What do you need to know about the Flipped Classroom? – Jane Holbrook

flipped class
Flipped Class? (courtesy of uWaterloo)

The concept of flipping a classroom has been causing a stir in the world of educators over the last year or so. Seems you can’t open an educational blog or newsletter without finding an article or someone’s thoughts on what a flipped classroom is (and isn’t). The simplest explanation of the term is that active learning is achieved face-to-face in the classroom through discussion, problem solving, and group work or other activities, and what we think of as the lecturing, or “content transfer”, part of a class is done elsewhere (not during classtime) independently.

Discussions of flipped classrooms often include the comment that this isn’t a new concept and that courses in the humanities have been using this learning sequence for eons; in these disciplines instructors are the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage” and are in the role of facilitators, guiding discussion of concepts or texts that students have ingested on their own through traditional textbooks or online sources.  Also much of what is written about flipped classrooms implies that online media consumption of some sort is part of the independent work. However putting lectures online or giving students access to videos through a course website doesn’t make for a flipped class, the key is that students are active in the classroom; the out of class activity could be reading the text book. As learning management systems and a plethora of online screen casting and lecture capture tools make online components to courses easier to provide and create, many instructors are using online lectures, websites, online videos, or online documents  to prepare students to come in and be active learners during class time. An excellent summary of thoughts around flipping or inverting the classrooms can be found in Derek Bruff’s blog called “Agile Learning” http://derekbruff.org/?p=2108.

[As an aside Derek Bruff’s posting was written as a response to another blog posting by Steve Wheeler about a Wired article and I picked up the whole thread through Twitter.  You just have to love social media for the layers and connections – check out @CTELiaisons ***).

My colleague, Mark Morton, and I offered a workshop during the fall 2012 CTE Focus on Teaching week and put together this list of reasons why someone might consider flipping at least some classes:

  • Allows you to spend class time having your students engage in active learning activities such as debates, discussions, Q and A, demonstrations, peer tutoring and feedback, role playing, and so on. This is the “constructivist” aspect of the learning theory known as Social Constructivism.
  • Allows you to spend class time having your students learn with and through each other. This is the “social” aspect of the learning theory known as Social Constructivism.
  • During class time, you don’t “lose” your students: in a lecture, the attention of most students starts to flag after ten or fifteen minutes.
  • Students have time to process and reflect on content before coming to class to apply and work with that content.
  • Students can control the time, place and pace of learning of the “lecture”.
  • Allows you to re-use your video content in multiple courses or across multiple years.
  • Lets you  vary the pace and structure of the classes throughout the term which can  impact student engagement.

Also we compiled this list of “things to consider”:

  • You need to devise strategies to ensure that students actually ingest the content outside of class. For example, start each class with a brief quiz that assesses their knowledge of the content. The quiz could be done via clickers or via LEARN (our LMS), both of which can automatically grade the responses and add them to the grade book in the LMS.
  • Convey to the students that the videos, or other components, are not supplemental to the course but rather are essential. Remind them that if they don’t watch the videos, they won’t be able to participate in the classroom activities.
  • Spend some time at the beginning of the course explaining to your students the pedagogy behind the flipped classroom model.
  • Don’t re-lecture. If students come to class without having ingested the content, move forward with the learning activities anyway. If you resort to lecturing in class to bring them up to speed, you’ll only reinforce their decision to not ingest the content prior to class.
  • Make sure the video includes  some questions or reflective activities that you want the students to think about in preparation for the next class. These can appear at the end of the video or can be inserted at appropriate times throughout the video.
  • Determine what format will work best for your students (and for you). For example, you might videotape yourself talking in front of a flip chart. Or you might create a screencast that focuses only (or primarily) on the the content that appears on your computer screen. Or, depending on your discipline, you might be able to create an audio podcast rather than a video.
  • Accept the fact that you might need to decrease the amount of content that you cover in your course as a whole. However, students will experience deeper engagement with the content that they do cover.

Please feel free to add to this list through the comments!

Also see some examples of flipped classes in higher ed, http://www.emergingedtech.com/2013/01/flipped-classroom-successes-in-higher-education/.

***Follow the @CTELiaisons on Twitter – we’re following some interesting folks and retweeting from many sources.

Jane Holbrook

Jane Holbrook

As Senior Instructional Developer (Blended Learning), Jane Holbrook helps to develop faculty programming that promotes the effective use of the online environment in on-campus courses. Working closely with Faculty Liaisons, CEL (Centre for Extended Learning) and ITMS (Instruction Technologies and Multimedia Services), she helps manage initiatives related to “blended learning” courses. She received her BSc and MSc from Dalhousie University but has also studied Graphic Design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

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Engage your students: A SYDE Example — Samar Mohamed

Group 2 working with their TA, Justin Eitchel

What is student engagement and how can we achieve it? These questions are always in my mind. Heller et al state that:

 “Faculty stimulate engagement by providing students with active learning experiences, conveying excitement and enthusiasm for their subject, and providing opportunities for student-faculty interactions.  Students show their engagement by participating in class discussions, doing research projects, and interacting with their professors and peers.”

 An example of an engaging engineering course was discussed in a previous blog in which the course instructors used several blended activities to engage the students with their course material.

 Another example on engaging engineering courses is SYDE 411 “Optimization and Numerical Methods”, which is the focus of this blog. I have been working with Prof. Paul Calamai and his teaching team to design and implement engaging blended activities for their students. The designed activities satisfy the previously mentioned criteria by giving the students the opportunity to:

  • interact actively with both their peers and their teaching team
  • do research projects
  • participate in group discussion
  • provide constructive feedback to their peers
  • reflect on their own work

SyDe 411 is a new fourth year core Engineering course with an emphasis on understanding and applying numerical methods and optimization techniques as tools for problem solving and systems design. Students’ engagement with the course material is an important aspect of their learning. In order for them to be actively engaged with the course material, Professor Paul Calamai and his teaching team implemented several blended activities that were designed to keep the students engaged with each week’s topics and eager to learn more about these topics. Group Projects and Group Assignments are two main blended activities in this course:

Group Projects:

Prof. Calamai took the group project beyond the regular boundaries and created an enjoyable learning experience for everyone. The group project activity is summarized as follows:

  • Each group is responsible for a project topic that is worth 25% of the course total grade.
  • Each group researches a specific topic and submits:

o   Lecture notes on the topic including examples of application and/or demonstration.
o   One project topic Problem per group member with their solutions.

  • Groups are paired and dry run presentations between paired groups are conducted to provide the presenting group with feedback and recommendations for improvements.
  • The presenting group’s project is then posted to a discussion board and another group (reviewing group)  reviews it and provides the presenting group with questions and feedback through the discussion board. The presenting group is expected to respond to these questions during it’s presentation.
  • The presenting group delivers a 30 minutes presentation/lecture on it’s specific topic followed by 10 minutes for questions and answers.
  • Peer evaluation is conducted twice during the term among each group’s members using the “Comprehensive Assessment for Team-Member Effectiveness” CATME online tool. Peer evaluation provides the students with feedback regarding their effectiveness as team members throughout the academic term.

Group Assignments:

Prof. Calamai presented an interesting scenario for the group assignments in which the students engage with the material and come to the tutorial prepared and ready for the learning experience. The group assignment activity is summarized as follows:

The class is divided into groups in which each group, under the supervision of the TA, is responsible for solving and presenting their specific group assignment problems. Students are encouraged to prepare excellent solutions because a subset of these questions will contribute to parts of the Midterm and Final exams. Each student in the group prepares a solution to a specific assignment problem according to the following schedule:

  • Individual questions are sent by email to each student in Group X.
  • Each student submits the answer to his specific question/s to a dropbox.
  • Professor Calamai grades and gives personal independent feedback to the students.
  • The students submit a revised version of their answers to a dropbox.
  • After Professor Calamai approves the answers, the TA posts them to a discussion board so that the rest of the class can see them and ask for clarification.
  •  Group X will run the tutorial and facilitate a discussion around their assignment problems.

I think that SYDE 411 teaching team puts a lot of time and effort in providing an exciting and enjoyable learning experience to their students.

1-     R. S. Heller, C. Beil, K. Dam, and B. Haerum “Student and Faculty Perceptions of Engagement in Engineering”, Journal of Engineering Education, July 2010.

Samar Mohamed

Samar Mohamed

Samar Mohamed is the CTE Liaison for Faculty of Engineering. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence Samar worked as a Post Doctoral Fellow in Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept. She received both her MSc and PhD from the University of Waterloo

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Launching the new Instructor Resources Repository in the LOR of LEARN


The summer
is a great time for catching up on projects that get lost in the flurry of the busy fall and winter terms. With the roll out of LEARN (replacing UW-ACE) and all the associated changes and transitions that we have been facing, one part of the old UW-ACE system that is in my prevue and that was getting short shrift is the Instructor Resources Repository (IRR). However, with LEARN more on course and the slower pace of the spring term, I’m glad to say that we have almost completed the migration of the IRR to the Learning Object Repository (LOR) in LEARN. Continue reading Launching the new Instructor Resources Repository in the LOR of LEARN

Jane Holbrook

Jane Holbrook

As Senior Instructional Developer (Blended Learning), Jane Holbrook helps to develop faculty programming that promotes the effective use of the online environment in on-campus courses. Working closely with Faculty Liaisons, CEL (Centre for Extended Learning) and ITMS (Instruction Technologies and Multimedia Services), she helps manage initiatives related to “blended learning” courses. She received her BSc and MSc from Dalhousie University but has also studied Graphic Design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

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Calendar Descriptions – Jane Holbrook

Students at the University of Denver

My pet peeve is a slightly different. When students go and look at descriptions of courses in the UW course calendar they will see the course number and an array of codes for the “type of instruction”, e.g.,  LEC, TUT or SEM or LEC, LAB as well as a very brief description of the course that usually does not include any information on how the learning will happen in the course, only about what will be learned in terms of content. A search in the Schedule of Classes gives a bit more information about the amount of time spent in the LEC and TUT each week. This information does not provide any insight into what students can expect to be doing in the 8-10 hours a week that they spend on a course in “class” and outside of “class”.  Courses where students are required to watch online lectures and engage in group work in their classes usually have the LEC designation, and the way the course is actually taught may be a bit of a surprise to students when they come to the first class.  Many courses on campus expect students to participate in online tutorials and discussions may or may not have a TUT or DISC designation.

A course is made up of learning  experiences that are integrated together and take place with the instructor and/or class mates and independently in a variety of environments: face-to-face, online and offline. We should be able to give students more information (other than word of mouth) about how they will be learning before they come to the first class.  It’s exciting that there are so many ways that students can learn inside and outside the class room and in the community, it would be great to have a way to communicate the richness of the experiences that will be offered in courses to students when they are deciding what to take each term. The current calendar and course schedule designations seem limited. What’s the solution? Maybe course descriptions that include how and where students will learn rather than content topics, or areas in the course schedule where instructors can outline what’s special about their course each term. Any ideas?  This is a blog, so comments and ideas are welcome.

Jane Holbrook

Jane Holbrook

As Senior Instructional Developer (Blended Learning), Jane Holbrook helps to develop faculty programming that promotes the effective use of the online environment in on-campus courses. Working closely with Faculty Liaisons, CEL (Centre for Extended Learning) and ITMS (Instruction Technologies and Multimedia Services), she helps manage initiatives related to “blended learning” courses. She received her BSc and MSc from Dalhousie University but has also studied Graphic Design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

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Blogs and Eportfolios in Waterloo’s LEARN — Marlene Griffith Wrubel

Waterloo LEARN is the new online learning system. It was introduced in the Spring of 2011 and has been fully integrated in on-campus blended courses since January 2012. There are many activities that faculty can use in this system to increase the learning experience for their students. Continue reading Blogs and Eportfolios in Waterloo’s LEARN — Marlene Griffith Wrubel

Piazza – web-based discussion forums for university courses — Paul Kates

Piazza.com offers students and professors a smart-looking , easy-to-use discussion forum for question & answer communication in university and college courses. It is free to use and free of advertising. and is proving popular enough to use at some of the technical schools in the USA (e.g. Stanford, Berkeley, Georgia Tech) and Canada (e.g. University of Waterloo, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto). Continue reading Piazza – web-based discussion forums for university courses — Paul Kates

Paul Kates

Paul Kates

Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) Liaison to the Faculty of Mathematics (pkates@uwaterloo.ca)

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LEARNing something new

 CTE has been intimately involved with the move from UW-ACE to Waterloo LEARN.  Several of us  from the Centre were on the LMS selection committee and many have been key players in designing and executing Continue reading LEARNing something new

Jane Holbrook

Jane Holbrook

As Senior Instructional Developer (Blended Learning), Jane Holbrook helps to develop faculty programming that promotes the effective use of the online environment in on-campus courses. Working closely with Faculty Liaisons, CEL (Centre for Extended Learning) and ITMS (Instruction Technologies and Multimedia Services), she helps manage initiatives related to “blended learning” courses. She received her BSc and MSc from Dalhousie University but has also studied Graphic Design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

More Posts - Website