The flipped classroom: reports from the field

For those of us in academia, the fall semester is wrapping up. It’s a time when we reflect on the success or lack thereof in our fall classes, because it’s almost over, the final is coming, and we either feel pretty happy, totally depressed, or a sense of oncoming dread. These correspond to the feelings of the class going well and students learning, something wrong with the class that has been bothering us for a while, or a class that’s going alright but will soon implode due to the final. (I find that last feeling really only occurs in a class with a final exam shared with other classes or sections, which I can’t control. Otherwise a class is on the right track or started showing problems long before now!)

In this vein, I was reading some recent reflections on a flipped semester. These are from a college biology class with 600 students, and it sounds like the instructor has spent a lot of time setting up an effective educational environment for students. She writes about the preparation that took, though: flipping the classroom completely means all lecturing happens outside of class, and then class time is used for active learning. Even without the pain of technological snafus, that can essentially double the instructional time for a class. It doesn’t replace office hours or lecture prep, either. It is possible that in the future the videos can be used again, but the first semester of a flipped class involves an enormous time commitment.

I came to the article linked above via the blog of Prof-like Substance, a blogger I’ve been following for a while. Prof-like is at a research university and brings up questions about how such investments of time and effort are rewarded. We all live within a benefit structure largely imposed from outside, and focusing on innovative education can be a dangerous thing to do if you are ultimately judged by your research or grant-writing abilities. Traditionally in the US we have divided higher ed into research universities, small liberal-arts colleges, regional institutions, and community colleges. Research was primarily prized at research universities. Now research is emphasized more and more at institutions of the other types. Teaching is emphasized a bit more at research universities. I love bringing research to the undergraduate level and I think it’s great for learning. But if every faculty member at every institution has to do all the things, how can it be sustained?

One answer is for universities and colleges to provide support in the form of technology, tech experts, and educational design experts to those designing courses that lean heavily on new technologies. This is being done to various degrees at different institutions; I still hear a lot of, “It’s just making a video of you teaching… how hard can that be?”

How does your institution support innovative teaching using technology (or not)?


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