– Errol St.Clair Smith –
Dream Team: A team of people perceived as the perfect combination for a particular purpose. — Oxford Dictionary
When asked why classroom lecture is not dead, Harvard professor Eric Mazur chuckled then replied, “Change is difficult. First, you have to convince yourself there is a need for change, and very few faculty think there is….” If Mazur is right, the professors at Anahuac University in Mexico City are a rare breed, and their story is a master class on how to successfully introduce innovative teaching strategies in higher education.
We start with six head-scratching questions:
We posed these questions to the project leaders, Dr. Diana Galindo Sontheimer, professor Ines Botero Cuervo, and professor Analee Barrera González.
Professor Ines Botero Cuervo, director of Anahuac University’s Faculty Development Center (CEFAD), tells us that a keynote presentation delivered by Flipped Learning pioneer, Jon Bergmann planted the seed. “Here’s a stunning fact to ponder,” Jon declared while flashing two images on a giant screen. “This is what a classroom looked like in 1918, and here’s what a classroom looks like in 2018.”
Using photos from countries around the world, Jon demonstrated that many K-12 and higher education students are stuck in lecture-based, passive learning classrooms that have not changed in over 100 years. He eventually pivoted to his keynote message:
“Active learning is the grand meta-principle that drives real learning and Flipped Learning is a framework that supports all active learning strategies.”
“We noticed a very positive reaction to his ideas both from our faculty and administrative staff,” says Dr. Diana Galindo, Director of Academic Development, “At that moment we started carefully planning this project. However, we were also aware of how difficult it is for faculty, and universities in general, to change their ways. We knew we had to take firm, but slow steps, and find ways for faculty to feel committed to this project.” So the trio began to research whether Flipped Learning should or could be the foundation of their plan to keep Anahuac’s faculty “at the forefront of teaching methodologies.”
Beyond their own research, members of Anahuac’s leadership team attended Flipped Learning conferences in Spain and the United States and reached out to the Flipped Learning Global Initiative (FLGI) to learn as much as they could. After personally experiencing the model at the Flipped Learning Higher Ed Master Class at the University of Northern Colorado, Galindo and Botero proposed the Flipped Learning project to the provost and president of Anahuac University.
Dr. Cipriano Sánchez, president of Anahuac noted that “the university’s strategic plan emphasizes educational innovation,” so the institution was predisposed to take a closer look at Flipped Learning. The leadership gave a green light to the project and advised the team to “go slow,” but the pilot didn’t exactly move at a snail’s pace.
Together, senior leadership hatched a plan to introduce Flipped Learning to 19 schools on campus. Within a couple of months, the professional development roadmap was drafted, approved, funded, and the first cohort of 35 faculty members had moved from hearing about Flipped Learning to playing with the principles.
One of the most crucial elements of Anahauc’s approach is the way they engaged the faculty. In education, top-down, involuntary professional development is a cliché, and few plans seem to fail faster than mandated initiatives foisted on uninterested faculty. So Anahuac started their project by flipping the selection process. The project leaders approached the deans of each school and asked for recommendations of professors who “might be” good candidates for the program. They looked for faculty members who fit a specific profile including:
They offered candidates who fit the profile the opportunity to become champions of the new international program and accepted only those who were clearly well suited, motivated and prepared to commit.
The next step was to hold briefings with the champions of each school to give them a heads up on what to expect. The briefings included their findings, examples of Flipped Learning, and provided the candidates an opportunity to personally decide whether they wanted to join this project. Their next step was brilliant. Those who said “count me in” were required to sign a collegial agreement. The agreement specified that no professor would be obligated or stuck with Flipped Learning if they didn’t like it, but each had to agree to:
Another striking element of the Anahuac program is the way the leadership team looked at the possibilities beyond their institution. Anahuac’s center for teaching and learning (CEFAD) has a successful 30-year history and offers 60 professional development courses in-house. But their vision went beyond a “one-and-done” workshop or creating a new course to introduce Flipped Learning to their faculty. The leadership wanted to create a world-class program to serve all of Latin America.
“One of the things that really interested us was the possibility of being FLGI’s certification partner here in Latin America. So from the very beginning, we were thinking long term,” said Dr. Galindo.
With that larger vision in mind, Anahuac developed a plan to put their faculty members through FLGI’s Flipped Learning master class series:
The full FLGI blended program is flipped, includes self-paced online instruction, followed by face-to-face active learning workshops, and ongoing post-PD support. Dr. Galindo, explained their decision to put the faculty through the complete series saying. “We know from 30 years of experience that faculty need support, they need feedback, and they need to know that they are not in it alone, that they are part of a group.”
Anahuac also embraced the master class model which replaces “single-expert” professional development with multi-expert master classes. The Flipped Learning Higher Ed Certification Level-I master class included a cadre of 25 experienced higher education pioneers, early adopters, master teachers, researchers, instructional designers, and Flipped Learning practitioners from around the world. The leadership team found the global perspectives reassuring.
“It was very important to us to know that the Flipped Learning can work with different teaching styles, different disciplines, different subjects, different cultures, different personalities and is broadly applicable,” said professor Analee Barrera González, the lead coordinator of the program. Most importantly, “We like that the Flipped Learning framework allows our professors to use all of the other teaching strategies they already know and have been using, from PBL, to case studies, and more.”
So far, the program is off to an impressive start by global standards. Anahuac’s team of 35 Flipped Learning champions displayed an exceptional level of engagement. All did the online prework before attending the face-to-face workshop, and the on-site session was an exhilarating experience. During the day and a half initial workshop, all 35 faculty members were energetically involved in the active learning exercises. The teams passionately participated in the gamified activities and demonstrated high levels of understanding, creativity, and resourcefulness as they applied the principles they learned via self-paced video instruction.
Though most of the 35 faculty had never met, the cohort quickly bonded with their colleagues and demonstrated a visible level of mutual support and team spirit. The FLGI facilitators agreed that this was the most engaged cohort they had ever led. October 15th was the date set for all participants to complete the remaining self-paced units of independent study. By the deadline, all had finished and received their Flipped Learning Higher Ed level-I Certification.
We asked the team leaders to share what they have learned from the process so far that could help other transitioning universities and centers for teaching and learning. The top ten takeaways were:
The leadership team was unequivocal in their view that the reputation the CEFAD has established with professors at the university was pivotal in finding faculty willing to take the leap with Flipped Learning. In short, trust is a critical element.
The first cohort of faculty is already spreading the good word. Colleagues in each of the schools at Anahuac University are hearing great things about the Flipped Learning program and the next 35 have signed up for the second cohort. The leadership team has set dates for the first 35 faculty to go through the level-II certification, and 15 faculty from the CEFAD are scheduled to begin the Master Class Facilitator program to become certified trainers. Based on the key performance indicators, Anahuac has already organized one of the most successful initial launches of a Flipped Learning program we’ve ever seen.
Finally, we checked in with the president of Anahuac University to get his take on the process. “I am very happy with how the Flipped Learning project is going. Our strategic plan emphasizes educational innovation, and I am convinced this project will inspire change, improving the quality of teaching, and, most of all, the quality of learning. At Anahuac University, we encourage a comprehensive, integral formation of our students, and we know that close personal contact with our faculty (who have been very carefully selected) is the best way to achieve this. Therefore, an important benefit we foresee with the Flipped Learning methodology is that it will allow more one-to-one time between teachers and students contributing to the success of our mission.”
How many universities can you name where creating “more one-to-one time between professors and students” is a strategic priority. It’s likely that this aspiration alone makes Anahuac University and its dream team of professors a rare breed at the forefront of innovation in higher education. Bravo!
Watch workshop participants use an old game to teach a new lesson.