The Hidden Cost of Not Flipping Instruction

Higher Ed October 19 / October 22, 2019

 – Thomas Mennella –

As we reflect on this one-year anniversary of the Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning, one area of these elements where Higher Education should be excelling is research. Most academics are trained researchers. We’ve earned our doctorates by tackling unexplored questions, gathering evidence from the literature, often carrying out experiments, and making a case to support our hypotheses. We are not creatures of intuition, gut feelings or trends; we are curators of research.  

Likewise, it should be noted that the GEEFL table highlights the importance of research by dedicating an entire category to Research on FL. Those elements include: Cd – collect data and Rt – connect researchers (a Higher Education specific standard). And while research on FL has been steadily and encouragingly moving away from obsolete FL1.0 studies (“Flipped Learning works in this class,” “Flipped Learning works in that class” We get it, FL works!) and moving towards FL3.0 studies (FL works more efficiently when coupled with mastery, FL benefits from LMSs featuring AI), there is still a glaring hole in FL research that Higher Education is poised to fill.  

My gut feeling is that a positive trend exists for student retention at institutions and for programs that leverage FL. My intuition tells me so. Students in my department are happier than ever before. And our student retention numbers (freshman to sophomore year and sophomore to junior year), as well as our five-year graduation rates are enviable. Is that because nearly every instructor in my department flips their courses in one way or another? Yes, I think so. But, I am a researcher, an academic; I’m an egghead. It doesn’t matter what I think, inuit or sense. I can only believe the data.  

So, this is a call to arms for all of us in Higher Ed. The time has come to study the institutional effects of FL on student retention and graduation rates. We already know that FL ‘works’ by every metric measuring student learning. The next question is: what impact does that learning and student satisfaction have on the institution? And, this question is entirely ours to answer: the Higher Eddies. Our K12 brethren have no concerns, worries or notions of retention. With rare exceptions (private schools and charters), all K12 students are retained by all districts all of the time. In K12, the student is the benefactor of a public service; in Higher Ed, they are the paying customer. So it’s solely up to us in academia to determine the interplay between FL and student retention.

Why it matters; let’s get real for a second. Higher Education is a business. A nonprofit business, yes, but a business all the same. Revenue must come in (tuition, grants, donations) and expenses go out (salaries, maintenance, purchasing of goods and services). Once the former falls short of the latter, an institution is in jeopardy. And it is the job of every college and university administration to make sure that does not happen. Higher Education leaders must constantly weigh and balance cost-cutting measures (and revenue-generating initiatives) with their impacts on student learning. The winning lottery ticket for any college administrator is the initiative that increases revenue and results in increased student learning/satisfaction. As the table below shows, the average student lost to higher education due to attrition costs their institution approximately $18,000; and accounts for 19.5% of all institutional costs. Unretained college students significantly hurt the bottom line, and any program that retains more students buoys an institution’s finances. 

Can you imagine the institutional benefit if FL does indeed improve student retention and lowers attrition?! Can you imagine how quickly and enthusiastically college administrators would adopt FL if this is the case?

We have the potential to measure and prove that FL benefits all stakeholders in higher education: students, educators, and institutions. We need only to connect, share our experimental designs for measuring FL and retention, and then do what we do best: research. We need to think beyond classroom learning and academics and begin to explore those institutional questions that address the bottom line. Once we do, we’ll have catalyzed a movement where FL is the norm, not the exception. And where all students learn well, learn deeply, earn their degrees, pay their tuitions and get the full return on that investment which they deserve.   






Thomas Mennella
Dr. Thomas 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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