Oct 21 2015

The Technology, Obstacles and Outcomes of Flipped Learning

Flipping the classroom might not be easy, but it puts higher ed students at the center of learning to promote better results.

The flipped classroom has made a home for itself on campus.

A recent survey of college faculty shows that more than two-thirds of respondents have experimented with the increasingly popular teaching model, which requires that students learn basic concepts on their own before spending class time engaging with more advanced topics.

At many universities, the flipped classroom looks something like this: Students watch short lecture videos and participate in online forums at home, and professors facilitate project-based learning and discussion groups during class time.

Results from the Faculty Focus survey indicate that the approach offers benefits over traditional lecture-style teaching. Nearly 75 percent of respondents witnessed greater student engagement, while almost 55 percent saw evidence of improved student learning. Separate majorities said students asked more questions and acted more collaboratively in the flipped environment.

By placing students at the center of learning, flipped classrooms also let individuals move at their own pace. Students can watch and rewatch content when needed and design a schedule that adjusts to the demands of their busy lifestyle. Studying on their own time, they gain the ability to self-regulate their learning and derive meaning from content without guidance. Then, during in-classroom activities, they practice soft skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and communicating with peers.

Hitting Bumps Along the Way

Although flipped learning has its advantages, the teaching model is not without challenges. For one thing, many undergraduates come from traditional high schools and have no exposure to the unconventional setup. They arrive at class ready to sit through lectures and resist the video assignments because they haven’t yet developed the self-discipline that’s needed to thrive within a flipped environment.

The switch can be just as difficult for faculty. Because flipped learning is a relatively new concept, there are fewer planning resources available. Professors are expected to spend a significant amount of time designing course curriculum and filming lectures, and they sometimes struggle to find an adequate number of problems and case studies for students to discuss during class. 

This content is especially important, however, because the flipped-learning design almost discourages attendance. So many study materials are available online that many students choose to skip class if they don’t see the value of their in-person discussions. It’s up to professors to make it worth their while.

The design of many older classrooms represents another hidden obstacle to flipped learning. Desks and theater-style seats are often bolted to the floor, making it harder for students to arrange themselves into small groups.

Finding the Path to Success

For higher ed to combat these challenges, it would benefit professors to embrace the collaborative nature of flipped learning, even during planning phases. This would assist educators in gathering new ideas by communicating with peers on social media. This would also help reduce curriculum planning workloads by forming partnerships with other faculty in the department.

When it comes to preparing videos, it’s advantageous for professors to keep each clip to about six minutes — research indicates that’s about how long a video can hold students’ attention. If a topic requires a longer lecture, the video should be broken into short, digestible segments to keep students engaged.

It’s also important that in-classroom activities hold students’ attention. Professors should try to facilitate challenge-based learning activities that build upon video content and let students interact with concepts at a deeper level. By kicking off class with a question-and-answer session, educators can feel out students’ level of understanding while encouraging immediate participation.

Communication is the key to success. Frequent communication lead by the professor outside the class helps maintain student expectations, as well as the transition from the more traditional learning models to the flipped environment.

Rolling Out the Right Tech

Higher ed institutions also have a role to play in making the flipped classroom a success. Colleges and universities should provide professional training to ensure faculty fully understands the innovative teaching approach and the technologies that make it possible.

IT can take things a step further by equipping professors with video conferencing technologies, screencasting tools, learning management software and other means of creating, tracking and distributing high-quality educational content. It is also essential to consider the strength of the campus’s  network infrastructure to ensure it is capable of handling the increased connectivity in classrooms and residence halls, where students would likely consume the majority of that content.

All in all, by investing in the right tools and technologies, colleges and universities help create flipped learning environments that put students in control of their education and lead to better results.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.


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