The Flipped Class: Problems and an Alternative Approach

09.25_flipped-classroom-problems-and-alternatives

The flipped class is one of the hottest topics in the teaching field today. In a traditional course, students get the learning content through an in-class lecture and then work with that content outside of class as homework. The problem is that if students have trouble with homework problems, they get stuck and never progress through the homework or, at minimum, do not get help until the next class. Flipped teaching thus turns around the traditional order around by having students encounter the lecture content outside of class online in the form of videos or other material, allowing class time to be devoted to application activities for which the instructor is on hand to help students through their problems.


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The flipped class is one of the hottest topics in the teaching field today. In a traditional course, students get the learning content through an in-class lecture and then work with that content outside of class as homework. The problem is that if students have trouble with homework problems, they get stuck and never progress through the homework or, at minimum, do not get help until the next class. Flipped teaching thus turns around the traditional order around by having students encounter the lecture content outside of class online in the form of videos or other material, allowing class time to be devoted to application activities for which the instructor is on hand to help students through their problems.

Issues with the flipped classroom

While the premise makes sense, there is evidence that the method may not work as well in practice as hoped. For one, many faculty report that students have a negative reaction to flipped learning, likening the format to “teaching themselves,” and the faculty find that their student ratings plummet.

The problem might partly be due to a distinction between higher education and K–12 learning. Flipped learning originated in high school teaching, with Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams credited with first using it in their chemistry classes in 2006 (Arnold-Garz, 2014). It also quickly appeared in high school math courses.

This is important because K–12 has a culture of in-class homework help that higher education lacks. Students in higher education come to expect lecturing from their instructors, so devoting in-class time to something else might strike students as the instructor abdicating their teaching duty.

The prevalence of lecture leads to a second issue. With most higher education instructors learning their trade in lecture-focused classrooms, they lack the training and experience to successfully incorporate and manage activities in their courses. In fact, a recent meta-study examining all flipped class studies—there are 2,476 of them, according to the researchers—found that most higher education instructors were still lecturing in the face-to-face portions of their courses (Kapur et. al., 2022). Certainly, lecturing can be easier than leading discussion, and as a result, instructors trying to facilitate active learning in their courses tend to fall back on lecture at the first sign of trouble. Thus, if we combine students’ expectations of lecture with instructors’ struggles to do something else, it is understandable that students have negative perceptions of flipped learning.

An alternative to flipped learning

Kapur et al. also made interesting findings concerning pedagogical issues in flipped learning. First, the benefits of flipped learning were not due to the flipped format, but rather either the use of active learning or students’ receiving learning content twice—once outside of class via video lectures (or something similar) and again in class with the instructor still lecturing. Second, the most effective active learning techniques involved problem-solving. Third, active learning was most effective when it either preceded in-class instruction or was done in conjunction with lecturing.

As a result, the researchers suggest an alternative model to the flipped classroom that they term “Fail, Flip, Fix, and Feed.” The Fail stage is grounded on the concept of productive failure. Traditional teaching is done by going over the new content with students and then testing them to determine whether they understand it. Productive failure reverses this order by first testing students on the content and then going through it. This improves outcomes by activating students’ prior knowledge, getting them to see problems in that knowledge, and having them revise that knowledge in light of the new content.

The Flip stage is to present students with course content outside and prior to class. The Fix stage is to go through the content again in a traditional lecture to correct students’ misconceptions. Finally, the Feed stage involves assessing students on the content and giving them feedback on their level of understanding.

A mixed approach

While the Fail, Flip, Fix, and Feed model incorporates productive failure into learning, I wonder whether it goes far enough to address issues in flipped learning. The big issue is that the model still embraces the traditional lecture, which is curious given the researchers’ belief in active learning. Whether face-to-face or online, the traditional lecture separates content from engagement. This, I believe, is a fundamental problem with flipped learning itself, one the researchers do not get past. The neurology of learning demonstrates that to move new information from working to long-term memory, we need to engage with it by applying or reflecting on it immediately after receiving it. The traditional class uses the live session for information delivery and homework for engagement, while the flipped classroom reverses the order but still keeps delivery and engagement separate.

An alternative is to mix content delivery and engagement at all points in the learning process, both in and out of class. In both realms, learning can start with productive failure, and content delivery intermingled with application can follow. Outside class, instructors can deliver content by way of interactive videos (on sites like PlayPosit and Edpuzzle) that include periodic pauses for students to answer questions or complete problems to apply their learning. They can also make readings active by embedding them in interactive reading software (such as Perusall) that allows for questions and discussion between students. Similarly, the in-class session could blend content delivery with frequent questions and problems through audience response systems (such as Poll Everywhere and Kahoot!) or have students work in pairs on more complex problems.

Flipped learning might be thought of as one step in a broader movement of incorporating more engagement into learning. Flipped learning ushered more engagement into the face-to-face classroom, and technology allows for interaction with outside content delivery as well. The end point of this movement might be a future where the idea of separating content delivery and engagement falls to the wayside. Inside and outside class could become a continuum of content delivery blended with engagement. We shall see.

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. https://doi.org/10.15760/comminfolit.2014.8.1.161

Kapur, M., Hattie, J., Grossman, I., & Sinha, T. (2022). Fail, flip, fix, and feed—Rethinking flipped learning: A review of meta-analyses and a subsequent meta-analysis. Frontiers in Education, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2022.956416