Flipped Classroom

It has hard to escape mention of the “flipped classroom” today. There is no single flipped technique, rather it is an approach that seeks to reverse the focus of activity in-class compared with individual study. There are some key proponents of the method. In the US, early adopters in schools were Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams. In Higher Education people tend to talk of Eric Mazur – a physicist at Harvard. He and his colleagues pioneered the Peer Instruction method, which is often used as part of flipping (though you don’t have to use it to flip your classroom). Flipping is also often used to describe Sal Khan’s Khan Academy.

So what’s it all about? Traditional models of teaching usually focus upon the lecturer – the “sage on the stage” – disseminating wisdom during the lecture/seminar. Students may occasionally ask questions but often communication is largely one-way and delivered at pace, meaning students primary focus in note-taking as opposed to comprehension. In this model students see the lecturer as the primary source knowledge, guidance and feedback. Often students are given homework/practical examples/essays to be carried out individually later. This is normally the time that they start grappling with the materials and start challenging their understanding.

traditional information flow
Stages in the traditional model of teaching

The flipped classroom reverses this use of time, advocating a learner-centered model. Students are given a task before the lecture/seminar – typically this involves watching a video, but it could be any activity that provides new information – e.g. reading a chapter in a book, searching for examples online, etc. The key point of flipping is that it uses the class time (the valuable face to face contact between students and staff) to explore the topic in greater depth and explore and correct any misunderstandings the students may have. The latter is a particular strength of peer instruction.

Flipped Classroom
Stages in the flipped model of teaching

 Diagrams after Derek Bruff – http://derekbruff.org/?p=3088

In a flipped class, students are asked to spend their own time reading about, watching/listening to materials that introduce a new concept, or a new way of applying theory. The lecture time is then used to check their understanding of this.

In the peer instruction model, the “lecture” time follows a series of steps. It begins asking students to solve a problem/discuss an issue in the lecture theatre. This is first done individually and they submit an answer (often using class voting systems). The lecturer can see the responses, but the students can’t, allowing the lecturer to gauge the students’ level of understanding. The students are then asked to discuss their solution with the person sitting next to them and vote again on an answer. Sometimes staff will circulate around the room listening to these discussions, intervening if necessary. With the second answers in, they can now decide whether they need to spend more time explaining strategies for solving the problem, or can reveal the solution knowing that the students have grasped the key concepts and move on.

Proponents argue that this makes the best use of the contact time available. Staff interaction with students in a flipped classroom shifts away from the typical didactic lecture and allows more scope for personalised interaction. Students spend more time actively involved in knowledge acquisition and construction, spending their time as participants in evaluating their own learning, rather than merely trying to write it all down in the time allotted.

 If you want to find out more about this approach have a look at the resources below or get in touch with a member of the Learning Technologies Team.

 Bergmann J & Sams A (2012) Flip your classroom: reach every student in every class every day. International Society for Technology in Education, Washington DC. ISBN 978-1-56484-315-9

 Mazur E (2013) Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual. Second Edition. Pearson. ISBN 978-1292039701

 Brame CJ (n.d.) Vanderbilt Guide to Flipping the Classroom available at https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/


 Featured image: Upside-down classroom by Tiffany Hobbs. Shared under a CC BY 2.0 license via flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/tm_hobbs/6832341387/