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
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
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
While the pre-class work (videos, guided notes, etc.) is labor-intensive and time-consuming, a fantastic classroom experience makes flipping worthwhile for both the teacher and the students.
Imagine having a class where the instructor doesn't have to deliver a lengthy lecture on the content base, and the students are not busy with comprehending the material, hurrying to take notes and feeling clueless or confused all at the same time. The beauty of flipped teaching is that both the teacher and the students are prepared to take learning to the next level. When the class meets,
- They can discuss challenging topics and try to solve difficult problems.
- They can compare similar/contrasting concepts for a more holistic understanding.
- The instructor can share insightful ideas on the material.
To be effective, the majority of the class time should probably be conducted via student activities, group discussions or other active learning strategies, which means the instructors do need to develop (or continue to sharpen) their skills in this area. However, even for someone who is more comfortable giving lectures, he/she would immediately appreciate having more time talking deeper to a more prepared audience.
Next: (4) Love to Lecture? You'll Love Flipping
A colleague in a liberal arts discipline once asked me how my flipped teaching is different from him asking students to read the book before coming to class. My responses are:
1) Expectation. Students in flipped classes must know the majority of the material. They study a lot more than doing a preview level of reading.
2) Accountability. In my flipped classes, various measures are created to help students learn and to also prevent them from not learning. I can effectively weed out "pretenders" or "free-riders".
Here is how I raise expectation and enforce accountability in flipped teaching:
Video lessons and/or reading guides. For advanced classes like Real Analysis or Modern Geometry, I use a detailed reading guide. But for most classes I teach, I use video lessons (up to Calculus III.) Each video lesson is 8 to 15 minutes long. (A recent research claims that 8 minutes are optimal for student attention but one sometimes simply has more to say.) If you have a lot of material, break it up into smaller chunks.
Guided notes. These notes are based on the video lessons, and students must use them while watching the videos. My guided notes require students to write down important information, answer/solve basic questions, and self-assess their understanding. The notes are spot-checked in class for grades.
Check-in Quizzes. Students also take a short online quiz, 5 multiple-choice questions or so, based on the video lessons and guided notes. The questions are rather straightforward Students must complete the quiz before the class begins.
The better the instructor holds students responsible for learning before class, the more effective the flipped teaching would be.
Next: (3) In-Depth Learning in the Classroom
In this series of blogs I will discuss how to teach using the flipped classroom pedagogy, and why this method works well based on my own experience.
What is flipped teaching?
In a conventional math or science class, students learn the material in class (classroom), and review/practice harder problems at home (homework). In the flipped classroom, the tasks for classroom and homework are reversed: Students learn the materials at home and before class (homework) and they do more advanced learning in class (classroom).
Why do I like flipped teaching?
- Students are accountable for learning at least the fundamental material.
- Students come to class with sufficient preparation to learn at a higher level.
- Spending class time on learning activities such as group discussion.
What are the possible challenges for instructors flipping for the first time?
- The mindset, the pedagogy and the expectations.
- Preparing the pre-class material for homework time.
- Designing the active learning experience for classroom time.
- Creating effective grading and assessment strategies.
Next: (2) Preparing Before Class
Dr. Ben Weng