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.”
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Blended and Flipped Learning
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.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re already aware that flipped instruction has become the latest trend in higher education classrooms. And for good reason. As it was first articulated by Bergmann and Sams, flipped instruction personalizes education by “redirecting attention away from the teacher and putting attention on the learner and learning.” As it has evolved, the idea of flipped instruction has moved beyond alternative information delivery to strategies for engaging students in higher-level learning outcomes. Instead of one-way communication, instructors use collaborative learning strategies and push passive students to become problem solvers by synthesizing information instead of merely receiving it. More recently on this blog, Honeycutt and Garrett referred to the FLIP as “Focusing on your Learners by Involving them in the Process” of learning during class, and Honeycutt has even developed assessments appropriate for flipped instruction. What’s been left out of the conversation about flipped classrooms, however, is why and how we might also need to flip assessment practices themselves.
The June-July issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter highlights a study you don’t want to miss. It’s a meta-analysis of 225 studies that compare STEM classes taught using various active learning approaches with classes taught via lecture. “The results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sessions, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” (p. 8410) Carl Wieman, a Nobel-winning physicist who now does research on teaching and learning, describes the work as a “massive effort” that provides “a much more extensive quantitative analysis of the research on active learning in college and university STEM courses than previously existed.” (p. 8319) And what does he make of these results? “The implications of these meta-analysis results for instruction are profound, assuming they are indicative of what could be obtained if active learning methods replaced the lecture instruction that dominates U.S. postsecondary STEM instruction.” (pp. 8319-8320) That’s a long way from the guarded language usually found in commentaries on scientific results.