‘It has rejuvenated my teaching:’ Faculty adopt ‘flipped’ classroom techniques

By Richard H. Miller, Global Campus

Tom-Dickinson-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Despite the name, a flipped classroom isn’t upside-down. If anything, it’s inside-out.

Material traditionally presented in the classroom is studied outside, often in the form of online videos or narrated slides. That frees up class time for engaging students in activities like discussion and team projects. Faculty interact with students instead of lecturing them.

Most important, the flipped approach increases the chances that students will stay in college, according to Erica Austin, Washington State University vice provost.

Tom-Dickinson-450“The provost’s office is coordinating a university-wide effort on student retention,” she told a panel of nine faculty members who gathered on the Pullman campus recently for a Global Campus-sponsored discussion on how they are flipping courses. Flipped classes can better engage students, she said, and provide a more challenging and rewarding experience.

“You are the innovators,” she told panel members. “You are the mentors.”

Students improve

“Flipping for the first time was a bit intimidating,” said psychology professor Samantha Swindell. She started small by recording audio for her PowerPoint presentation.

She asks students to watch the presentation and come to class with three insightful questions. She breaks them into problem-solving groups while she reviews the questions, then reassembles the class for discussion.

“I’ve been incredibly encouraged,” she said. “Students have been totally willing to jump in the deep end with me.”

Students “love the idea that you trust them to learn,” said animal sciences professor John McNamara. “They love it and they do better.”

Students work harder in small groups because of peer pressure – and it increases attendance, said pharmacy professor Jennifer Robinson: “Students show up and engage because they don’t want to let their teammates down.”

Flipped-classroom-panel-450Several panelists noted that group projects prepare students for the teamwork required in workplaces. And they discourage cramming.

“These smaller groups put students in a situation where, if they haven’t listened to the lectures, they’re dead meat,” said physics professor Tom Dickinson.

New technologies change lecture strategies

Along with using online tools outside the classroom, panelists are trying new technologies in class. For example, the Socrative app turns common distractions, such as tablets and smartphones, into teaching tools.

One professor has embraced the wireless clicker, designed for giving instant and anonymous feedback. Students in Richard Zollars’ chemical engineering class read and watch video clips at home, then come to class for clicker quizzes.

If everyone gets the answer, there’s little need for discussion. If there’s no strong consensus, students must talk with their classmates then try again. If most students get it wrong, then Zollars knows what he needs to discuss.

“When I walk into the classroom,” he said, “I have no idea where the lecture is going to go.”

His method has increased the average course pass rate from 65 percent to 78 percent. As a bonus, he no longer takes attendance: “If your clicker is not in the classroom, then you’re not here,” he tells students.

‘It has rejuvenated my teaching’

Along with aiding students, panelists said, the flipped course approach makes teaching more fun.

By putting her lecture slides online, for example, education clinical assistant professor Jennifer LeBeau was able to reduce a three-hour evening class to two hours and to start with a Q&A instead of a lecture.

Swindell can now go with the flow when she gets a great question: “This kind of free-form lecture has been turning my teaching in a different direction,” she said.

Zollars has been teaching at WSU since 1978: “I was getting bored giving the same lecture over and over,” he said. “It has rejuvenated my teaching.”

Video and workshops

For a video of the panel discussion, please see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTyKeUx5XUU&feature=youtu.be. For those interested in trying elements of a flipped classroom, the Global Campus is offering workshops in Van Doren Hall. The schedule is at http://teach.wsu.edu/training_resources/train_announcements.aspx.

The flipped classroom panel members are:

• Tom Dickinson (physics)

• Jennifer LeBeau (education)

• John McNamara (animal sciences)

• Jennifer Robinson (pharmacy)

• Sam Swindell (psychology)

• Anna Whitehall and Abbie DeMeerleer (human development)

• Richard Zollars (engineering)

• Joy Egbert (education)