unit of instruction. This can be a great opportunity to test the model get student feedback on how to improve the before, during, and after classroom activities that are part of flipped learning. Also keep in mind that the flipped model isn't about watching videos. It's about this question: what is the best use of class time?

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  • mary

    This article on flipped learning is great. I'm a teacher at college level and I always get excited at learning new teaching styles. I will sure try it out…….I'm sure new approaches to the teaching/learning process is also exciting to the learners.

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