Flipping the Classroom: 3 Different Motives, 3 Different Approaches, with Similar Outcomes
Studies have shown that students learn better when they actively participate in their learning process and that students also greatly benefit from peer-based learning. The flipped classroom approach integrates well with these principles, but the task of implementing this type of approach can seem daunting. So, what motivates a teacher to flip their classroom? Does implementing this practice result in an improvement in student grades? Does this approach require the use of complex software applications and programs?
Curious about this pedagogical approach, I interviewed 3 different teachers who rose to the challenge. They all had different reasons for initially implementing the flipped classroom, and all 3 use different types of technology to put the flipped classroom into practice. However, they all agree that the substantial amount of work that goes into preparing a flipped classroom is worth the effort and not one of them would go back to a traditional classroom approach for the courses they have flipped.
Motivation for Change
In general, teachers modify their courses on a regular basis: tweaking an assignment, trying a new textbook, introducing collaborative activities in class for more active learning opportunities, or even trying an online response system. However, taking the leap to truly flipping the classroom is one that only a select few teachers have made. So what motivated the 3 teachers to take the plunge?
Alain Lessard, a teacher in the Accounting Management and Technology program at Champlain College Lennoxville, has only been teaching for 4 years. Having moved from the business world into the classroom, he began teaching with a traditional classroom approach. It wasn’t long before Alain became frustrated with how the course was progressing. He felt he was spending too much time on theory and not enough on practical exercises in his Taxation course, and his students were struggling with the exercises. After attending a workshop where he learned about the flipped classroom approach, he decided to give it a try.
Patrice Camiré, a mathematics teacher at Champlain-St. Lawrence, has been teaching for 7 years. Patrice flipped his classroom out of necessity. An injury to his shoulders made it impossible for him to write out math problems on the board as he had been doing. By flipping his classroom, Patrice could limit his writing to a minimum and continue providing students with the instruction and support they needed to succeed in math.
Dominic Fournier, a teacher in the PW Sims Business Program at Champlain-St. Lawrence, has been teaching for 8 years. Dominic decided to take this approach with his Finance course after teaching it once using a more traditional method and finding that students had difficulty successfully completing practical exercises when they were assigned as homework. Class time was being used to review the homework, which then decreased the amount of time to teach the theory in subsequent sections of his course outline. There was an obvious need for teacher assistance during class time with the practical exercises, which naturally led to the decision of assigning the theory as homework.
Preference of Tools
Patrice Camiré uses a simple set of tools. He uses paper and a pen, his voice, a Logitech high-definition camera and a headset. Videos are created at his desk, filming his lessons from directly above, in one take. Videos are then uploaded to a public YouTube channel. Patrice also provides students with a detailed and chronological list of videos, problem sheets, quizzes and help files which students can easily access via the Teacher Webpages provided on the St. Lawrence website.
One of Patrice’s video tutorials from his YouTube channel. Simple tools can also be very effective.
Alain Lessard uses a slightly more complex set of tools. He uses PowerPoint presentations with voice-over narration that includes instructions for the students, to keep the feeling of a traditional classroom. He records his videos using the screen capture option on his computer. Videos are uploaded to a private website that Alain had previously created. He was not comfortable using YouTube, and he also found that LEA did not offer enough storage space for the quantity of videos he needed to post, so a private website was the best choice in his situation.
Dominic Fournier uses a multitude of tools. He builds content using applications such as Screencast-o-matic or Camtasia to create instructional videos. Camtasia offers a wide array of editing tools specific to creating tutorials. Another online tool called Zaption.com is used to add emphasis to some elements or multiple choice questions that students must complete in order to continue viewing the video. This last tool has been very successful as a means of maintaining student attention while viewing the content. Videos are then uploaded to YouTube and a schedule is then posted on a Wordpress.com blog to provide easy access for students. In order to help students verify their comprehension of the videos, Dominic uses Google Forms to create formative quizzes (among other things). If students are struggling with the content in the videos (or any topic related to the course) he will provide a scheduled time for face-to-face question and answer periods using the online video conference application Appear.in. Dominic also uses OneDrive to share documents with his students. To simplify access to all of the tools being used, he uses LEA as the starting point for students and simply provides the links to all necessary course content.
Screencast-o-matic.com offers the essential features to create screencasts for free.
Zaption.com provides interactive video tutorials, which can improve student attention while viewing the content.
Tips for Getting Started
The variety of tools that exist to help teachers flip their classrooms are endless. It all depends on the needs of the teacher and the course in question. All 3 teachers have one common piece of advice for teachers who wish to flip their classroom – Give yourself time to create the videos before the course begins! Alain confessed that the 2 courses he has flipped are both fall semester courses, as there is not enough time between the fall and winter semesters to prepare a flipped course for the winter semester. Patrice had no choice but to create the videos at the same time as he was teaching the course due to his injury, and it’s an experience that he never wishes to repeat!
Another unanimous piece of advice is to keep the videos short. Short videos that students can watch on the bus or between classes make it easier for them to stay focused on the theory. Regardless of how the flipped class is prepared, these 3 teachers observed positive outcomes by putting the emphasis on the application of theory while in the classroom.
In the Classroom
From Patrice’s less complex approach to Dominic’s more elaborate one, there is one common thread which binds all 3 and that is how beneficial the time spent in class has become. The courses these teachers have flipped all have a mathematical aspect, which means that class time is now spent working on problems and exercises and gaining a better understanding of the complexities of the theory.
All 3 teachers explained that time should be spent at the beginning of class to review the videos that were assigned as homework. Alain knows that not all students will actually do the homework, so a quick recap (a quick review or question and answer period) ensures that students understand which topic is going to be practised during that class. Dominic likes that fact that YouTube keeps statistics of how many times a video has been viewed which allows him to note how many students have actually watched the video before class. Patrice noted that stronger students will watch less videos for a given topic if they feel they have understood the concept.
The number of students in a course will unquestionably have an impact on the amount of a time a teacher spends helping students individually with the exercises. Alain finds that teaching in a technical program, where the students spend a great deal of time together, has made for an interesting collaborative environment. Although it may feel like controlled chaos at times, putting the students into groups to work together and allowing students to take the lead empowers them to take charge of their learning experience. Students learn from one another allowing Alain the opportunity to help those that may be struggling or who prefer to work on their own. Patrice’s students do not know each other very well and he finds that students are not naturally inclined to help each other. He has not yet experimented with putting them into groups and encouraging more peer-based learning.
Flipping the classroom does not magically solve classroom management problems or student engagement issues that teachers may grapple with.
All 3 teachers reported that:
- Attendance is still varied. Strong students don’t always come to class because they feel they don’t need help from the teacher. Some students will come to class for help with one specific element and then leave before the end of the class.
- Homework completion has not improved either.
- Overall course results (grades) have not demonstrated a clear improvement. Some students do better with this pedagogical approach than with a more traditional teaching method, while others do worse. This tends to balance out the class average, similar to a traditional teaching approach.
But, flipping the classroom does have some major advantages:
- Increased motivation to learn
- Greater interest in the subject
- Development of autonomy
- Dynamic classroom environment
- More one-on-one time between students and teachers
- Unlimited potential for collaboration and peer-based learning
These 3 different experiences with the same pedagogical approach demonstrate the varying degrees of complexity that can all lead to successful practices. Taking into consideration the needs of the teacher and the type of course, implementing a flipped classroom can be done very simply or it can be more involved, including the use of hi-tech applications. It allows for creativity and innovation, while putting the student at the centre of the learning process. So, now would you flip your classroom?
Do you have any experiences or ideas to share regarding the flipped classroom? Have you found ways to improve homework completion rates and increase attendance? Share them with us in the comments section below.