Flipped Classrooms

After the recent article in the Diamondback about a donation for developing a flipped-classroom program in the CS department at UMD, I figured I’d share my thoughts on the concept.

First, let me clear the air and say that none of my opinions are based directly on personal experiences. I have not participated in a flipped-classroom experiment on either the teacher or student side. I should also state that I’m particularly looking at this issue in the academic field of Computer Science.

A “flipped” course is one in which the students watch video lectures BEFORE coming to class, so that class time can be devoted to working homework problems or doing programming assignments.

This sounds like a great idea. Let the students watch lectures at their own pace depending on their English skills, schedule, etc., and then bring everyone in to reinforce the ideas by actually doing work.

The giant problem, of course, is student motivation. I think it’s fairly safe to say that some if not many or most students would not watch the videos diligently throughout the course. This applies both to unmotivated students (who may have good intentions, but are distracted) and to motivated students (who simply may be over-committed in their time outside class).

Of course, it is tempting to play hardball and say that students who didn’t watch the videos are breaking the implicit contract of the class. Once they experience being “lost” throughout a class session, one might think they will “learn their lesson” for next time. I find this line of thinking a bit unrealistic. In my experience, students already sit passively through lectures after getting lost, wasting time. Rather than improving their video-watching habits, I suspect that the majority of students in this situation would drop the class, switch to a different (non-“flipped”) section, or will simply limp along and get a poor grade at the end of the class.

Here are some keys to successful implementation, as I see it:

  • The expectations for video watching must be stated up front (make it bold in the course catalog or similar) and explicitly warn students so that they know what they’re getting into when they sign up for the class. Make it clear that the normal 3-6 hours per week of “suggested” time outside of class is actually MANDATORY for this class.
  • The course structure should provide at least some minimal reinforcement for watching the videos on time. Give the students visual feedback on the website and give them a small percentage of their final grade for consistent on-time watching.
  • The videos need to be GOOD. They must be well-prepared, comprehensive, and polished. There’s a certain amount of adaptation that an instructor should be making to their audience during a normal lecture, and this is impossible with pre-recorded videos. Thus, the instructor should spend time in preparation to anticipate questions and head off potential misunderstandings.
  • The class time must also be well-organized and effective. Students will respond the best when their time is being well-used. Don’t rely on them to bring specific questions; provide preset problems and have backup problems ready if the students aren’t forthcoming.
  • Start with honors classes. The student pool in such classes are generally more motivated and willing to do preparation work outside the classroom.

I guess the conclusion is that I’m extremely skeptical about the efficacy of “flipped teaching,” but I remain interested in exploring it. Perhaps I will get the opportunity to experiment with this as a faculty member, and to alleviate or erase my skepticism.

This entry was posted in Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.