Course frameworks and structures have been changing during the past few years, in large part as a result of the many new options technology makes possible. For example, flipped courses change where most of the content acquisition occurs. Rather than teachers presenting in class with students listening and taking notes, students interact with the content before they come to class using resources like instructional videos, podcasts, and written materials provided online.
Course frameworks and structures have been changing during the past few years, in large part as a result of the many new options technology makes possible. For example, flipped courses change where most of the content acquisition occurs. Rather than teachers presenting in class with students listening and taking notes, students interact with the content before they come to class using resources like instructional videos, podcasts, and written materials provided online. During class, faculty then engage students in a range of active-learning activities and group work structures to help them further explore and apply what they've learned. Hybrid (or blended) courses more generically distribute course content between in- and out-of-class activities. Because both formats are relatively new, they haven't been studied all that extensively yet. But work is starting to emerge on both approaches. These two studies highlight the kind of analyses now being undertaken, and both offer results that merit consideration and discussion.
The study of the hybrid model compared two sections of an introductory microbiology course, both taught by the same instructor. Students were randomly assigned to one of the two sections. Both sections contained the same lecture material, in-class worksheets, in-class assessments, and extra-credit opportunities. Students in both sections also took the same exams and were assessed via the same grading system. The only difference was how the lecture material was presented. It was delivered online in the hybrid section and in person for the traditional section.
And that delivery mode did make a difference. “Analysis of exam scores from the three midterm exams and the final indicated that students in the hybrid section achieved significantly lower scores than those in the traditional section for all exams.” (p. 4) It didn't make a difference if the student was male or female, and a student's major also was not significant. When students of the same standings were compared (e.g., freshmen vs. freshmen), students at all four class standing levels scored lower in the hybrid section.
Some of the difference in performance may be explained by how students in the hybrid section were using the online lecture material. In response to a midcourse survey, 26% of those students reported they were not taking notes on the lectures but simply downloading them onto their cellphones or laptops.
The results should also cause concern because in the midcourse survey 82% of the students in the hybrid section said they preferred this style of teaching.
In the study of the flipped course model, researchers also compared two sections of a nonmajors general education biology course that enrolled first-year to senior students. There were slightly more than 50 students in each section. In the flipped section, students were responsible for acquiring content knowledge before coming to class. In class they applied that knowledge to complete what were homework assignments in the nonflipped section, where the content was introduced to students via in-class instruction. Active-learning approaches were used in both sections. Here, too, the courses were virtually identical in every other respect. The researchers were interested in this question: “Does it matter where you place instructor and student responsibility?” (p. 2)
They found that it didn't matter where the responsibility was placed. Scores on the unit exams were equivalent in both sections. Student learning as measured by the final exam “indicated that students learning under both conditions performed equally.” (p. 7) However, responses to an end-of-course survey revealed that “both groups perceived their time with the instructor as more influential for learning, regardless of whether they were participating in content attainment or concept application.” (p. 8)
“This study shows that the flipped classroom does not result in higher learning gains or better attitudes over the nonflipped classroom when both utilize an active-learning constructivist approach.” (p. 8) And on the basis of that finding, these faculty researchers propose that the learning gains in both sections were more likely the result of the active-learning approaches rather than simply the flipped model. They conclude with a discussion of the “cost” of flipping a course in terms of the time it takes an instructor to prepare a flipped course. “If the benefits of the flipped classroom far outweigh the effects seen in the current model of instruction, then these benefits would certainly outweigh the costs of implementation. However, these data have not been sufficiently generated at this point.” (p. 8) Bottom line: Here's more evidence that active learning is the key ingredient of teaching that promotes learning.
References: Adams, A. E. M., Randall, S., and Traustadottir, T. (2015). A tale of two sections: An experiment to compare the effectiveness of a hybrid versus a traditional lecture format in introductory microbiology. Cell Biology Education—Life Sciences Education, 14 (Spring), 1-8.
Jensen, J. L., Kummer, T. A., and Godoy, P. D. d. M. (2015). Improvements from a flipped classroom may simply be the fruits of active learning. Cell Biology Education—Life Sciences Education, 14 (Spring), 1-12.