Jan Costenbader

Flipping Your Classroom

One of the hot trends, particularly in secondary education, is the flipped classroom. According to the pioneers in the field, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, "In this model of instruction, students watch recorded lectures for homework and complete their assignments, labs, and tests in class"1. While one may think that this is the model we use for blended or hybrid classes, it is not. Instead, the flipped model really applies to face-to-face classes. The authors point out that the model is a mixture of direct instruction and constructivism. Is it not just having the students watch a video lecture online; a well-constructed flipped class online session includes learning activities and discussions that supplement the lecture.

In the flipped classroom, the instructor prepares a series of short videos or lectures using tools such as Screencast-o-matic (a screen-capture tool), Voicethread, or other similar tools. The lectures are uploaded to D2L along with interactive questions or discussion threads. Students watch the lectures and participate in the discussions as ‘homework.’ The face-to-face class time, then, is available for instructor-guided activities such as labs, group projects, or other student-centered learning activities. Some activities may include working on what we think of as ‘traditional’ homework, the advantage being that if a student is stuck on a concept, the instructor is there to provide help and immediate feedback.

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to flipping the classroom. On the positive side, I watch many students in my classes scrambling to take notes while I lecture. If they miss part of the lecture, it certainly can’t be repeated. In the flipped model, on the other hand, they can rewind the lecture and play the part they didn’t quite understand, over and over. (Though I am not sure how many students would want to hear me over and over.) Keep in mind that I teach Mathematics and frequently work through algorithms and steps in solving problems. The ability for students to replay those steps is, in my mind, a major advantage. This is also helpful for students with learning disabilities or those for whom English is a second language. Secondarily, all of the lectures are archived and available for the student to go back and review. This assumes that the lecture material is well organized and catalogued so that the student can find it easily.

There are also advantages once the student is in the face-to-face session. You, as the instructor, now have time to personalize the interaction with your students, guiding them and answering questions directly as they work through the assignments in the classroom. You also now have time for creative and engaging projects in small-group activities with you present as the facilitator and coach. Your classroom now becomes a studio, a laboratory, a simulation lab, or a role-play environment—not just a lecture hall. Some instructors encourage their students to write down questions they have when watching the lectures and then spend one-on-one time during the class answering those questions, or they may collect the questions via email and answer the most common one to the entire class.

Of course there are disadvantages. If the student does not watch the lecture, or is multi-tasking (texting on their cell phone or watching TV) while watching the lecture, then they are ill-prepared for the classroom portion. Some instructors incentivize this by embedding self-assessment exercises in the lecture using a tool such as SoftChalk (which is a DePaul-supported tool). Another criticism is that many instructors deliver engaging and interactive lectures in class that they feel simply cannot be captured in a video or other online activity. They feel that two-way communication will be lost in the impersonal nature of online delivery. This is, of course, a challenge faced by instructors in the development of hybrid or fully online instruction. So here is a chance for a commercial plug: your friendly FITS instructional designer can help you make your online lectures engaging and interactive.

One might ask if there are particular disciplines in which flipping the classroom makes more sense? As an instructor in lower level Mathematics, I can see tremendous benefit there, as well as many science courses where the lecture content can be delivered online and the class time spent productively with laboratory/problem-set activities. The flipped classroom, however, is not restricted to the sciences and is successfully used in a wide variety of disciplines. There is a wealth of literature and opinions on the subject. Here are a few websites that are worth viewing if you would like more information on the subject.

  • This infographic is a good illustrated overview of the flipped classroom with some outcome-based results (but not cited). There is also a good comment section with both pros and cons.
  • Flipped Learning held a conference here in Chicago this past summer. Their website has a wealth of information.
  • Another similar organization is at flippedlearning.org
  • Edutopia has a good and balanced article.
  • A very balanced and more thought provoking article can be found at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: “To Flip or not Flip: That is NOT the question”. As we all rush to get on the latest bandwagon, this brings us back to the concept that is it good teaching that makes the difference. Technology can be an enabler, but it is not the solution.


Jan Costenbader

About Jan Costenbader

Jan came to DePaul from California State University, Chico in November of 2010. There, he taught Mathematics and developed an online hybrid Mathematics course for General Education Mathematics. He also assisted faculty in course design as an instructional designer. Currently, he provides instructional design consultation to the College of Science and Health, the Quantitative Reasoning program and several departments within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. In addition, he teaches fully online developmental Mathematics and blended Quantitive Reasoning courses.

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