Teaching a Flipped Class for the Second Time

Michael Lewis

by Michael Lewis, Associate Vice President for Faculty Development,  Associate Professor of Chemistry

Last year I taught the course Principles of Chemistry II using a flipped classroom approach.  This was my first time teaching the course in this manner, after having taught the course once using a traditional format.  The class was relatively large with about 150 students who were primarily freshmen majoring in Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy.  The flipped classroom approach went very well on multiple fronts: the student reported in mid-term and end-of-semester evaluations that they liked it; student performance improved compared to when I taught the course using a traditional format; and I liked it.  Given this outcome, I chose to use the format again this semester, and I thought I would report back on how the flipped classroom approach looks the second time through the process (or partially through the process).

Before getting into the details, in case there are any readers who haven’t heard of the flipped classroom approach, let me give a brief description.  The basic premise is to have the students engage in, and introduce themselves to, the material ahead of coming to class so we can use class time to work problems and delve into the complicated details.  From the students’ perspective, this looks a lot like doing homework in class, and I saw this mentioned numerous times in mid-term and end-of-semester evaluations.  This approach is flipped, or inverted, from the traditional teaching approach where the instructor introduces the students to the material in class and the students are responsible for the deeper engagement with the material on their own in terms of homework and studying.  Hence, the term flipped classroom, or inverted classroom, to describe the approach.

The first time using the flipped classroom approach in Principles of Chemistry II, during the Spring semester of 2013, definitely required more of my time compared to when I taught the course in a traditional manner.  I had to record lectures for each chapter weeks ahead of when the material was covered in class so the students had time to engage in the course material before we got to it in class.  I purposefully recorded lectures a chapter at a time, and not a lecture at a time, so I could use them again the next time I taught the course; I am not organized enough to finish each lecture in the same place every time I teach a course.  Thus, in teaching the course again this semester I am spending far less time preparing for the course.  I still have to prepare problems to work during class time, but having the lectures already recorded from last year has been a large time saver.  In my estimation, over a two or three year span of teaching the course, I will make up the time I initially invested recording the lectures in year one of the course.

From a student perspective, I feel the course format has been received in a more positive manner the second time.  I can speculate on two reasons why this might be the case.  First, the students know from the previous year’s students that the course turned out fine.  That is, it wasn’t a disaster, and students performed well in the course.  Second, and related, is that I was quite proactive in selling how well the course went the previous year.  I have begun compiling data comparing student performance in the flipped classroom approach and in a traditional approach for publication, and I shared with the students the highlights of the statistical comparison.  This comparison shows a significant increase in student performance using the flipped classroom approach.

Let me finish by highlighting an issue that I wrote about in a previous blog post.  Mid-term evaluations almost always show different preferences for different groups of students.  It is not uncommon for me to find one group of students request changes to a course, only to find the students in the following year’s course ask for me to change back.  This cropped up again in the mid-term evaluation I did for this year’s course.  Last year’s students wanted me to change the due dates for online assignments and quizzes so they reflected the dates we actually covered the material in class.  This year’s students asked me to keep the dates the same, regardless of whether I am a little off on when we get to the material in class.  Thus, I don’t want to make any more generalizations about student perceptions of the flipped classroom approach, at least as it pertains to the various details of how I implement the flipped classroom.

Ultimately, in order to flip a classroom, the instructor needs to pre-record lectures, and provide incentive for students to watch the lectures; I use online assignments.  After that, it is my suggestion that instructors conduct mid-term evaluations early in the semester to find out what their students find useful.

Are you flipping your class? Share what you’re doing in the Comments section.  To read more on this topic, check out the Reinert Center’s teaching tips on the flipped classroom.

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