The flipped classroom – thoughts of a late arrival

I’ve been interested in the idea of the flipped classroom, or more specifically, lecture flipping for some time. For anyone who is wondering what I am talking about, it’s the idea that the students watch a video/screencast of all or part of the lecture in advance, enabling the lecture time to be used for more active learning, (like problem solving, etc). Last year I took my first steps by recording introductory screencasts for my Quantum Chemistry lectures, but everything in those screencasts was repeated in the lectures. The most extreme approach is to record the entire lecture; others produce screencasts covering material which is then built on in the lecture. For me, I suspect that a balance between these two would work best, if the module content is appropriate.

I see two main advantages of lecture flipping. The first is that it frees up time for more problem solving, which students generally don’t do enough of, and the second is that it encourages active learning and engagement. But that assumes a degree of engagement on the part of students which is by no means universal! In discussions with some of the main exponents of the method, the view tends to be that you have not to worry about those who don’t engage, since the responsibility is with them. I have to say that I am not entirely comfortable with that view.

Whether or not lecture flipping can work is arguably subject and content specific. For example, the lectures I’ve been doing recently for the final year Forensics class on Arson are very content-intensive, and it’s not clear how the lecture time could be beneficially used if the students watched the lecture in advance. However, some of my Chemistry courses could benefit more, and I am considering extending my initial foray into Quantum Chemistry with some more extended screencasts next semester.

There are lots of sources of information on the flipped classroom, and on individual lecturers’ experiences. I found Kelly Butzler’s blog (Kelly’s 24 hour Classroom) very interesting, especially her recent post, in which she discusses an improvement in test score results for some students from a flipping approach. But in a subsequent discussion, my concerns that students who need a lot of help and support don’t always do so well as when taught in a more traditional way were confirmed. The use of flipping puts much more onus on students, which is a good thing, but I’m not sure how well it sits in our brave new world where the student is the customer!

Comments as ever are welcome!


2 thoughts on “The flipped classroom – thoughts of a late arrival”

  1. Dear Rob,

    Interesting post. Am wondering myself about the type of content suitable for flipping. Obviously (?) phys chem content that is difficult and could benefit from time in lecture going over examples/difficulties – that’s my first foray into it.

    Am interested in teasing out the content heavy stuff though. I’ve a similar module, where it’s just lots of stuff, also in a forensic context. Perhaps the in-class time could be spent on case studies or scenarios, assuming students know the basics of the underlying principles. Being devil’s advocate, one could ask, if it could just be done online in advance, what’s the point of the lecture?

    Might be interesting to think about contextualising scenarios in lectures – would certainly make my stuff more interesting.

    An aside I worry about for final years especially is whether they have time to do flip prep work.

    Anyway, lots for me to mull over!

    1. Dear Michael

      Thanks for these comments.

      Regarding your second point, I still believe (maybe old-fashionedly) that lectures are the best way to cover material even if it is just factual information. Even if there’s lots of detail on PowerPoint slides, I add information as I discuss the slides. This wouldn’t work as effectively in a pre-recorded lecture (and anyway I’m only using Camtasia in PowerPoint recording mode at the moment, and anything written on the board isn’t captured). But I would like to get the students to do something in these lectures – particularly the Forensics class, many of whom don’t even take notes (:

      I also worry about the time taken for preparation, and what we can do for people who simply don’t engage (and then complain that they were disadvantaged in some way).

      As you say, lots to think about …


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