August 26th, 2013

The Benefits of Flipping Your Classroom


A small but growing number of faculty at major universities are experimenting with the inverted or flipped classroom. It’s an instructional model popularized by, among other influences, a Ted Talk by Khan Academy founder Salman Khan, which has received more than 2.5 million views. Institutions as varied as Duke University’s School of Medicine, Boston University’s College of Engineering, and the University of Washington School of Business have joined Clemson, Michigan State, the University of Texas, and many others in experimenting with changing from in-class lectures to video lectures and using class time to explore the challenging and more difficult aspects of course content.

The video lectures can be posted on a college or university’s Learning Management System, private intranet or even YouTube; giving students convenient, anytime access. The institution’s investment in IT infrastructure i.e. course authoring, instructional design services, servers and other hardware, is minimal.

However, the most important benefit of the flipped model is not the use of relatively inexpensive technology, but the fact that it frees faculty to use their time with students in a learning environment more consistent with what we know about effective pedagogy: active students interacting with their instructor and fellow students rather than passive students sitting in a lecture hall.

The flipped classroom approach offers clear advantages:

  • Video lectures can be edited, polished, and rerecorded. Students can pause, replay, and watch lectures repeatedly at their convenience. Faculty may even find that with editing, lectures become shorter and more on point.
  • By a simple analysis of performance on past examinations, identification of trends in frequently asked questions and student course evaluations, faculty can determine areas where students often falter, and use this information to determine how classroom time will be used.
  • Faculty can then devote time to helping students develop synthesis and explore application during class time through: experiential exercises, team projects, problem sets, and activities that previously had been assigned as independent homework. In particular, students can receive direct faculty input on those segments of the material that have historically been the most difficulty or ambiguous.

Many faculty spend considerable unpaid, out-of-class hours helping individual students make sense of difficult course material and bring it all together in a relevant way. And that’s if they’re lucky enough to have students who proactively seek help when they are “stuck.” The flipped model allows instructors to help students during assigned, compensated class time within their respective teaching loads; guiding students as they engage with the content in any number of active learning activities. It also makes it easier for faculty to identify and correct stumbling blocks to learning as they are happening.

I also suspect the increased focus on the synthesis and application of knowledge will find considerable favor with employers who deride the lack of a more competency-based approach in much of higher education.

For small institutions, as well as those facing increased budget constraints, the combination of inverting or flipping which activities occur in the classroom and which occur online, independent of the classroom offers an affordable entry to the online arena with a compelling approach to faculty involvement, student engagement, and learning outcomes.

Charles A. Hill is a retired instructor and administrator of distance learning from the University of California Berkeley, and Irvine. He has been intimately involved with distance learning on a variety of platforms since the mid 1980’s.

Salman Khan: Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education. Filmed March 2011. TED video, 20:27. Posted March 201

  • Andree Faubert

    This sounds wonderful, but the article didn't address when these lectures would be filmed and put onto the school's learning system. These hours can't be discounted because it would really add up.

    • Alex Bale

      You could film lectures this year and put them onto the system ready for next year. This would mean slightly more work now, and considerably less next year and for every year after.

  • Guest

    I will admit I am not a fan of the flipped classroom, mainly because I haven't actually seen it actually work. I have gone to numerous workshops where the speakers talk of how they used it for their classes, but then admit that they didn't cover all the material they were supposed to. So while students may have more depth in the subject, they are not prepared for the next class.

    Also, I found this line interesting: "Many faculty spend considerable unpaid, out-of-class hours helping individual students make sense of difficult course material and bring it all together in a relevant way."

    It would seem that the author now wants the faculty to spend considerable unpaid, out-of-class hours preparing all those neat videos that hopefully the students actually do watch before coming to class (although my experience tells me they haven't seen it unless there is some incentive or tie to their grade).

  • Guest-CS

    Has anybody experience with large class size using this concept? Would this work with classes with 75 to 100 students?

  • Michelle Kainn

    I am doing this now with my Financial Accounting course at a small community college. My lectures run anywhere from 45 – 60 minutes of actual video time. It is a challenge to give a lecture with no audience. I am essentially doing the lecture as an audio Powerpoint. So I am never on camera (thank god). I am using the recording feature that came packaged as part of my textbook companion website, but I have used similar software for other purposes. It is nothing fancy.

    Once I discovered the pause button on the recording software, my lectures became smoother (fewer umms and uhhs). I formulate my thought, hit record and then pause. The software is smooth enough that it doesn't sound choppy by all the pausing. I then do a video demonstration of what I would have used as a practice problem in class. That can be anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes of video time. Overall the recording takes me about 25% more than the actual video time in terms of preparation and formulating my thoughts. But I can re-use the video many times.

    I teach at night after working all day. It is very nice to show up and not have to be a talking head for several hours. I begin by going over any questions from the lecture (I also address questions by email between classes). We then start on the homework. Students work alone or with other students on the assigned "homework" problems for the week. I go from student to student helping them when they get stuck. I am considering wearing a pedometer to class to measure how far I walk, because it is substantial.

    To me every raised hand represents one less frustrated student sitting at home spinning their wheels when they are stuck. Accounting is a mandatory class for business majors, but many do not have a natural ability for it. I believe it has reduced the overall frustration with the material for those non-accounting types.

    My mid-semester reviews were nearly all positive about the approach. I had one dissenter. But this is a person who has language barriers and would probably not do any better if I tried to spoon-feed every concept to her.

    I can say that this approach has COMPLETELY eliminated the panicked requests for help that I would get from students between classes previously. Many of my students are adults who work during the day. They have a limited opportunities to do homework. For them getting hopelessly stuck on homework may mean submitting incomplete work and a lower grade.

    This approach requires students to take some ownership of their learning. I find that some younger students are unhappy about this. They want to show up and have me pour the knowledge into them. Those who don't watch the videos and just show up expecting me to hold their hands though the homework are sorely disappointed.

    I haven't changed my testing procedures from when I taught using the traditional method. I can say that class grades are overall much higher than when I used a traditional teaching style.

    I continue to look for ways to perfect this approach. I intend to use it next semester with Managerial Accounting.

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  • Kathleen

    If you’ve got great experience on your resume, don’t muck it up by embellishing your already-solid credentials.

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