Flipping Your Course

What is a Flipped Course?

A flipped course reverses the lecture/homework paradigm. This traditional paradigm is reflected in a course where new content is presented in the classroom with an attempt at deeper understanding through (home)work taking place outside of class. With emerging and expanding theories of adult learning, active learning, student engagement and the balance of power in the classroom, pedagogical approaches have been evolving to incorporate what we know – learners want to be involved; learning should be engaging; learning requires interaction and buy-in; learning should be relevant, so opportunities for theory-practice connections are critical. Unfortunately, with so much content to ‘cover’, instructors often feel challenged to provide those meaningful learning opportunities.

In the flipped course, students watch the lecture online or otherwise get the bulk of the course content outside of class. Then, in-class time is devoted to discussing, problem-solving, processing, problematizing issues, working with case studies, debating – generally going deeper into the content and developing higher order thinking skills, including analysis, evaluation and creation.

Is a Flipped Course a Hybrid Course?

Although these approaches share features in common, the terms are not interchangeable. Here is how they differ.

  • A flipped course typically meets as per the class schedule for all planned face-to-face (F2F) hours (i.e., a two day per week course meets in the classroom two days per week). The ‘flip’ refers to the devotion of out-of-class time to watching online lectures or otherwise independently exploring content, while in-class time is devoted to a deeper exploration of the material and increased student interaction.
  • A hybrid course (also known as blended learning) is one in which a substantial proportion – anywhere from 30 to 79% – of learning activities occur online (Allen, Seaman, & Garrett, 2007). Typically this involves providing a reduction in F2F sessions in order to complete work online. For example, a two-day-per-week course instead meets one day per week in the classroom and one day per week online, either synchronously (all students online at the same time in a chat room) or asynchronously (students work online at their convenience). In addition to the online work that replaces a F2F session, students are expected to complete out-of-class homework and readings.

Who should flip a course?

The ideal classes to flip are those that entail a large amount of content that instructors feel they have to explore (cover). In these classes, instructors often end up lecturing for the majority of the class in order to make sure they present all the information. Consequently, students go home to work in isolation as they make an attempt to synthesize the new concepts and apply them in some meaningful way. The irony here is that it’s virtually impossible to apply theory in a meaningful way when working alone. It’s not a stretch to argue that meaning is negotiated among collaborators and that teacher-student and student-student interactions foster deeper learning.

Benefits of a Flipped Course

In case the benefits are not shining through thus far, we will list a few that are grounded in the literature and testimonials of both teachers and students.

  1. Learning begins with experiences in the classroom related to the content.
  2. Mini-lectures and tutorials can be viewed online or on mobile devices at the student’s convenience; these serve to reinforce the concepts.
  3. Students can view lectures multiple times and pause (to refill coffee cups) as often as necessary. This opportunity to watch multiple times can be especially beneficial to nonnative speakers, students with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or students who need reinforcement for the auditory modality (i.e., through the visual recording).
  4. Asynchronous out-of-class time generally targets lower-level cognitive skills (e.g., remember, understand, apply) that don’t require much support.
  5. Asynchronous individual time can provide opportunities for reflection through discussion forums, chat rooms, blogs, etc. allowing students to make connections between experiential learning in class and content views outside of class.
  6.  In-class activities target higher order thinking skills, engage students in experiential learning and collaboration and provide support for the development of academic, professional and social skills.
  7. Instructors can differentiate learning; they all come to class with the same background (content) information but they work at different paces during class time. (watch these videos from NC State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation)

The nice feature of a flipped course is that you don’t have to flip every class! Choose the lessons that are content dense and would otherwise leave little room for active learning and student engagement.

Technology Options for the ‘Flip’

There are so many technological tools that instructors can use to flip their courses, from simple and free to intricate and expensive. The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation hosts a series of video tutorials to show you why and how to flip your course, including tutorials on using the technology. Make sure to bookmark their page if you’re interested in the flip!

  1. At the most simple level, some instructors simply choose to record themselves giving lectures at the white board in an actual classroom. You only need a camera, tri-pod and your ideas for this approach. Then you can upload the video via YouTube or other means to the online learning management system of your choice (i.e., Instructure CANVAS, Blackboard, Lore, etc.).
  2. At the level of ‘mostly simple’ and free, there are numerous software options for screen capture that you can download and use to make instructional videos. You can use them to voice over your PowerPoint or Presi presentations or work through a problem while writing on a computerized tablet. Educational Technology and Mobile Learning provides a list of 20 free options with a brief description of each. Caveats to some of the free options might be the length of the capture (e.g., Jing only lets you capture 5 minutes at a time) or limited advanced options.
  3. From there, the available technology gets as complicated as you might desire and imagine. Two examples are Camtasia and Captivate. Camtasia allows you to overlay multiple tracks (e.g., music files and recorded voice) and combine multiple presentation files (e.g., slides, photographs, video). Captivate is another software that allows you to integrate your presentations with animation, quizzes, voice, and other features that enhance interactive online learning.

The face-to-face (f2f) component of the Flipped Course

A faculty member once responded to the notion of the flipped course with a concern about being replaced. She speculated that if the lectures were online, then it would be feasible for a graduate student to run the course, making her obsolete. Faculty who have successfully flipped their courses attest that this is highly unlikely. The expertise of the instructor in the course it a critical component to successful flipped courses. The knowledge base that grounds the lecture is also paramount for successful f2f class time as it supports the learning based on the problem-solving, discussions and projects that stem from the online component. The key to successful class time involves a balance of planning and implementation.

In her blog User-Generated Education, Jackie Gerstein, EdD writes about The Flipped Classroom: A Full Picture. She provides a backgrounder on Flipped Courses and then notes one important caveat. The instructional component of a Flipped Course does not end with the recording of the lecture (or locating a ready made lecture online, such as one from a video lecture bank like The Khan Academy). That’s where it begins! Gerstein outlines the synchronous (in-class) group learning activities and the asynchronous individual (out-of-class) learning experiences. She underscores the need for instructors to really plan carefully how they will work in class to dive deeper into the content. She also provides an example of all phases related to an undergraduate communication class exploring how to use language more effectively (includes the following stages of the lesson: experiential engagement; concept exploration; personalization and meaning making; and, demonstration and application.

Encouraging Students to Come Prepared

  • Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT) is one approach to prepare your students for class. JiTT involves students in thinking about the material they have viewed or read prior to class. This strategy requires students to post questions or responses to prompts just before class via an online learning management system (e.g., CANVAS) or via email. Instructors ensure they have reviewed the students’ comments prior to class with the aim of knowing which areas of the lecture or reading need to be explored at greater length in class through discussion, problem-solving, exploring a case-study, etc. This blog post by Julie Schell provides background on the flipped course and JiTT as well as anecdotal evidence for the use of JiTT and Peer Instruction in her class.
  • Share Responsibility for Teaching – You can implement several activities such as poster sessions, presentations and Instant Expert to share the teaching responsibility with the students (see, Active Learning) so that they come prepared to teach and or learn from their peers (see, Accountability).

Example of a Flipped Course

Master Class – Dr. Cynthia Furse, Flipping Introduction to Electromagnetics

Dr. Cindy Furse is a professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Utah. She began developing her ‘flipped course’ in 2007 and had her course fully ‘flipped’ by 2009. The course she used as her pilot was ECE 3300 Introduction to Electromagnetics. She reports increased dialogue in class, better problem-solving skills, increased interaction between her and her students and improved student course feedback scores. We recommend that you view her resources, YouTube channel and the paper she wrote to describe the process of moving from the traditional lecture to “No More Lecturing in Engineering”. Click here for Dr. Furse’s website.