Maximizing Engagement in the Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom (or “blended learning”) has become a hot topic in education over the past few years. The concept makes perfect sense. Traditional courses are set up to “push” content out to students during the face-to-face meeting, and then have them apply that content to assignments done outside of class.

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The flipped classroom (or “blended learning”) has become a hot topic in education over the past few years. The concept makes perfect sense. Traditional courses are set up to “push” content out to students during the face-to-face meeting, and then have them apply that content to assignments done outside of class. 

But the student who is having problems on an assignment does not have the instructor there to ask for help. The flipped classroom solves that problem by moving the content phase to outside of class, and the application phase to inside of class. The advent of easy video production and hosting means that there is no longer a reason for students to be at some place at some time to view a lecture. The lecture can be recorded and put online for them to view on their own. This frees up class time for materials that generate engagement with the content. 

But many instructors have had a hard time finding activities that truly engage the students in class. Often they fall into the “lecturing and clicking” mentality of pushing content, but with periodic polls or surveys. While these activities are better than nothing, they are often not truly engaging. Look at the screens of your students' laptops during class, and you will most likely learn that much of their attention is devoted to other websites, email, or texting. This has led even faculty as forward-thinking and tech-savvy as Clay Shirky to forbid electronic devices from his courses.

But Ronald Yaros, associate professor of journalism at the University of Maryland-College Park, has found both a technique and a technology to keep students' attention and maximize engagement in the flipped classroom. He first notes that laptops quickly produce “what Linda Stone calls ‘continuous partial attention' between a presentation and their laptop. When given the option to either look at slides or view websites on a laptop, limited digital self-regulation quickly makes the laptop a distraction.” 

However, laptops are not the only option for in-class devices. Yaros has his students bring tablets to class. He then uses an app called “Nearpod” to host the class content and interactivity. Nearpod allows instructors to post a variety of different types of content on the app for students to view from their own tablets, from slides to websites, videos, and the like. It also provides a number of means to gather feedback and engage students, including polls, surveys, and discussion.

Here Yaros adds a twist. Instead of projecting his slides on a screen at the front of the room, which allows the class to have some other content on their own devices, he only projects the content to Nearpod. He runs whatever content he wants to use on his own tablet using Nearpod, which the students watch on their tablet. Thus, “students no longer have the option to ‘multitask,' or switch between projected slides and their laptops, which could lead to distraction. Now, if students aren't engaging and interacting with class content on their mobile device, they'll miss key concepts, explanations, class discussions, and my questions about the content that they produced.”

Yaros goes on to say, “I use the Nearpod app to share the presentation via WiFi. The Nearpod app is free to students, without the need for creating an online account. I easily convert my slides for display in Nearpod, and conduct real-time polls (good-bye clickers), as well as ask open-ended questions for text responses that I can share anonymously on everyone's device. We can also view live Twitter feeds and PDF documents that I share with the class.” 

Yaros also sweetens the pot by having students use some of the outside-of-class time to generate inside-of-class content. Instead of just recording and posting traditional lectures for students to watch outside of class, he makes use of Twitter and Blogger to have the students create content that will be discussed in class. As he says, “At the beginning of the semester, I distribute a semester long schedule of five rotating teams for each chapter in the course. From day one, every student knows the team they are on during any given week and the deadline for posting content. After I introduce the chapter and summarize the key concepts, every student is expected to research, produce, and post their own course related content before our next class meeting.” 

“The team assignments that detail specific content to post are announced that week. For example, students assigned to the rotating Twitter team research and post course-related tweets, which are displayed for all to read on our course blog at A second team posts 150 words on the course blog, explaining their research of the chapter's topic. To manage my grading time, only students in a third team research, produce, and post comprehensive multimedia content for their own ePortfolio, which is listed on the right-hand column of the course blog. This means that I'm reading and grading the longest postings from only a small portion of the class. Students in a fourth team post summaries of the assigned readings, and the final team must review the postings of their peers to provide constructive feedback. All students use the time between classes to produce and post their content, which will be synthesized and discussed for the second component in my blended course, our face-to-face meetings.” 

“The results and the student feedback have been amazing. My two-week experiment last fall compared the same content, taught by the same teacher (me), in the same room and on the same days, to two sections of 60 undergraduates. One section used the Nearpod app on a tablet or phone. The other section viewed the traditional projected PowerPoint slides with no devices. Quiz results suggested no statistically significant differences between Nearpod and the traditional sections, but students' ratings of course enjoyment and relevance were significantly higher in the Nearpod section. It is important to note that most of the research to date reported that laptops reduce attention and learning, compared to classes without laptops. My results suggest that it's not the technology per se, but the type of devices used and how that technology is supported. In this case, devices did not reduce learning and increased enjoyment of the class.”

Yaros goes on to say, “Even classes that are totally online could use Nearpod, because students can download interactive presentations as homework, progress through it at their own pace, and even take quizzes. Similar to the synchronous sessions, quiz results are automatically reported back to the professor from the field when the student's device connects to WiFi. And if you upgrade the app, students have the option to take notes on their device as they view the presentation in or out of class. Their own notes can be emailed back to them after viewing.”

If you have dipped your toes into the flipped classroom waters, consider how Nearpod and the techniques Yaros describe can generate engagement in your course.