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Published February 2, 2016

“Just-In-Time Flipped Classroom” Pedagogy in Biology

For a few years now, I have noticed the necessity of adjusting the teaching methods I use with the students in the Animal Health Technology program. This is most apparent in the Cells and Genetics course in biology, which is taught during the first semester.

The Pedagogical Problem

The Cells and Genetics course is very theoretical. It is based on knowledge, not practical experiences. This course requires the ability to visualize the abstract and the very small, which is problematic for many students. Nevertheless, this course is the foundation of their program. In order to thoroughly understand the subsequent courses the students must be able to adequately transfer their knowledge.

In addition, the substantial proportion of students receiving Adapted Services has lead me to question my practices so that I can better respond to the needs of those students with disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention deficit, hyperactivity, anxiety problems).

A New Pedagogical Approach

In the Fall Semester 2014, I choose to apply the “Just-In-Time Flipped Classroom” method. It is a technique developed by Nathaniel Lasry, Micheal Dugdale and Elizabeth S. Charles, which was introduced in the article entitled Whoops! I Just Flipped the Classroom, in the Pédagogie collégiale journal.

This method corrects several weaknesses in the way students usually approach subjects to be learned. In general, students arrive in class and wait for the teacher to pour out their wisdom. Readings from the course text book round out the lecture given by the teacher. Formative exercises are suggested to the student as a way of verifying the understanding of the subject. Even with the best intensions in the world, this type of teaching does not make the student an active player in their learning. Very often, readings and exercises are set aside due to a student’s lack of interest or time.

With the “Just-In-Time Flipped Classroom” method, at home, before each course:

  • The student has to think about what they already know about the topic to be studied.
  • They have to consult the various readings, activities and video tutorials that I post on the Moodle platform.
  • They practice what they have learned by answering a formative quiz also made available on Moodle. Here the student can evaluate their comprehension, which stimulates metacognition.

The “Just-In-Time Flipped Classroom” method places the student at the heart of their own learning. This method makes the student an active participant, while providing the student with the freedom to choose the best time and the ideal means for learning more about the subjects in the course. Thanks to the proposed metacognitive approach, the student becomes more motivated to learn during the weekly meetings in class with the teacher.

In class, the students:

  • Respond to formative questions about the topic being studied
  • Do exercises
  • Browse through the subject matter that was not completed at home

Classrooms that are equipped with laptops allow the students to watch videos in class. I can then make myself more available for those that truly need it most. I can:

  • Answer questions
  • Clarify the subject matter
  • Give examples
  • Etc.

By doing this, I become more of a coach than a narrator.

Report on the Pedagogical Experiment

I prepared a preliminary assessment of my experience beginning with comments from the students as well as the results from a survey I conducted during the sixth week of classes. This allowed me to evaluate the advantages and the drawbacks of my experimental pedagogical approach.

What Students Like:

  • This method gives more time to work in class.
  • We can ask the teacher more questions.
  • We can work in groups and discuss our answers.
  • Doing the readings at home allows us to try to understand on our own.
  • This method teaches us how to be independent.
  • Everyone can work at their own rhythm.
  • There are no long lectures.
  • Classes are less overloaded.
  • Formative questions are helpful to prepare for exams.
  • Visual resources and video capsules help us to study and learn.

The Most Appreciated Moodle Resources

What are the “Just-In-Time” elements that you liked the most? You can select as many boxes as you want.
Answer Average Total
PowerPoint presentations 45% 27
Activities from the textbook 17% 10
Activities from other sites 15% 9
Proposed websites 3% 2
Videos on YouTube 20% 12

Excerpt of the survey results conducted prior to the mid-term: What Students Like.

What Students Dislike:

  • It is difficult to assimilate the theory without a lecture.
  • It is difficult to concentrate on readings at home.
  • It is not easy to study at home and to understand the subject matter by ourselves.
  • The subject matter is less clear and more difficult to understand if we do not have a lecture with different examples.
  • We do not have enough explanations about what we need to do and what to study.
  • We do not know where to start when we see a new subject.
  • We must devote a lot of personal time outside of class to complete everything on time.
  • It is difficult to learn by yourself and to find the motivation to get down to work.
  • We are used to learning by being seated in class, in front of a teacher that uses their own words to explain the subject.
  • We have to manage and get down to work on our own, and if we do not understand we cannot go any further in the subject without meeting with the teacher.

Preparing Before Class:

I was disciplined enough to work on the material to be studied before attending the class in person.
Answer Average Total
Yes, for all of the classes 11% 4
Yes, for some classes 38% 14
No, never 11% 4
It depended on the amount of work in my other courses. 41% 15

Excerpt of the survey results conducted prior to the mid-term: Preparing before Class.

Findings

For first-year students, the “Just-In-Time Flipped Classroom” pedagogy is clearly an immense challenge regarding independence. The freedom to choose the best time and the ideal means for learning more about the topics within the course progressively became a problem for the more disorganised students.

I am at ease with the “Just-In-Time Flipped Classroom” pedagogy proposed by my teacher
Answer Average Total
Yes, it corresponds with my need to work independently. 6% 2
No, I do not know how to go about it. 64% 21
In the beginning it was more difficult but now I understand how it works. 30% 10
Total 100% 33/33

Excerpt of the survey results conducted prior to mid-term: Overall satisfaction of the method

And What Now?

The assessment of the experiment has forced me to rethink my pedagogical approach and to make adjustments. Here are some of the avenues I will explore next semester:

  • Provide more guidance to the students with respect to their independent process:
    • Remind them about their responsibilities, the deadlines and the available resources.
    • Conduct a more frequent and tighter follow-up on suggested deadlines.
  • Adopt a more progressive approach towards their autonomous studies from the first to the last week of classes (concept of “steps” towards independence).
  • Verify which resources are being consulted by students throughout the semester using the reports provided by Moodle.
  • Provide individual assistance when needed with students that are not using the proposed resources or using them very little (or who are late with the suggested deadlines).
  • Present lectures in class for the parts of the subject matter that are more difficult.
  • Give feedback more often.
  • Organise more quizzes or discussions in class after learning the subject at home (reactivating the acquired knowledge).

Considering that my experiment was aimed at responding to the needs of students with disabilities, I will further explore the principles of the Universal Design of Learning (UDL). As suggested by Bernard Gagnon (the ICT Education Advisor at my CEGEP), UDL could also serve as a foundation to redesign my course. This topic is covered in a Profweb In-depth Report.

There seems to be great potential in combining the flipped classroom “Just-In-Time” with the basic principles of the Universal Design of Learning. To be continued – the experiment is not over!

About the Author

Sophie Dion has taught Biology in the Science department at Cégep de Saint-Félicien since 1998. She has also been part of the organizing committee for the Expo-Sciences in connection with the Natural Sciences program at her college since the early 2000s, intermittently lending her organizational talents to the “Journée de Réflexion sur les Sciences” (Day-long event with reflections on diverse areas of Science).

Sophie is not afraid of questioning her pedagogical practices, whether it is to try out new technologies or to respond to the needs of a specific clientele.

1 comment(s)

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    Murray Bronet wrote February 3, 2016 at 9:15 AM

    Thank you for this wonderful article on "flipped" learning. This is something I want to try with my Chemistry class...maybe next year. I will try to incorporate some of the Lasry, Dugdale parts, and of course, your suggestions and recommendations. Do you think anyone at your college might be interested in a collaborative project with my John Abbott College students...specifically in Chemistry?

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