Getting Students Flipping Engaged
If you haven’t heard about the Flipped Classroom revolution, you can read more about the trend here and here. But as educator, you probably already value active, hands-on learning as much as the next curious nerd. We all learn best by doing. However, in Higher Education we face the twin evils of limited time and money: Try as we might, we have to cover masses of material in a shrinking time span, and we simply can’t give all students hands-on experiences pertinent to our theoretical, abstract courses. I’d love to show my students directly how the ocean conveyor belt works, but can’t afford the submarine rental, and I’m certain our history students would be moved powerfully by an impossibly expensive trip to Auswitch. The very practical question remains, then: how can we actively engage students with complex theoretical/ abstract material?
In the past two years I’ve been experimenting in my classroom. In particular, I tried a “partially flipped” approach in my two third-year courses (Aquatic Ecology and Behavioural Ecology, with students numbering from 14 to 40 per course). Firstly, I made sure my students got into the habit of preparing for class: before each lecture I posted a simple, multiple-choice quiz on Blackboard, which was based on assigned readings, web-pages, or videos. This ensured that students truly covered all the material in the textbook without me delivering it in a boring PowerPoint presentation. Based on prior experience, I also knew which concepts gave them the most trouble, and I targeted these concepts for proper flipping. Through extensive Googling and the occasional use of the “Explain Everything” app on my iPad, I found or created videos that explained these concepts clearly, and posted them on Blackboard. Then, in class, I would take up to 50 minutes to simply do active learning exercises with my students. Instead of having them struggle with case studies, applications, and thought experiments in homework, I made them grapple with it in class, under my watchful guidance. We worked through minute-papers, maps, case studies, video analyses, and more. About half of these active learning exercises were entirely collaborative – students worked out complex answers in small groups, and then had to each give an individual, written response to reinforce the ideas. My students’ responses to this approach were overwhelmingly positive. Motivated by “easy” marks in the Blackboard quizzes, students took on the additional work required to get the “parroting” material covered in their own time, and they became much more responsive and engaged in class. I still delivered some traditional PowerPoint lectures (which, honestly, I did to spare myself and my students a little bit of effort). The partial flip cost me very little money, but quite a bit of creative energy. However, I am continuing this partial flip in all my future classes. The positive impact was felt without having to up-end the entire course, and a partial flip can be adapted to any subject material. Why not try it, little-by-little, in your own course?
Some links on the Flipped Classroom:
General Flipped Classroom resources: http://www.humber.ca/centreforteachingandlearning/instructional-strategies/teaching-methods/course-development-tools/flipped-classroom.html
History lectures: http://kulowiectech.blogspot.com/2011/01/flipping-history-classroom.html