Cheryl Aschenbach of Lassen Community College says the faculty uses a flipped model to create a more active learning environment.

Aug 07 2012

Colleges Go Proactive with Flipped Classrooms

Professors are moving away from the straight lecture approach and running more hands-on learning and group activities in class — and they’re using more technology to get it done.
Cheryl Aschenbach
Photo: Jay Strotz

Cheryl Aschenbach of Lassen Community College says the faculty uses a flipped model to create a more active learning environment.

This summer, the college in Susanville, Calif., finished equipping each classroom with interactive whiteboards, projectors and document cameras that faculty can use to spice up their classes with multimedia content. Lassen also furnished tablets to 10 instructors this summer and will invest in lecture capture systems this fall. Both technologies will let faculty record and post videos of their lectures and experiment with "flipping" their classrooms, says English and speech professor Cheryl Aschenbach.

Lassen Community College in Northern California takes a proactive approach to change. The administration wants its faculty to move away from traditional classroom lectures and embrace a more engaging, interactive style of teaching.

In a flipped classroom, professors don't lecture in class. Students watch recordings of lectures online as homework. They learn the material on their own time, freeing up class time for collaborative activities, such as group projects and classroom discussions.

"We want to be innovative in our instruction," says Aschenbach, who as Lassen's Title III project director oversees a federal grant for classroom technology and professional development. "Instead of a plain classroom, we are giving faculty a lot more technology tools. It's about faculty exploring new possibilities and creating an active learning environment."

Lassen Community College joins a growing number of colleges and universities that are changing the way they educate their students — and they're increasing their use of technology as they take the journey.

Watch Lassen Community College's IT upgrade in action

Almost half (47 percent) of teachers have moved away from the lecture-only model of instruction. Another 20 percent are considering teaching in alternative ways, such as guiding students in small group projects, according to a new CDW•G report, Learn Now, Lecture Later.

Although traditional lectures are a standard and acceptable teaching method, they are much less effective for today's students, who have grown up on high-speed Internet, video games and mobile gadgets. The CDW•G report, which surveyed 1,015 high school and college students, teachers and IT professionals, found that many of the "very satisfied" students listen to fewer lectures and use more technology in their classes.

The study found that only 38 percent of students want to learn with traditional lectures. The remaining 62 percent want variety and flexibility in how they learn. Besides group projects, they want hands-on learning activities, independent study, distance or virtual learning and one-to-one tutoring.

In moving away from the lecture-only model, faculty and students are using recorded class lectures; notebook computers and tablets; and digital content and learning management systems. Smartphones, student response systems and blogs are also on the rise as learning technologies.

[title]Sporting quotes on a foamcore board from the CDW•G Learn Now, Lecture Later report, KEN FRANK of Michigan State University says flipped classrooms offer students more flexibility. "It's better to have the students proceed at their own pace," he says.

CREDIT: J. Kyle Keener

Now's the Time

The flipped-classroom concept has been around for years, but it's growing in popularity because technology makes it easier for educators to do, says Dr. Lynne O'Brien, director of the Duke University Center for Instructional Technology.

In the past, the low-tech way to flip the classroom was to have students prepare for class by reading their textbooks and then participate in a classroom discussion led by the teacher, says Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project.

"It sounds like a unique model, but it's a technology-aided extension of what has gone on for years," Green says. "The prerecorded lecture material is — much like the consumer world — on demand. It puts the learner in control of the content, and it can mean higher-level activities in class."

Another flipped-classroom driver: Numerous universities and colleges are posting instructors' lectures online, making them freely available to anyone in the world, Duke's O'Brien says.

For example, Paul Golisch, dean of information technology at Paradise Valley Community College in Arizona, flips his math courses by using free online lectures and electronic textbooks.

"We have all this free material for students readily available," he says. "Why not ask them to learn the basic stuff online on their own, and then have them come to class prepared, so instructors can fill in the gaps and do more group activities?"

Mixed Approach

At Michigan State University, Ken Frank takes a hybrid approach to his statistics class in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education.

Frank lectures first, then in the second half of the class, he has students work on lab exercises or conduct review sessions on their own or in small groups to make sure they understand the material. During that time, he walks around and answers students' questions.

During the lab exercises, Frank gives students case studies and asks them to solve problems using statistical software. If students get stuck, they can review his video lectures. For the past year and a half, Frank has used lecture capture equipment to record his classroom lectures and then post them online so his students can access them anytime.

Frank says it's important to lecture on some of the more complex material, but he also sees the benefit of mixing it up in class, so he's not lecturing straight through. During the review sessions and labs, students are learning cooperatively, he says.

"You use technology for social learning and social opportunities," he says. "When three people watch a video and one student says, 'I don't understand what he says.' Another student can say, 'I think what he means is this.'"

If students are still confused after reviewing a video and discussing among themselves, he goes over the material again.

Frank first used the flipped-classroom model last year to teach students how to use the statistical software for his lab exercises. He previously had trained students in class, but some students who caught on quickly wanted to move ahead, while other students needed more explanation. It was frustrating for everyone. To avoid the aggravation, he recorded a short video lecture on how to use the software and assigned it as homework.

"It's better to have the students proceed at their own pace," he says.

Team-Based Learning

Duke University's School of Medicine wants to foster a team-based learning environment, in which students break off into groups and collaborate in the classroom.

Associate Professor Leonard White, director of education for the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, says there are two reasons for this: Lectures are ineffective in engaging today's college students, and healthcare is moving away from sole practitioners and toward teams of practitioners who can deliver the best outcomes for patients.

"We need to start educating our learners the way we expect them to practice in a professional environment, and that's through working collaboratively, thinking creatively, communicating well and valuing diversity and contributions from other people," he says.

White also uses the flipped classroom. Instead of lecturing, students now learn the content on their own time. In a typical homework assignment, students watch two video lectures in the learning management system and read several chapters of the textbook or lab manual.

During class the next day, students take a short online quiz based on the homework. They take the quiz individually, and then White breaks them off into small teams to discuss each question and reach a consensus on the correct answers. During the second half of class, students apply their knowledge through experiments, dissections and analysis of clinical situations, such as diagnosing a patient who has just arrived in the emergency room.

"We're using technology to get the information into the hands of our learners, so they can come into our classrooms and we can have them apply that knowledge to solve real problems in real time, and do so collaboratively," he says.

Flipped classrooms and team-based learning changes learning. In the past, students looked backwards. They would spend the weekend trying to catch up on reading and other homework assignments. With the new approach, students must deal with what's happening today and get ready for the future. In White's class, that is the next class session where they are quizzed on the material and have to apply the knowledge in team-based exercises.

"Now, they are living in the present and preparing for the future and not recovering a lost learning opportunity of the past," he says.

White has seen anecdotal evidence that the new style of teaching has improved learning. Clinical colleagues in the professional world say Duke graduates have a higher level of knowledge and a greater capacity for professional behavior. They are thinking creatively to solve problems, have good communication skills and work well with others.

"Their learning is deeper and longer-lasting because they are discovering the knowledge themselves, rather than learning passively from me," he says.

Phased Approach

The CDW•G survey found that to increase technology in classrooms and pursue alternative methods of teaching, 87 percent of IT professionals say they need to upgrade their college's IT infrastructure. In fact, higher education faculty and IT staff rank lack of budget as the biggest roadblock to moving away from a traditional lecture model.

Despite budget cuts over the past few years, Lassen Community College administrators have upgraded the college's technology by taking a phased approach and augmenting the tech budget with grants.

About two years ago, the college improved its IT infrastructure with new blade servers, Voice over IP and a wireless network throughout campus. Last fall, the IT department purchased notebook computers for each full-time faculty member, and this past year, it purchased interactive whiteboards, document cameras and projectors for every classroom.

According to the CDW•G survey, recorded class lectures, notebook computers, digital content and learning management systems are the technologies college students most want to use for their classes, and Lassen Community College focuses on those areas.

Last spring, the college offered nine online courses and hopes to increase that to 90 classes within two years, Aschenbach says. Over the next year, administrators will encourage faculty to put more course content — such as syllabi, web links and reading materials — on the learning management system.

This fall, the 10 faculty members with new tablets will begin shooting short videos of lectures, which will make their online courses more multimedia-rich and allow them to experiment with the flipped-classroom model in their regular in-classroom courses. The college is also planning to purchase and pilot lecture capture systems for several classrooms to further bolster flipped-classroom efforts, Aschenbach says.

"Students don't want us to be teaching the same way we did 10 years ago," she says. "Technology is always changing, so teaching has to be innovative and constantly evolving."

Train the Faculty

Besides providing faculty with technology tools, colleges and universities need to invest in professional development to help instructors integrate technology into their classes and pursue alternative teaching models.

Over the past two years, 76 percent of IT professionals say they have received increased faculty requests for help with technology integration and related professional development, the CDW•G Learn Now, Lecture Later survey found.

Lassen Community College makes it a point to give professors the professional development they need. "We can have all this new technology, but without professional development they are not going to use it, and it will just sit there," says Cheryl Aschenbach, an English and speech professor at Lassen Community College.

In May, the college opened the Training Education and Collaboration Center, where IT staff and outside experts will train faculty on how best to use educational technology, says IT specialist Elaine Theobald, who runs the center.

The college also created faculty workgroups, where teachers can share best practices and lessons learned with their peers. Earlier this year, instructional technologists at California State University, Chico, used webinars to mentor 10 Lassen instructors on how best to design online courses and take advantage of learning management systems, Theobald says.

This fall, Lassen will create more workgroups in which the 10 online instructors will mentor other faculty members on how to put materials online and develop hybrid courses. Aschenbach envisions another cohort of faculty members discussing how to create more active learning opportunities for students.

"It's about training within and using our own resources to create an engaging environment for our students," Aschenbach says.

Read more about how colleges are successfully implementing flipped classroom models.


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