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