Flip It!: Some Thoughts on Flipped Classrooms

As an instruction librarian, and as a museum educator, I’ve never had a traditional classroom – instead I’ve had classroom visits, time carved out for after-school programs, all-day camps, outreach events, drop-in workshops, etc. Given my lack of a traditional classroom, I find things like flipped classrooms intriguing. A flipped classroom is essentially where students view/read/otherwise consume lecture content outside of class and do homework, activities, or otherwise more hands-on work in class. By partnering with a classroom teacher students could, for instance, watch a quick lecture before attending a museum field trip workshop or complete some online quizzes before attending a one-shot library workshop.

Flipped Classroom graphic from the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas at Austin.

Flipped Classroom Resources:

  • Check out this great rundown on flipped classrooms from the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas at Austin.
  • For some ideas on using flipped models in the library, check out this ACRL article by Candice Benjes-Small and Katelyn Tucker.
  • The PBS NewsHour also has a good report on how some schools are trying out flipped methods.

One place that does a really nice job of outlining the potential benefits of the flipped model is Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching. Their Flipping the Classrooms guide says that a flipped model accomplishes the following:

students gain first exposure prior to class – This can really be key, especially when you are having to inform students about a lot of complex information in a very short period of time, such as during an introduction to research session at a library or an after-school robotics workshop where you have to get through a lot of complex technical material in a brief period (if the second example sounds a tad specific it’s because it’s something I’ve taught before!).

Incentive to prepare for class – I’d imagine this could be engrained in students over time, if they keep showing up unprepared; though students are notorious for not reading ahead of time so I’m not entirely sure that they would be incentivized by something like video lectures either.

Method for assessment – Pre class quizzes and worksheets certainly ensure that students watch the video lectures; I haven’t had as much experience with this element of the flip model but I’d like to try it out more in the future; though I have to balance it out with the more informal education I do, or education that’s in partnership with a classroom or faculty instructor – my ability to administer “homework” is limited

In class activities that focus on higher cognitive skills – This is something I can really get behind. I like the flip model because it actually hits a number of different learning styles. Video lectures for those inclined to watch and listen; activities for those who prefer more hand’s on learning; group work and one on one time in the classroom to provide a variety of experiences.

But as much as I’m a huge proponent, and attempted practitioner, of the flipped model, I do think that there is something to be said for a classroom lecture, or a lecture that embeds discussion elements in it, something you can lose with an outside-of-class, video lecture format. And having a class activity can mean that students can fall through the cracks. I’ve been the lead teacher in a class of 20-odd 4th and 5th graders before and it’s hard to touch base with every person when they’re all, say, building Lego robots and asking random questions every 5 seconds. The same is true for library workshops where every student working on a different project; though college kids are generally less insistent than 10-year-olds when it comes to having their questions answered at least.

One thing I’ve tried in the past with younger kids (not yet at the college level) is an “expert” model, where students volunteered to be the “expert” on a certain topic. For instance, in my robotics classes a student who had built on a light sensor before was our expert. Kids have to talk to an expert or a peer before they come ask me, which is a way for them to learn from each other and a way for me to cut down on the amount of eager questions I’m fielding from excited and often hyper 10-year-olds at any given moment during activity time.

I’ll probably be writing more about adventures in flipped teaching in the future – overall I think it’s a neat model that can be really flexible and beneficial to a lot of different learning styles and classroom situations.


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