Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Case study: A flipped classroom

Contributed by: Gabriel LaHue

We've been learning about a variety of ideas and techniques that we can use in the classroom, but actually putting them into practice is always a bit tricky. The Center for Educational Effectiveness helps guide professors and classes through this process and today we used a soil science class as a case study. Jess Chiartas, the class TA, sat down with us to discuss successes and challenges associated with their efforts to “flip the classroom”.

Flipping the classroom is the idea that homework-type activities and discussion are better uses for class time than lectures. Lectures are posted online and can be watched at any time. In this case, students were expected to watch the lectures at home, but did not have any required reading. Class time was reserved for “exam-lets” on Mondays, team-based activities on Wednesdays, and participation questions and discussion on Fridays.

One of the major successes of the course was that students seemed to develop a more connected conceptual understanding rather than just memorizing individual facts. In general it was observed that students seemed to enjoy the course structure (with the exception of some more traditional students), and they felt that the professor and the TA cared quite deeply about their learning. Another success was that students seemed to feel that class time was being used effectively, something that has challenged other flipped classrooms.

One challenge turned success was consistency and setting course expectations. The first year they tried flipping the classroom, they were unable to completely flip it since recording the video lectures takes a large amount of time. In addition, course expectations were fluid and a bit unclear throughout the quarter. The second year of the course however, they had all the lectures pre-recorded and had clearer expectations from the start, making things run much more smoothly.

Two other challenges have been developing assessments that actually measure what they want students to learn, a work in progress, and keeping attendance up on non-quiz days. It was also mentioned that updating lectures is hard since recording the videos takes so much time, to which it was suggested that instead of having one hour-long video it could be broken up into several shorter videos that would be easier to record. Despite some initial challenges, the course has had many successes and it's making improvements with each passing year. Hopefully these lessons can aid other efforts to flip the classroom or try new techniques. Thanks to Jess for bringing this case study to our meeting!