Reinventing Professional Learning in Higher Education

Lead Features June 19 / June 21, 2019

 – Thomas Mennella –

It was morning in Greeley, Colorado. A few early bird participants were already arriving as a dream team of Jon Bergmann, Caroline Fell Kurban and Errol St. Clair Smith were setting up for the day (and, oh yeah, I was there, too). The setup was trivial: a few tripods and cameras to record the day, an itinerary written on the board, and coffee on a side table. But what we were setting up for was anything but trivial. We were about to offer one of the most effective and impactful professional learning sessions I’ve ever witnessed.

In a way, the writing was on the wall, literally. The itinerary said it all – this was going to be something special – but the participants could never know that that list of the day’s events would transform how they saw teaching and learning. The day was broken up into missions. Each mission, when accomplished, would move each participant further toward being a certified flipped educator. But there was a twist. To make this possible and move from Flipped Learning naivete to a certified instructor, participants had to complete some pre-work before the session. Yes, Jon, Caroline and Errol were practicing what they preached: the session was flipped.  

Will This Work?

The session’s opening minutes were spent with the facilitators (Jon and Caroline) introducing themselves and telling their flipped stories. But then the session quickly moved to the mechanics of Flipped Learning: pre-work in the individual space, active learning in the group space. And the energy of the room declined. I don’t know if it was due to the early morning hour, or (more likely) too many participants had not done the pre-work, but I started to worry. Here we go, I thought, we’re not going to reach this group.  

Then, it was time for the first bona fide activity. Each participant was tasked to use their Flipped Learning lesson plan template (already built as a short opening activity) to create a short video lesson that was relevant to their topic. But being in Greeley, Colorado, each video had to reference cows and mountains. Participants were apprehensive, anxious and tentative. But, we – the session facilitators – circulated through the room offering ideas and allaying fears. Then, the more experienced flippers in the audience also piped up and offered their insights and experience. And then, the energy in that Flipped Learning workshop room flipped. They got it! They saw the magic. Once the participants understood Flipped Learning as a meta-strategy that supports all other forms of active learning, and the potential of Flipped Learning was realized, the energy built and crescendoed from there.

In less than 75 minutes, each and every participant created amazing video lessons. Everyone in the room, including me, felt more and more blown away as each next video was shown. And then, it was time to move on to the next mission. Participants were asked to create group space activities that aligned with their lesson plan and built upon their videos. These novice flippers, minted merely hours before, demo’d Kahoot, deep communication-skill-building ice breakers, and applied critical-thinking questions touching the highest level of Bloom’s. As an experienced flipper myself, and an FLGI international faculty member, I was in awe of what this group created. They accomplished in six hours what it took me five years to master — all due to an impeccably crafted professional learning experience.  

So What’s Next?

The session closed with participants being asked to reflect on their learning from the day; reflect upon the power of Flipped Learning; and to pledge what they would do in five days, five weeks and five months based on the day’s session. Each and every participant who shared, pledge to flip their courses. I was standing in a room of converts. The next wave of flippers had just awakened.

As the last of the participants shuffled out, shaking hands and – yes – some asking for Jon’s autograph, Errol gathered us for a “debrief.” What didn’t work that day? Some details could be improved; some rough patches are in need of polish. But when Errol asked what did work, the response was resounding and unanimous: energy. The energy in that room was palpable. It was organic, it was raw, and it was genuine. The day started with a room full of curious but skeptical educators. These were people who wanted to know more about Flipped Learning, but they were far from convinced. The day ended with smiles, enthusiasm, and passion. A pathway to true and lasting learning in our students was forged. This was an answer to so many of higher education’s challenges (e.g., student malaise, soft skill development, personal accountability, achieving active learning in the classroom, and even more significant challenges such as academic success and student retention). This was something.

We were in Greeley for the Fouth Annual Higher Education Flipped Learning Conference. We were in Greeley to spread the word of Flipped Learning with integrity and transparency to professors and professional educators. We went to Greeley to pilot a new form of professional learning. And we left knowing that what we just experienced – what we had just facilitated – was larger than any of us. It was a synergy of innovation, passion, and integrity. It was all that Flipped Learning has to offer. It was magical.

This is the future of educational professional learning. Stay tuned for the next steps of this incredible journey.  


Snapshots of the Future

Thomas Mennella
Dr. Thomas Mennella Mennella
I have been an instructor in higher education for over ten years. Starting as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and then moving on to an Assistant Professorship at Delaware State University (DSU), a small public university, I experimented with Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and was an early-adopter of the iClicker student response system. Now an Associate Professor at Bay Path University, a private liberal arts institution in western Massachusetts, I primarily teach Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology. I am Flipped Learning 3.0 Level -II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

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on June 23, 2019


It was my pleasure to meet you and learn about a deeper pedagogy from you for my flipped learning courses. I am very excited to learn more about flipped learning and implementing it in the near future. Please feel free to share your teaching skills for flipped learning with me and other conference participants. Thank you.

Best wishes,

Karen Spear Ellinwood
on June 24, 2019

This was an excellent workshop and a great way to learn – with so many talented people from around the world.Thank you!

    on June 24, 2019

    Thanks for the feedback, Karen. I agree the room was deep with diverse talents and experience. Enjoyed learning with you!

Karen Spear Ellinwood
on June 24, 2019

Great to meet you and all the talented people from around the world who participated in this workshop.

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