-by Dr. Thomas Mennella-
In my experience, a major barrier to change is the fear of the unknown. The status quo is not exciting, but it is enticing simply because it is a known commodity. While we may often see potential avenues for improvement, the shift required to get there is sometimes too intimidating to make the plunge. In this month’s issue of FLR, we are focusing on the transition to Flipped Learning (FL). One way to ease this transition is to remove the unknown, dispel the mystery, and offer solutions to anticipated challenges. So here I will share with you what I see as the top three challenges to flipping in higher education and provide easy, painless solutions or advice to get through them. Flipped Learning may contain elements of the unknown to you, but it shouldn’t be scary, and it’s far easier than you think to make the change. So, let’s dive in!
FL is often thought of as ‘that thing you do with the videos.’ Well, yes and no. While it’s true that videos often play a role in FL, FL is about so much more than the videos. And many educators flip without making videos at all. What makes FL work is having students do pre-work (lower levels of Bloom’s) as homework before coming to class. This pre-work introduces them to the material passively; it is their first exposure to the content. The priority here is keeping students accountable for doing the pre-work. If a significant number of students arrive to class unprepared, having not completed the pre-work, FL will break down. So the best practices for achieving that accountability is to make your videos short, interactive and trackable. Here’s a quick guide for creating your first flipped video:
That’s it! First video creation – DONE! It will feel strange delivering a lecture to a computer screen, at first. But persevere through that unease. Embellish your inflection, move your hands around, even stand up and gesture. Do whatever needs to be done to create the ‘classroom vibe’ in your office. If it helps, take a class photo and put that near your computer monitor as you are recording. It will translate to the recording, I promise. As you become more comfortable with video creation, you can employ more best practices.
For more detailed information on the best practices for video creation and to see all of the elements that the best flipped videos should include, please consult the Individual Space Mastery section of the Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning.
Let me be frank with you. In the flipped course, the days of glancing at your syllabus as you leave your office, ‘prepping’ in your head as you walk to class, and winging it through another session are over. The fuel for successful FL is deliberate preparation and organization. Start as you always have by drafting your syllabus and course schedule. Then, using that course schedule, start thinking in terms of modules. Each week of your flipped course is a module. It should have learning objectives and outcomes. And each module needs video(s) to introduce your students to the main content, time for in-class remediation and fortification to clarify and contextualize that content, in-class activities that support and drive student-centered, active learning, and an assessment (a quiz is a typical approach). Through this lens, course prep becomes chunked into modules prep. Leverage your LMS to make it the hub of your flipped course. Provide students with links to the videos directly in the LMS and create assignments to test that they watched the videos, allow students to submit the results of their group space activities, and award them points for that work. And, of course, grade all assessments through the LMS. If organization is key in a flipped course, then use your LMS as your daily planner to keep everything orderly. If you do, more often than not, students will arrive to class prepared, and you can use your expertise to its best advantage by informally clarifying and tutoring your students only on that material which confused them. As the week progresses, facilitate their group space activities making sure that their thinking is deep and critical, and then test their understanding. The best unexpected gift that FL gave me was its inherent organization. I’m now always prepared for my courses because all of the heavy lifting has already been done when I set up my LMS before the semester began. There is also an extra perk: once videos are made and activities are designed (with the exception of some fairly rare and limited updating), you never have to repeat those steps again!
Find more guidance for planning and organization in a flipped classroom in the Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning’s Planning for Flipped Learning section.
This is the unsung foundation of FL in higher ed. College students are not seventh graders; they’re young adults, and they’re paying customers. If they don’t like what you’re doing, they will not be shy to tell you (and tell your chair… and tell your dean…). For this reason, it is critical to achieve their trust at the very beginning of the course. If they trust you and believe that you have their best interests at heart, and if they understand why you’re teaching this way, they’ll give you more latitude than you could ever imagine. Most of my students show me enormous patience, but it’s patience I’ve earned by consistently respecting their time, their education and their concerns. I have three major approaches, which I use in tandem, to achieve student buy-in.
First, I create a course trailer which advertises my course and explains how it will be taught. It describes FL, gives the rationale for why I teach this way, and (most importantly) tells students how their learning will be assessed. I release this trailer to students well before the first day of class so that students can come to class knowing what to expect. I go into depth about course trailers here in this blog post.
Second, I tell them a story about learning how to change a car’s oil. Essentially, that story boils down to this: if the person teaching you how to change your oil could only be with you for 30 minutes, but you also had access to YouTube, would you ask them to spend that time showing you how to change your oil? Or would you prefer to use YouTube to see how to change the oil and then use the time with your teacher to be coached and corrected as you changed the oil yourself? Every student picks the latter, of course. So then I challenge them: What makes this course any different? Why should we spend this time together with me passively talking at you? Instead, doesn’t it make more sense to put me on YouTube and use class time for coaching and correction? By then, most students are convinced. But, for the last few stragglers, I use Traxoline.
Judy Lanier developed this ingenious way of showing students that they can ‘learn’ with absolutely no comprehension. Traxoline is a nonsensical paragraph made up of terms that sound technical but are gibberish. There is no content in the paragraph at all. Then, there are four questions about the paragraph and, shockingly, you can get all of those questions correct from the context of the gibberish. It starkly demonstrates that learning can occur without comprehension. I make the case that in FL, learning without comprehension becomes impossible and, instead, comprehension is the ultimate priority and it is consistently achieved.
Jon Bergmann summarizes how I make that case to students here. This trifecta of persuasion – a course trailer, the oil story and Traxoline – has, in my experience, convinced even the most skeptical student to give FL a try, and then – once they experience the true and lasting learning that FL achieves – all they want is more. In my over five years of flipping in higher education with, at this point, well over 400 students taught this way, I have yet to encounter a single student who believed they learned worse with FL.
And that’s it. These are the top three challenges when adopting FL in a college setting – the worst-case scenarios – and they’re not so bad. The road of transition is always rocky. As you move from traditional instruction to FL, you’ll experience some missteps and some failures, and welcome to the club. I have yet to meet a flipped instructor who hasn’t gone through the same ups and downs. But you’ll emerge on the other side as a rockstar. No longer just a college professor, but a master educator, with students who genuinely learn and enjoy doing it. Sounds too good to be true? It’s not, I promise. Give it a try. You’ll be amazed.