June 16, 2024

Flipping Back to Campus | Faculty Focus

Now that we are safely (and slowly) going back to in-person classes, we have found that Flipped Instruction (FI) is on our mind. The logic behind FI acknowledges the different teaching spaces courses occupy: in-person/online, in-class/out-of class, individual/group, and direct instruction/active learning. The rush to remote instruction in March 2020 changed those spaces for many of us. Some spaces, like in-person meetings, were no longer available. Other spaces, like group space or the classroom, needed to be reconceptualized as instructors recalibrated activities originally conceived as in-person/on-campus interactions to online spaces or social distancing. FI is on our mind during this transition because we want to honor both the incredible effort undertaken during remote instruction and ensure that everything the learning community learned about in affordances of technology-enhanced learning continues to benefit students. We also want to ensure that the in-person experiences we missed so deeply during this time are never taken for granted, and that the time we spend together is thoughtful and intentional.

Let’s start this conversation with Bergmann and Sams’ (2015) guiding question, “What is the best use of face-to-face time with students?” (p.19). We can’t think of a better time to ask this question than now as the on-campus learning community tries to reunite around the world.

What is Flipped Instruction (FI)?

FI is a pedagogical approach in which the order of direct instruction moves from the group learning space (that is, the in-person classroom) to the individual learning space (that is, students’ personal learning spaces such as their homes), with the latter being leveraged to facilitate a “dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter” (Flipped Learning Network, 2014, para 1). In other words, the educator flips the instruction or classroom. In Bloom et al.’s (1956) terms, flipping the classroom helps educators support the development of lower-order thinking skills (LOTS; remembering and understanding) outside of the classroom and use class time to focus on higher-order thinking skills (HOTS; applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating) inside the classroom.

Figure 1. Bloom’s Taxonomy (Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching)

The four pillars

Four components drive FI: flexible environment, learning culture, intentional content, and professional educator

Flexible environment

The most noticeable aspect of FI is flexibility in delivering the content. When instruction is reframed, the potential for personalized learning increases. Students can access and interact with the content at their own pace and preference, revisiting concepts to deepen understanding. Through an intentional reversal of direct instruction, FI supports differentiation of instruction (DF, Tomlinson, 2014; Cole, 2019) and student agency (Bandura 2001; Starke, 2021). Flexibility could also align with universal design principles for learning, providing multiple means of representation, action, and expression.

Learning culture

FI recognizes the importance of the learner in their own educational attainment, trusting that students are capable of significant independent work as well as able to contribute to the group’s shared learning. This creates a culture of student-centered, differentiated, and scaffolded learning where learning is reconceptualized as a shared endeavor, with no passive actors. This shift could lead to active learning and engagement.

Intentional content

FI relies on intentionally developed and curated materials. It is this feature of the approach that leads instructors to use technology to design and deliver multimodal content such as electronic media, slides, recorded lectures, screencast presentations, interactive videos, podcasts, etc. Intentional content can then pave the way for a more active learning experience inside the classroom. Technology may also provide opportunities for students to review, practice, interact, and receive/provide feedback.

Professional educator

In a flipped classroom, the facilitator plans and cultivates a learning culture of flexibility, differentiation, and learning support through a variety of intentional content resources and activities. In addition, the facilitator is reflective, and carefully and critically observes and monitors their goals, objectives, and classroom practices. They are prepared to take action wherever necessary to accommodate their students.

The Flipped Learning Network has a checklist of indicators for each component. This checklist can be a helpful place to reflect on where your strengths are and where you might encounter challenges as you start integrating more flipped learning approaches in your courses.

What does research show?

Meta-analyses and reviews (e.g., Brewer & Movahedazarhouligh, 2018; Cheng et al., 2019) have generally been positive on the effectiveness of FI in both K-12 and higher education settings. Research provides supporting evidence in FI supporting students’ life-long learning (Luster-Teasley et al., 2014), autonomy (Kim et al., 2014), critical thinking (Jungic et al., 2015), interpersonal skills (Yelamarthi et al., 2015), differentiation (Weiß & Friege, 2021), active learning (Velegol et al. 2015), student engagement (Lavelle et al. 2013), and flexibility (Mok, 2014). On the other hand, research also suggests that the success of a FI approach depends largely on the nature of the courses taught. For instance, in courses requiring frequent interactions and hands-on practices, learning about the content before engaging in course activities could be overwhelming to some students (Cheng et al., 2019). Furthermore, the investment in developing out-of-class quality instructional materials and designing active in-person practices may be overwhelming to educators and administrators (Morrison et al., 2010). Finally, issues of access arising from technology use could also pose a challenge for both students and educators.

How to flip: The five-step path

There are two phases to flip the classroom (see DAILY GENIUS):

Phase 1: Content Development

Plan. Planning is the most important part of an educational strategy. During planning, you decide on your goals and objectives, content/topics, activities, resources, accommodations, and scaffolds. You also answer essential questions about your course. For example,

  • What concepts/tasks benefit my students better in/out of class? How/when could my immediate feedback/clarification/instructions support students? How/when would peer/group work/feedback support students’ learning?

Record. Record a video about the content. This video serves to move direct instruction (e.g., in-class lecture) from your in-person class to your students’ learning space, so make sure your video covers all key areas that you would like your students to know. Also, make your video engaging! See Gieras’ (2020) article on creating engaging instructional videos.

Share. There are many ways to share your video with your students. You can host your video on your Google Drive or YouTube channel and then share the link with your students. If your school uses a learning management system, you may use that platform to share the video. There are also applications such as EdPuzzle or VideoAnt that could be used to add interactive elements and annotations to videos.

Phase 2: Active Learning

Change. Your students have watched the video and are in class with you, ready to engage in activities that deepen/expand their knowledge. This is the active learning phase of the instruction where students participate in tasks that require HOTS. Active learning, which is sometimes seen as contrasting “traditional” learning, has been defined in many ways. For instance, Bonwell and Eison (1991) defines it as an activity that “involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (p. 2); Prince (2004) as “any instructional method that engages students in the learning process” (p. 223); and Brame (2016) as “activities that students do to construct knowledge and understanding” (para. 5). These definitions all have one thing in common: they all build on students’ HOTS and metacognition—the students’ active regulation of their learning. HOTS are part of a broad set of knowledge, skills, and competencies that are referred to as 21st century skills (Glossary of Education Reform, 2016) and are key in developing autonomous, creative, critical, and problem-solving learners (Geisinger, 2016). By engaging students in activities requiring HOTS (see Figure 2), learning becomes student-centered, as students actively engage in co-construction of knowledge and competencies (Bransford et al., 1999). See the K. Patricia Cross Academy’s Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS) for activities supporting active learning.

Figure 2. Spectrum of active learning (Prepared by Chris O’Neal and Tershia Pinder-Grover)

Group. Instructional grouping is a task component that could support active learning. As students engage in inquiry- and project-based tasks in class, group work could provide opportunities for students to interact, collaborate, and problem-solve. Different tasks or different parts within a task could rely on students working individually, in groups/dyads/trios, or as a whole class. Further, educators may form homogeneous or heterogeneous groups based on students’ levels, interests, and/or skills (Ernst-Slavit & Egbert, 2010).

Regroup. Finally, bring students back to whole-class debriefings and discussions so that they can share their thoughts. This strategy could further deepen/expand students’ learning, attitudes, and experiences. And let’s not forget, a professional educator does not stop here—they review the process, revise practices in light of observations, and repeat.

In this article, we tried to briefly cover the theory and practice around Flipped Instruction to support your teaching/learning approach during a time when the prospects of going back to in-person instruction are encouraging. Regardless, FI has implications for all teaching modalities. The idea of reversing the order of direct instruction does not really need a physical class to work. In addition, FI does not need to be adopted for all course practices—the nature of the topics and variabilities in settings requires adaptive strategies. FI is another tool you can utilize in your own teaching and learning toolbox.

Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni is an instructional designer with the Center for Academic Innovation at Western Oregon University. His scholarly interests include technology-enhanced instruction and task engagement.

Michael Reis is currently the director of the Center for Academic Innovation at Western Oregon University.


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