September 28 is Confucius' birthday, and Taiwan's National Teacher's Day. A philosopher, a political activist and an academic leader of 3000+ followers, Confucius himself was most proud of being a scholar and an educator (學而不厭，誨人不倦). Though not a religious figure, Confucius had the greatest and the most dominant influence on the entire Chinese culture and society as well as most of east and southeast Asia.
Happy Teacher's Day, esteemed colleagues! Thank you for being great educators for our students, as instructors, advisors and CLA's. May your work continue to enlighten our world and our time, like Confucius' work did to his.
Lectured classes have many stressors, from a cohort of under-prepared students to a few snowed-out classes. Sometimes even one student asking too many basic questions and delaying the progress of lessons can be frustrating. An instructor can lecture the same way every time, but there are many other factors to make or break a good class.
Ultimately, a lecturing instructor has a bad class because
(A) there is not enough time to lecture on all the scheduled topics, or
(B) after the lecture, the students still don't understand the material.
In the flipped classroom, both concerns can be resolved. (A) would hardly happen because students watch video lessons and take notes at home before class. (B) can be addressed in the classroom using group discussion, problem-solving exercises and extra coaching.
Every time I flip-teach a class, I almost always do better than the previous time. In flipped teaching, all the resources are cumulative. Over time, the collection of video lessons, notes and test bank gets larger and better, the learning activities perfected, and the instructor more experienced. The more one teaches the course the better the class gets.
And after teaching the same class two or three times, an instructor would have created nearly all the class material, and preparing the class gets even easier. More time to focus on students or further innovate.
Next: (10) The Open-Book Exams
Some instructors say students don't visit them and ask course-related questions during office hours. Here is the story about my office hours.
In my last years at Metro State, I was also the department chair. Full-time faculty are required by the contract to post 10 office hours per week. With a schedule fragmented by teaching, meetings and chair duty, some of my office hours landed in nearly impossible times like early Monday mornings or late Friday afternoons. Without surprise, students hardly visited me. In fact, there was a semester when only one student visited me the whole semester, and he wasn't even there to talk about mathematics.
However, those were also the semesters when my course evaluations soared to career high and students responded in them saying I was always available for help.
Why? Because in flipped teaching, the entire 4 hours of weekly classroom time is about helping students learn, making them practice and resolving their questions. Flipped teaching transforms all of the class meeting time into office hours.
And how would I spend my actual office hours, besides prepping or grading? I advise. I talk to students about surviving a challenging schedule, about career and grad school, about how to become a mathematician, and about anything my limited wits apply.
Next: (9) A Good Class, Guaranteed
According to a Spring 2019 survey of students at Minneapolis College, about half of them have been late for class 2+ times in the last year due to transportation issues. This means having late or absent students is almost an inevitable reality and it doesn't happen just because they don't care.
For the SciMath School Meeting on 9/19, I would like each one of us to think about 3 ways to run the first 15 minutes of class that are
1) meaningful or accountable for students who come to class on time, and
2) recoverable or less harmful for students who are late for 15 minutes.
We will hold a 15-minute discussion using a Family Feud Board. Prizes are pineapple short cakes and other yummy snacks from Taiwan. See you there!
During my last three years teaching mathematics at Metro State, I have not even once fallen behind the schedule or gone over class time in my flipped classes. Even with inevitable class cancellations due to Minnesota weather, professional conferences and other unexpected situations, I was always able to get students where I wanted them to be.
Why? Because flipped teaching takes content delivery out of class time and moves it to the pre-class homework. The responsibility is shifted from the instructor delivering lectures to the students learning the content. When the class doesn't meet, the students are provided with resource and guidance to continue learning.
As for the deep learning in the flipped class, an experienced instructor would easily find alternative activities when classes get canceled. For example, a D2L online forum, a special project, etc.
Next: (8) About Office Hours
Last week I went back to Taiwan for my maternal grandfather's funeral. Taiwanese funerals are multiple-day affairs, and at the end of the ceremony family and friends would march the coffin on the street for a few blocks before getting on the carrier.
It had been raining all day with a typhoon in the forecast. But when the crowd got ready to walk outside, the rain stopped, the cloud broke open a little, and sunlight came through it. All the family and friends were able to walk together and remember Grandpa without getting wet. I was pushing Grandma's wheelchair and we headed back to the house after two blocks.
The Taiwanese people believe that the dead has supernatural powers over the physical world. With the rain surprisingly stopping, I turned to Grandma and commented, like most Taiwanese would, "Grandpa must be blessing us!"
"No," she replied, "he is blessed."
An hour and half later, the entire family returned. As soon as they entered the house, the rain resumed and quickly turned into a heavy storm. My mother and her siblings came over to Grandma, and as if they have had rehearsed, one by one they said the same thing to her, "Dad was blessed."
I was in awe. There could not be a more powerful lesson on my grandparents' family values of being humble of themselves and grateful to the rest of the world. In his 90-plus years, Grandpa lived the example of someone who always gives credits to others or to his blessings. Someone who is first to take responsibility when stakes are high, and to shoulder the blame voluntarily when things go wrong. Someone who views boasting or accepting unearned praise as a dishonor that harms his moral and self-image.
That's why Grandma had to correct me. In her mind, Grandpa would not have wanted any credit for this weather miracle, whether or not he had anything to do with it. But he would have certainly been thankful for the blessing that let him and his off-springs have a walk together, nice and dry, for the last time.
One of my favorite podcast channels is Sticky Notes Podcast by conductor Joshua Weilerstein. In the episode What Does the Conductor Really Do, he describes a conductor as the silent member of the ensemble who does "nothing, and everything".
According to Weilerstein, professional orchestras can play pretty well without conductors because the musicians play their own parts capably, listen to each other and have no difficulty performing coherently together. However, a good conductor provides the kind of artistic leadership that may elevate music making to "the celestial level".
As the dean of the Schools of SciMath and ITEC, I feel the same way about what I do: nothing, and everything. No, I do not teach classes, advise students or maintain labs. But yes, I am involved in every aspect of our mission, and I do everything to support you and to maintain the key functions of our schools, from teaching to advising and from hardware to software.
In my first annual performance self-evaluation, I was asked about three points of pride about my programs. Instead of selecting three from the many things our team accomplished in 2018/19, my response is:
My schools made a great deal of accomplishments this year because (1) the faculty is student-centered, (2) most of them are open to my new ideas and proactive leadership, and (3) many actions and discussions are faculty-driven.
No, none of our success in AY 18/19 was about me or by me. They were the results of great individual or team work. I just did my part in this ensemble.
Going into AY 19/20, we have great opportunities in many things we do. Let's work together towards the celestial level!
One real challenge for first-time flippers is to get over the fact that they are NOT supposed to assign a lot of (or any) homework as follow-up exercise of the classroom learning.
A lectured class usually goes like this: lecture, homework after lecture, and then Q&A or quiz at the next class. A topic concludes at the next class, after students doing homework and the instructor handling the questions.
On the other hand, a flipped classroom follows the pattern: learning the material before class, and exercise and Q&A in class. The class meeting IS the follow-up and the conclusion of a topic.
Besides, if the instructor assigns a lot of work on the already covered material, how do students find time to prepare for the new material?
It took me several trials to overcome my mental block and to find a way to do this, but it's an important leap of faith one must take.
Take my Calculus 3 (Summer 19) for example. It's an accelerated 8-week class, but I only assign 10 to 15 basic questions per week as refreshners.
Next: (7) Falling Behind the Schedule? Never!
The true power of flipped teaching is unleashed when the instructor also executes the course using a backward design.
The backward design is commonly used in professional and technical education. The instructor identifies the desirable student learning outcomes, and then designs learning activities that will produce these outcomes. It’s called backward design because the goals and activities are usually identified in the reverse chronological order.
Think about this: If the goal of a math class is for the students to become independent problem-solvers, which would help them more: lectures or coached practices? If the goal is for students to be abstract thinkers, what would the instructor do?
The backward design is NOT about which way of teaching is better. It is about being mindful and outcome-oriented in teaching, being effective and creative, and deploying ALL the instructional tools available.
For example, when I flip a math class on the topic of, say Integration by Parts, I start by setting the goals:
- Exit goals (Stage 3): Students understand the theory and can solve various types of problems.
- Classroom goals (Stage 2): Students master 4 advanced types of problems.
- Pre-class goals (Stage 1): Student understands the theory and 2 base examples.
(Notice that the stages are considered in the backward order, and that each stage helps students progress onto the next one, from pre-class to classroom to exit.)
I then choose activities:
- Exit activities (Stage 3): Check-out quiz or a tiny amount of follow-up exercises.
- Classroom activities (Stage 2): Group discussion. Short talk on subtle stuff.
- Pre-class activities (Stage 1): Video lessons. Guided notes. Check-in quiz.
When instructors adopts a backward design, their focus naturally shifts from content material (I have to talk about A,B and C) to learning outcomes (I make sure students can do X, Y and Z).
Next: (6) Re-imagining Homework
Not that I want to promote lecturing, but the pre-class work in flipped teaching is an immediate game-changer for the lectured class.
Simply put, pre-class learning gives instructors extra time in the classroom. Love to lecture? Now you’ve got more time for it. Talk deeper, show more examples, give longer quizzes, all the good stuff to do with the class. Also, these pre-class materials are the best learning aid for the students when they review or prepare for exams.
Take math for example. When lecturing a topic like Integration by Parts in Calculus 1, an instructor normally spends at least half of the time developing the formula and perhaps proving it, and the rest of the time going over a couple of examples. Then the students do homework exercises after class. And then the instructor goes over the homework at the next class meeting, or quizzes the students to check their comprehension.
However, with a pre-class learning arrangement, the instructor can make students watch a video of the theory, and a video of 1 or 2 basic examples of problem-solving. When the class meets, with a group of prepared students and a lot of time (saved from lecturing on the basic stuff), the instructor can things like covering another 2 or 3 advanced examples, comparing all the examples, and letting student try more exercises. There is also plenty of time for the class to have a meaningful Q&A because the students have studied before class.
Next: (5) Forward Thinking, Backward Designed
Dr. Ben Weng