Adopting the Flipped Classroom Model in Universities

The flipped classroom, in case you are not familiar with the term, is a teaching method in which students study a topic at home by watching a video prepared or set by their tutor in advance of their regular lesson.

The classroom lesson which follows then provides the opportunity for them to ask questions and perform practical activities under their teacher’s guidance; in other words initial lessons become homework, while the traditional homework element of applying the learning through exercises and other activities moves into the classroom. 

Flipped learning allows for a much more interactive classroom lesson, with the teacher helping students when they are stuck as opposed to the traditional set-up of students passively listening to lectures and taking their assignments home afterwards. It’s sometimes also called the ‘backwards’ or ‘inverted classroom’, or ‘reverse teaching’.

Flip learning is a relatively new concept which gained traction in the latter part of the last decade thanks to increased access to the internet and the wider availability of online course management tools. It has the benefit of allowing students to work through subject matter at their own pace
so that theoretically they can come to the classroom with the same level of knowledge as their peers. Classroom time is thus freed up for students to collaborate and help each other through hands-on lesson activities, while the role of the teacher changes “from sage on the stage to guide on the side” in a phrase coined in the title of Alison King’s 1993 publication on US college teaching. The teacher can take more time to explain difficult concepts, and students who might struggle and fail to complete tasks set as homework can be coached and get the immediate classroom support they need, meaning they get less frustrated and therefore less likely to drop out of their studies.

Since the flip learning model relies on students learning on their own, it is particularly well suited to the university environment. The individual learning element can take the form of video lectures recorded by the tutor, podcasts, recorded PowerPoint or Prezi presentations, use of online learning repositories or other teaching resources such as the educational programmes provided by BBC Active Video for Learning. Students can then note down any questions they have and bring them to the classroom, where their tutor can go over them in more detail and provide one-to-one help where needed. 

So is there any proof that flipping the classroom actually works? Well, in fact yes there is. In 2011, Clintondale High School in Michigan adopted the flip learning model across all of its 9th-grade classes after completing a 20-week experiment in which half of classes flipped; at the end of the 20-week period, the flipped students were achieving markedly better grades while the traditional students showed no change.

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Teachers for the flipped classes prepared 3 videos per week for students to watch at home – or at school ahead of lessons if they didn’t have home internet access. Classroom time was then devoted to interactive activities which would demonstrate the concepts shown in the videos.

Prior to the flip, the school had ranked among the worst 5% in the state with a 52% failure rate in English, 44% failure rate in maths and 41% in science; after the flip these failure rates had dropped to 19%, 13% and 19% respectively, graduation and attendance rates rose significantly while discipline cases fell. School principal Greg Green says, “I truly believe that this model has the potential to redefine how we deliver learning and education. I believe it provides an engaging and interactive way for teachers to facilitate learning, rather than delivering content through lectures. This in turn gives students the opportunity to process the content in class, together, as a group.”

The dramatic results achieved at Clintondale
would seem to endorse flipped classrooms as potentially one of the most successful teaching strategies for the future, and it certainly proved popular amongst the students there. Thus far the flipped classroom may have been somewhat experimental, but early results are extremely promising and it is already being adopted to a certain extent in some universities. And, with technology constantly developing, there is no reason why flipped learning should not also evolve alongside it. Turning the classroom on its head in this way would have been inconceivable not so long ago, but it now seems set to establish itself among standard teaching methods in the not-too-distant future. No doubt educators will be watching its progress with great interest.