Flipping Classwork

By Michael Edmonds 06/04/2013 2


One of the things I’ve tried to do over the past couple of years is to make more of my class content available on line (usually on Moodle as powerpoints) to encourage students to go over this material outside of class time, so we can spend more time in class doing activities and answering questions to reinforce student learning.

It appears that in the US at least this is being done using MOOCs (massive open online courses) as a source of the course content so that lecturers can spend class time working on problems and doing other activities to help students learn. This approach is described in a recent article by Celia Henry Arnaud in Chemical & Engineering News as flipping the chemistry classroom.

The reason for “flipping” is put rather succinctly by Professor Jeffrey S. Moore of the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign, when he describes the still all too common approach to teaching,

“The monologue we deliver is just not an effective way of learning”

While much of the article describes using MOOC’s to provide the content to students, this is not necessary to “flip” a class. Students can be given readings to complete before class, referred to videos to watch or use for reference. This leaves time for more practical work in class. However, the challenge is often getting students to change to this new paradigm of learning. A few may even complain that they aren’t being taught “properly”, which shows how pervasive the monologue approach remains in education.

The other issue is keeping students motivated and on track, something that comes up with the MOOC’s – often less than 10% of students who enroll complete the course. However, as these courses are free it is fairly easy for people to sign up with a rose tinted view of the commitment that is required to pass a course. Online tests can be one way to keep students on track and motivated.

The idea of “flipped” classrooms seems to me to be a good one, but not necessarily a complete one. Using myself as an example, I know that the least effective way for me to learn is to listen to someone talk about a subject – whether this is in person or listening to an audio recording. Video recordings only work for me if there are plenty of visuals (I’ve looked at a couple of coursera courses before and, in my opinion, the visual aspect is being underutilised. Also, I would add that it is always important to make sure there is good written material available for those who, like myself, find this the most effective way to learn.

Truly effective teaching caters for the different learning needs of  all students. “Flipped” classwork, provides more time for students to apply their knowledge and could appeal to the kinaesthetic learners, while good videos appeal to visual and aural learners. Good notes or a good textbook would round this out for those who learn using a read/write preference.

I’ll be thinking over this Chemical & Engineering News some more to think how I can further “flip” my teaching.


2 Responses to “Flipping Classwork”

  • Marcus & I have both used various versions of ‘flipping’ in our own classes – personally I find it a much more satisfying way to teach, & the great majority of student feedback indicates they feel the same way. As you say, it’s important to cater for everyone’s needs, & for that reason I wouldn’t drop ‘lectures’ completely (not that mine are what you’d call ‘conventional’ lectures anyway).