Flipped learning has become a hot topic in online education lately. The flipped classroom model moves the act of delivering information to the student in a traditional lecture outside of class in the form of a video or some other appropriate online content and moves the act of engaging with the material via homework into the classroom through some sort of in-class activity. Numerous studies have now demonstrated the superiority of flipped teaching to face-to-face instruction, especially in STEM classes. In fact, flipped classes were found to improve student learning by an average of 6 percent in these studies (Van Sickle, 2015).
But an interesting new study shows that student perceptions
of the quality of instruction drop with flipped teaching. When asked questions such as “Overall, the instructor effectively facilitated my learning” and “Overall, I rate the course as excellent” on end-of-course surveys, a group of students rated flipped teaching lower than face-to-face teaching, all while exam scores rose in those very same courses (Van Sickle, 2016).
There are a number of possible explanations for this disconnect between student perception and reality that suggest ways in which the instructor can better manage student expectations in a flipped classroom.
The study in question examined an algebra course, which is significant, because problem-heavy math courses are ideal for flipped learning. When students do their problem sets at home in a traditional math course and get stuck, they have no one to go to for help, and so they do not learn the correct procedure. If the homework session is put into the classroom, those students facing difficulties can get immediate help from the teacher.
But this also means that the difficult part of the course is moved from outside the classroom to its inside. Students tend to associate the face-to-face sessions with the class itself, so they start associating their negative feelings of frustration with the course itself.
The problem is that years of experience in traditional education have taught students to equate the course with the classroom. This might explain why students often liken the flipped classroom to “teaching themselves.” They assume that teaching must happen within the walls of the classroom, so if the content is presented outside of those walls, they must be teaching themselves.
But this is the wrong way to look at it. The student is no more “teaching themselves” from a video made by the teacher than from a live lecture delivered by the teacher. Both are educational content produced for the course. The “course” is not the classroom but rather everything related to the learning experience, including readings, homework, videos, and so forth. Whether the content is delivered inside of the classroom as a lecture or outside of the classroom as a video makes no difference to the fact that it is all part of the learning experience.
Instructors need to be cognizant of the fact that they are opposing deeply ingrained views of teaching among students by using the flipped classroom model and so should take time at the beginning of the course to explain their reasons for flipping the class and how it will benefit the students. The teacher should explain that flipping the classroom has been shown to increase learning and improve grades. The teacher should also point out that there is nothing inherently sacred about the live lecture. The live lecture was developed when higher education was born in the Middle Ages because face-to-face communication was the only means of communicating to an audience at the time. The lecture is simply a product of the limits in technology at the advent of higher education. The live lecture is no more intrinsically connected to teaching over video content than a land line is intrinsically connected to communication over a cell phone. That analogy should help break students of the “seat time” view of teaching as something that must happen within the walls of the classroom.
Attitudes toward the teacher:
Another explanation for negative student attitudes toward flipped learning is that interacting with the instructor in a classroom helps develop a positive association with the teacher. This is why businesspeople seeking to sign an important client always want to speak with the client face-to-face rather than by phone or some other medium. They understand that we build rapport via face-to-face experiences.
But isn't the instructor interacting with students in a flipped classroom and, in fact, interacting more by providing one-on-one teaching? Researchers have theorized that some students may not make use of this opportunity for interaction either because they do not need it or because they are too shy to call the teacher over. This means that the only real interaction with the instructor for these students was online, outside of the classroom, and that content did not facilitate the development of rapport with students.
Faculty members can address this problem in two ways. One is to humanize their online content by delivering it in a format such as green screen video, discussed elsewhere in this newsletter. A second way to ensure student engagement in the live session is through in-class activities that require the involvement of all students, such as in-class polling. These feedback activities can quiz students on their knowledge or ask how many students are still having trouble with the concept. These activities allow all students to be active in the live session, not just those students who are having problems.
Mistakes are public:
The last explanation given is that students' mistakes on homework problems in the traditional class are made in private in the dorm room or library, whereas those made in the flipped classroom are done in public in the live session. The public exposure to error causes embarrassment and damage to self-esteem for many students. These students would rather work on problems in a solitary environment, so they are hesitant to participate or ask for help in the flipped classroom.
Many teachers forget that public appearances play a part in how students act during class. They ask simple faculty questions in a live session and wonder why they do not get an answer, or they chalk up the silence to student apathy. In reality, though, many students do not want to risk answering incorrectly in front of others.
Faculty members need to find a way to make students feel comfortable asking for help or admitting to confusion in front of others. This is not easy. We try to alleviate student anxiety with sayings such as “The only dumb question is the one that does not get asked,” but this can come off as a platitude.
I have had some success using a line that I heard from a coach talking to his players before a game. He told them to play hard and not be afraid of making mistakes because “Your mistakes are my fault; your lack of effort is your fault.” This struck me as a wonderful way of characterizing the teaching relationship to a student. It tells the student that it is my job to teach you, and if you do not understand something, then I didn't do my job and I need to explain it to you differently. But you need to tell me that you do not understand. I can't read your mind, so don't be afraid to tell me that you don't understand. That alleviates much of student anxiety about professing ignorance in class.
This study demonstrates that while flipped learning has proven to be effective, students need to be prepared for a method of teaching than is very different from what they are used to, so a fundamental part of any flipped class needs to be influencing students' mindsets at the very beginning.
Van Sickle, J. “Adventures in Flipping College Algebra.” PRIMUS
25, no. 8 (2015): 600–613.
Van Sickle, J. “Discrepancies between Student Perception and Achievement of Learning Outcomes in a Flipped Classroom.” Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 16, no. 2 (2016): 29–38.