Flipped Classrooms

by guest writer Karen Brinkley

If asked to describe a traditional college classroom and style of pedagogy, most people would probably think of students who come to a classroom of chairs in rows to listen to a professor deliver a lecture, and who then did textbook readings and assignments at home. Yet those who have experienced a flipped classroom would describe something completely different. Flipping classrooms is a fairly recent and growing trend sweeping through classrooms across the country. And the name is pretty fitting. A flipped classroom does just that: it takes the traditional model and, with the help of technology, reverses it.

Instead of students coming to class to hear a lecture and work on problems and papers individually at home, the lecture is instead put online for students to watch before class. There is also time to interact

Read Derek Bruff's blog on mobile classrooms

with the instructor and peers through tools like discussion threads and social media. This model not only allows students to go through the lecture at their own pace, but it also allows the instructor to maximize interaction with students. Because when they get to class, it’s time to get to work. Instead of students listening passively to a lecture, they are engaged in hands on or active learning; they might tackle problems together with help from the instructor. With the lecture already out of the way, there is time for discussion, labs, team projects, and more. Flipped classrooms work for just about any subject– it started with Chemistry but has since spread to math, history, and philosophy, just to name a few.  Reasons for flipping classrooms rest primarily on decades of research into the gains in learning made by students engaged in active, collaborative work.

Several years ago, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two high school instructors from Woodland Park, Colorado, gained national attention with the model they created for their Chemistry students when they started uploading short lecture videos online for students to watch before coming to class. Incredibly, Bergmann and Sams haven’t delivered an in-class lecture since 2008, and they don’t plan to go back. They credit the tremendous results in student learning and engagement to the fact that their students enjoy working at their own pace outside the classroom–and getting the attention they need while they are inside the classroom.

This new trend isn’t limited to high schools, either; in fact, more and more college classrooms are making the switch. The change has been particularly welcomed in math and science courses, or other that have complex lecture components that students may want to replay. Take a look at Salman Khan’s TED Talk on how video lectures are transforming education. Stanford University has even employed the flipped classroom method in its free, online computer science classes which are open to the public. These classes present online lecture with a once-a-week class to “problem solve” with the professor.

This model has become increasingly popular for a variety of other reasons. There’s no arguing that today’s students love technology and social media. And with literally hundreds of sites and tools available to help instructors improve teaching and learning for their students, it’s never been easier to flip your classroom. Just check out Discovery Education’s site on Web. 2.0 Tools for teaching with technology, offering links to more than thirty of the most popular sites to help with everything from presentations and video to communication, mobile tools, and more. Instructors are also enjoying the changes in engagement that flipped classrooms can create. Bergmann and Sams have described it as “an eight ring circus,” allowing for variety, improved communication, and multiple, ongoing activities to keep students interested.

If you’re thinking about flipping your own classroom, check out this video on Aaron Sam’s classroom for some inspiration, or stop by the Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center for some one-on-one assistance to redefine teaching and learning for your class. We also offer a paper in our “How-to” series on Technology Enhanced Learning that can be accessed by clicking here. By working in conjunction with Instructional technologists at OIT, faculty can make the move to a flipped classroom, starting slowly by selecting a few key classes to “flip,” It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the available technology out there today, but by picking just a few tools to incorporate into an existing course, instructors can literally transform their teaching and take student engagement and learning to the next level.

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