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.
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Blended and Flipped Learning
Professor Philip LaRocco is reimagining his Energy Business and Economic Development course with digitized lecture materials, collaborative assignments, and real-time feedback. With funding from Columbia University’s Office of the Provost, LaRocco teamed up with the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) to build a learning environment more conducive to the world in which his students currently intern, and plan to work in post-graduation. He is following a “flipped classroom” model—filming some of his lectures and making them available to students prior to class meetings—making way for more elaborate group review, discussions, and other collaborative assignments during class.
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.
Blended learning has gone from being an interesting new hybrid of traditional and online courses to being an expected part of American education. When the Sloan Consortium last studied blended learning in 2007, it found “a lot of room for growth” in the market for blended courses. It found “consumer preference for online and blended delivery far exceeds reported experience,” indicating that demand was ahead of supply at that point.
Passivity still seems to be the norm for most college courses: students passively try to learn information from teachers who unwittingly cultivate a passive attitude in their learners. As the subject matter experts, many faculty are reluctant to give up some control. We know the material, there’s a lot to cover, and let’s face it, going the lecture route is often just plain easier for everyone. We “get through” the material, and students aren’t pressed to do anything more than sit back and take notes. Teacher and student thus become complicit in creating a passive learning environment.
A few weeks ago, a colleague emailed me about some trouble she was having with her first attempt at blended instruction. She had created some videos to pre-teach a concept, incorporated some active learning strategies into her face-to-face class to build on the video, and assigned an online quiz so she could assess what the students had learned. After grading the quizzes, however, she found that many of the students struggled with the concept. “Maybe,” she wondered, “blended instruction won’t work with my content area.”
When it comes to technology in the classroom, phrases like “faculty resistance” and the importance of getting “faculty buy-in” are tossed around with great frequency. But is that perception still valid? Are all instructors so set in their ways, skeptical of anything new, and fearful of deviating from what they’ve done that it’s nearly impossible to get them to try something new?
“Students in inverted classrooms need to have more space to reflect on their learning activities so that they can make necessary connections to course content” (Strayer, 2012).
If you were to observe a flipped classroom, what do you think would it look like? Maybe students are working in groups. Maybe each group is working on a different problem. Maybe the instructor is walking around the room talking with each group and checking on the students’ progress. And each group of students is probably asking a different question each time the instructor walks by. It’s probably noisy since everyone is talking to each other or engaged in a task. And students are probably standing up or leaning in towards one another to hear their group members talk about the next task. Students might be writing in a workbook, typing on their laptops, or watching a video on the screen of some new technological device.
The term flipped classroom has become a hot topic in higher education. Ideas about and opinions about flipped learning environments vary. Some consider it simply another way of talking about student-centered learning. Others view flipped classrooms as the most cutting-edge approach to learning. Still others see flipping as just another fad that will eventually run its course.