The flipped classroom is a teaching strategy that reverses the ‘lecture in-class and homework outside-of-class’ approach.
The flipped classroom is a teaching strategy that reverses the ‘lecture in-class and homework outside-of-class’ approach. Content is provided ahead of each session, typically online in the form of a video or audio lecture, paired with online discussions or quizzes to review the lecture.
Activities, such as homework or group work, are moved into the classroom where the instructor provides guidance on in-class activities that often take advantage of the opportunities for peer collaboration. In a flipped classroom approach, the instructor moves from the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side.’
Why use a flipped approach?
The flipped approach has the potential to allow students opportunities to collaborate and work on meaningful problems and tasks, while receiving helpful and immediate feedback from their instructor and peers. Compared to a traditional approach, flipped classrooms may also provide more interaction between students and instructor, as well as among students. When instructors experience an increase in interaction, they are able to have a better understanding of their students and their learning needs. The flipped classroom approach, specifically the use of online video or audio lectures, also has the added benefit for struggling students to review materials multiple times, as well as opportunities in class to seek support from peers and the instructor.
A flipped approach that offers authentic and collaborative opportunities to engage with complex questions and issues allows students to practice the skills of their discipline, e.g., critical thinking. The opportunity to practice skills, whether academic or otherwise, is a fundamental aspect of learning.
A planning model for flipped classes
Often when instructors are planning to flip a class they focus all their attention on planning the activities that the students will do in class and on what the students will do online to prepare for that active learning in class. However, there are two other aspects of the flipped-class design that require planning: how the activities will be introduced to the students and how the instructor and the students will know that they have adequately prepared for the in-class experience.
Introduce the task
The goal of this stage of the flipped class is to maximize student participation/readiness for the activities they will be doing online and in-class. Instructors should introduce the tasks by clearly explaining their expectations for what the students will be doing and the amount of time the students will need to invest to be ready for the class activity. Explaining what they will be doing and why being prepared for the in-class activities is also important. For some students, active learning in the classroom will be a new experience so a “no surprises” approach can reduce possible anxiety about a more participatory approach to learning.
Carefully consider the choice of media for the online activities and materials. Instructors can create their own materials such as narrated PowerPoints, screencasts and podcasts, or reuse online content such as websites, readings and videos. Video content should be concise — no more than 10-15 minute segments — and it can be helpful to students if there are guiding questions or prompts to help them recognize the keys objectives of the preparatory work. If instructors include an online means for students to submit questions about difficult concepts or other questions, they can use some class time to discuss these issues.
Out of class tasks may include readings, or viewing screencasts, video or listening to audio recordings of presentations. Pair these tasks with guiding questions, reflective questions, review quizzes, or online discussions.
When designing and sharing out-of-class tasks for the flipped classroom, consider the following technologies. Content authoring tools such as Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, and Office Mix can be used to create interactive videos to play in class or online. These videos often help students relate to the subject matter and see how it ties into real world situations. Pre-class readings or videos about a case study can be shared with students via the content area of UM Learn.
Assess the learning
Before the in-class session both the instructor and the students can benefit from knowing if the students are adequately prepared for the in-class activity. Self-assessment quizzes or low-stakes online quizzes can be a good way to assess if students are adequately prepared. Ideally these assessments are short (3 to 4 questions), and include questions that provide an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned rather than questions that merely test factual knowledge. Formative feedback on the assessment questions and an opportunity for students to pose their own questions to the instructor can also be included. Evidence of preparation can also be provided through a short assignment or assessment at the beginning of the in-class portion of the flipped class. Learning and assessment are interconnected: low stakes or formative assessment is a valuable learning tool for students.
To assess if students are adequately prepared for the in-class activity, assign self-assessment and low-stakes quizzes using the UM Learn quiz tool. The quiz tool can be linked to automatically transfer grades into the gradebook.
Activities that foster peer-to-peer and student-instructor dialogue and that create opportunities for collaboration and peer learning and other forms of active learning are most effective for promoting a deep-learning approach. The objectives of an activity should be clearly linked to course objectives and assessments; the in-class activity time can be used to encourage students to be creative and make discoveries (and errors) in a relaxed, low-risk environment. For examples of activities below~:
Thinking-Aloud Pair Problem Solving (TAPPS)1: To solve case studies, complex problems, or interpret text, students can pair, with one individual designated as the explainer and the other as the questioner. The explainers outline the issues at hand and then begin detailed descriptions of how they would solve the case, problem, or interpretation. The questioners listen, for the most part, but they can also pose questions or offer helpful hints. At a given point, the students reverse roles, a process that continues until the exercise concludes (Felder & Brent, 2009, p. 3)
Three-Step Interview1: Common as an ice breaker or a team-building exercise, this structure, developed by Kagan (1989), also helps students reinforce and internalize important concept-related information based on lectures or textbook material. The instructor usually poses the interview questions, focused on content material and having no right or wrong solutions. In a Three-Step Interview, one student interviews another within specified time limits (Step 1). The two then reverse roles and conduct the interview again (Step 2). Two pairs combine to form a foursome, and the students introduce to the rest of the group the ideas posed by their partners (Step 3). An extra question can be added for pairs working more rapidly than others, an “extension” or “sponge” activity recommended to reduce off-task behaviors and to allow fast-moving pairs or groups to tackle more challenging problems.
Send/Pass-a-Problem1: This structure is particularly effective for problem solving. Its exact source is unknown. The Howard County Maryland Staff Development Center developed a version of it inspired by Kagan’s (1989) work. The starting point is a list of problems, issues, or case studies, which can be generated by students or can be teacher-selected. Each team records its problem on the front of a folder or envelope. The teams then brainstorm effective solutions or responses for these problems, issues, or case studies, recording them on a piece of paper. At a predetermined time, the ideas are placed in the folder or envelope and forwarded to another team. The members of the second team, without looking at the ideas already generated, compile their own list of solutions or responses. The folder with the two sets of ideas is forwarded to a third team which now looks at the suggestions provided from the other teams, adds its own, and then synthesizes the ideas from all three teams. Alternatively, if the problems generated a list of ideas, then the teams can select the best two solutions. During this activity, students are engaged in the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (1956)—evaluation and synthesis.
Online discussion forums engage students in active learning and promote growth of collaborative learning communities. To replicate the Send/Pass-a-Problem with the discussion tool, divide students into small forum groups to generate their ideas on the initial problem. Organize a schedule and deadline dates for groups to post their problems and responses to another group.
Case Studies2: Students consider problems situated in the complexity of their fields. Good case studies, like good stories, are realistic, reflect the complexity of the situation, and involve a conflict or dilemma.
Jigsaw Discussion3: In this technique, a general topic is divided into smaller, interrelated pieces (e.g., the puzzle is divided into pieces). Each member of a team is assigned to read and become an expert on a different topic. After each person has become an expert on their piece of the puzzle, they teach the other team members about that puzzle piece. Finally, after each person has finished teaching, the puzzle has been reassembled and everyone in the team knows something important about every piece of the puzzle.
For a jigsaw online, experts form a group in the online discussion forum to teach one another about their topic of expertise. This can be followed by discussion questions to ensure that everyone in the team understood the content from the interrelated pieces. Office 365 is useful to have students record and share notes about their piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
Pro and con grid2: The pro and con grid lists advantages and disadvantages of any issue and helps students develop analytical and evaluative skills. It also forces students to go beyond their initial reactions, search for at least two sides to the issue, and weigh the value of competing claims.
Brainstorming2: In this activity, students generate ideas which you record on the blackboard or overhead. When beginning a new topic, you might begin by saying “Tell me everything you know about…” You may decide to put the students’ comments into categories, or you might ask students to suggest categories and comment on the accuracy and relative importance of the array of facts, impressions, and interpretations. The main rules of brainstorming are to acknowledge every offering by writing it down and save any critiquing until after the idea generation time is over.
After brainstorming with your students, use technologies such as Freemind and Office 365 to categorize comments into charts and tables or to create diagrams that show the relationships between concepts and ideas.
Problem Solving: demonstrations, proofs and stories2: Begin a lecture with a question, a paradox, an enigma, or a compelling, unfinished human story. Solving the problem, depending on what it is or in what field, may require a scientific demonstration, a mathematical proof, an economic model, the outcome of a novel’s plot, or a historical narrative. You refer back to the problem throughout the lecture, inviting students to fill in imaginative spaces in the story (or model) with their own solutions. Students fill in their successive answers passively, or the instructor elicits responses which are recorded on the board and discussed. Example questions include: “What do you think will happen?” “Which solution, outcome, or explanation makes the most sense to you?”
Role Playing3: Here students are asked to “act out” a part. In doing so, they get a better idea of the concepts and theories being discussed. Role-playing exercises can range from the simple to the complex.
Forum Theatre3: Use theater to depict a situation and then have students enter into the sketch to act out possible solutions. If students were watching a sketch on an escalating interaction between a nurse and patient, have students brainstorm possible suggestions for how to deescalate the situation. Then, ask for volunteers to try to act out the updated scene.
Sources of the preceding strategies
Student motivation, which underlies the whole learning process, can be affected by the design of the activity. An enthusiastic instructor who has good rapport with students and creates an open and positive atmosphere in class can motivate student participation and learning. Activities that are designed to be challenging, but achievable, can help motivate students. Also, students will be more motivated if they find personal meaning and value in the material and see that the course is relevant and linked to their future success. Providing frequent feedback to students as they complete their learning can also increase motivation.
*Creative commons source for the above planning model: Course design: planning a flipped class. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.
*Creative commons source for the above planning model: Course design: planning a flipped class. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.
Drawbacks and possible responses
The most significant drawback of the flipped approach is that it runs the risk of simply replicating bad pedagogy. Watching a lecture in class and then regurgitating the lecture for homework becomes watching a lecture at home and then regurgitating the lecture in-class. In this way, a flipped classroom is open to the same pitfalls as a traditional lecture-based approach. Recorded lectures can be just as lifeless as a face-to-face experience, or perhaps even more so, since video tends to flattens a live experience. A face-to-face lecture can potentially be lively and engage students, even involving them in a back-and-forth discussion. Nevertheless, a lecture is usually a one-way transmission and students do not typically learn very well by simply listening to someone speak – whether face-to-face or online. Critics have argued that dressing up a traditional lecture in the robes of the flipped classroom approach reflects an outdated understanding of learning.
When designing a flipped classroom, as with any approach, it is important to keep in mind characteristics of effective teaching. The evidence that describes effective teaching and learning can be summed up in the acronym ICE.
I – Interaction & Involvement
Students need to be actively involved in their learning. They need opportunities to interact with the material in a meaningful way. A flipped classroom frees up time for such opportunities. Instructors need to be responsive to students’ needs and questions. Again, a flipped classroom allows for more student-instructor interactions.
C – Communication & Clarity
The instructor in a flipped classroom is well prepared and clearly communicates content by endeavoring to make complex topics easy to comprehend. This can be accomplished within recorded mini-lectures through the use of examples, analogies, stories from the field and other means of representation. From the outset, the instructor clearly communicates the purpose of both the course and each individual session.
E – Enthusiasm & Expertise
The instructor of a flipped classroom should convey enthusiasm for the field and demonstrate an expertise and confidence in their knowledge of the subject.
In a flipped classroom, such characteristics will go far in making the learning experience for students a positive one.
Another drawback of the flipped approach has to do with the increased time required to both prepare and participate. The flipped classroom typically requires more of an investment of time on both the part of the instructor and the students. Many faculty already have their time stretched by research, grant application writing, service, and teaching demands. For an instructor, the initial amount of time it takes to produce online videos or audio is substantial. Five hours of recording time for every hour of recorded video is a conservative estimate. It may also be necessary to rerecord sessions in the future, as our understandings in various fields evolve or as course structure changes. For those students with family responsibilities or part-time jobs, in addition to the normal pressures of student life, an increase in time required for at-home work may further increase stress on already overburden individuals. Further, more time in front of screens, for both faculty and students, tends to take away from activities necessary for a minimal level of well-being, such as social connectedness and physical activity.
It is recommended that faculty interested in a flipped classroom approach begin slowly. Start by flipping one session in order to decide whether it is right for you and your students. Keep an eye out for ways to make the process of recording more efficient. It is also important to determine how much time is reasonable for students to engage in before class and stick to that time restraint in your pre-class design.
Finally, critics argue that the flipped classroom model overlooks the economically disadvantaged among the university student population. In other words, not every student has access to the technology necessary for a flipped classroom, i.e., a smart phone or home-based internet access. This should not be too surprising given the growing pattern of food bank usage among post-secondary students.
Alternatives to digital student preparation work, i.e., comparable readings or lecture transcriptions, may be necessary to develop. Also, make students aware of university resources such as computer labs, as well as library services that offer laptops that can be checked out for a short term.
Overall, a flipped classroom approach may hold promise for faculty willing to invest the time and thought required to develop materials and activities that focus on learning. Please see the Technology Tips and References and Resources sections for more information.
Resources and references
Arnold-Garza, S. (2014). The Flipped Classroom Teaching Model and Its Use for Information Literacy Instruction. Communications in Information Literacy, 8(1), 7–22.
Enfield, J. (2013). Looking at the impact of the flipped classroom model of instruction on undergraduate multimedia students at CSUN. TechTrends, 57(6), 14–27.
Hutchings, M., & Quinney, A. (2015). The flipped classroom, disruptive pedagogies, enabling technologies and wicked problems: Responding to “the bomb in the basement”. Electronic Journal of E-Learning, 13(2), 106–119.
Thai, N. T. T., De Wever, B., & Valcke, M. (2017). The impact of a flipped classroom design on learning performance in higher education: Looking for the best “blend” of lectures and guiding questions with feedback. Computers & Education, 107, 113–126.
Magna Campus Video and Supplemental Materials Resource
- Log on to UM Learn
- Under My Courses, select All Roles under Role, and All under Term.
- Scroll down to Development Courses and select The Centre – Magna Campus Resources
- Select Magna Campus > Open Menu > Seminar Libraries > 20 Minute Mentors
- In the search box, type in “How Can I Structure a Flipped Lesson?”
* University of Manitoba Learning Management System