At a local conference on biology education earlier this year, a panel of undergraduate instructors discussed what they have seen change over the decades they have been teaching. One point that stuck in my mind was that the instructor is no longer the only source of information; students now have ready access to a host of information freely available online. What value does my course offer, if the information is available elsewhere for free (case in point: MOOCs).
The obvious answer, for post-secondary courses at least, are the credentials, the diploma or degree that students so badly need. Although certain MOOCs are now offering credentials, Nick Anderson suggests these are of questionable value, at least for now. A classroom course can also offer interaction with peers and expert guidance, invaluable components of the learning experience that are not available elsewhere. Perhaps these things should then be the focus of limited classroom hours.
Enter the idea of the flipped classroom, wherein traditional components of in-class lectures and out-of-class homework are “flipped”. Classroom time is spent primarily on activities that extend the material already introduced outside of class.
Flipped classrooms can be implemented a number of different ways. Most commonly, students watch a video (either one made by the instructor or professionally created) that is posted online prior to class. This video covers the material, largely replacing an in-class lecture, with the added benefit that students can watch it at their own pace, pausing and rewinding as required. The class may begin with a quiz, then a question period and finally a case study, discussion or group activity.
The flipped classroom has become something of a buzzword in the education community, with numerous articles extolling its praises and offering “how-to” resources and software.
I would caution, however, that an effective flipped classroom should not be hastily implemented. A flipped classroom should, but does not automatically, lead to “flipped learning”, according to the Flipped Learning Network. They recommend instructors incorporate four ‘pillars’ in their flipped classrooms: (1) a flexible physical environment (i.e. circle vs. rows of tables), (2) a learner-centred learning culture, (3) intentional, well-designed classroom content and (4) an effective, professional educator.