Throughout this summer article series, we’ve addressed some of the most frequently asked questions about the flipped classroom in higher education. We’ve shared ideas for student motivation, student engagement, time management, student resistance, and large classes. Since this is the final article in the series, I reviewed my notes and the findings from the Faculty Focus reader survey on flipped classroom trends (2015), and there’s one more topic we need to address: creativity.
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Blended and Flipped Learning
As we continue our ongoing series focused on the flipped classroom in higher education, it’s time to tackle another frequently asked question: “How can I flip a large class?”
I like this question because it’s not asking whether you can flip a large class, but rather what’s the best way to do it. Faculty who teach large classes are challenged not only by the sheer number of students but also by the physical space in the classroom. Having 100, 200, or 400+ students in class means teaching in large lecture halls with stadium seating and seats that are bolted to the floor. It’s not exactly the ideal space for collaboration and group discussions, so the types of flipped and active learning strategies you can use are more limited.
A few months ago, I heard a podcast by Michael Hyatt, a best-selling author and speaker who helps clients excel in their personal and professional lives. This particular podcast focused on how to “create margins” in life to reduce stress and avoid burnout. Quoting Dr. Richard Swenson’s work, Hyatt defines a margin as “the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. . . . Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion. . . . Margin is the opposite of overload.”
In this ongoing series focused on flipped and active-learning classrooms, we’re taking a deeper look into how to create successful learning experiences for students. We’ve examined how to encourage students to complete pre-class work, how to hold students accountable for pre-class work, and how to connect pre-class work to in-class activities. Now let’s focus on the challenge of managing the in-person learning environment.
“Enabling interaction in a large class seems an insurmountable task.” That’s the observation of a group of faculty members in the math and physics department at the University of Queensland. It’s a feeling shared by many faculty committed to active learning who face classes enrolling 200 students or more. How can you get and keep students engaged in these large, often required courses that build knowledge foundations in our disciplines?
In the previous article “Ready to Flip: Three Ways to Hold Students Accountable for Pre-Class Work,” I mentioned that one of the most frequently asked questions about the flipped classroom model is, “How do you encourage students to actually do the pre-class work and come to class prepared?”
Most of us think we know what active learning is. The word engagement quickly comes to mind. Or, we describe what it isn’t: passive learning. Definitions also abound. The one proposed by Bonwell and Eison in an early (and now classic) active learning monograph is widely referenced: involving “students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.” (p. 2)
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.
Perhaps no other word has been as popular in higher education during the past few years as the term “flipped.” As a result, there is no shortage of ideas and opinions about flipped learning environments. Some faculty consider it another way to talk about student-centered learning. Others view flipped classrooms as an entirely new approach to teaching and learning. Still others see flipping as just another instructional fad that will eventually run its course.
Faculty Focus recently surveyed its readers to gain a better understanding of their views on flipped learning. The survey sought to find out who’s flipping, who’s not, and the barriers and benefits to those who flip. The findings are available in today’s report, Flipped Classroom Trends: A Survey of College Faculty.
Flipped learning environments offer unique opportunities for student learning, as well as some unique challenges. By moving direct instruction from the class group space to the individual students’ learning spaces, time and space are freed up for the class as a learning community to explore the most difficult concepts of the course. Likewise, because students are individually responsible for learning the basics of new material, they gain regular experience with employing self-regulated learning strategies they would not have in an unflipped environment.