Friday, May 29, 2015

Flipping a Class

The UT-Austin Center for Teaching and Learning contains many interesting resources to help instructors of higher education reach their students in more meaningful ways, and recently I stumbled upon this idea of "flipping" a class. The idea (by this name, anyway) is about half a decade old, but I have yet to fully explore all that this course design could do for my writing and literature students.

 So, the plan is like this: have students prepare prior to class with an exercise that will allow them to participate in an in-class activity. The in-class activity should be constructive; in other words, students should not simply listen to a lecture. Students should take the knowledge they gained in the pre-class activity to apply that knowledge (hopefully with other students). Lastly, after class they extend their learning further by working on their own with the major assignment.

What this model should do is the following:

  • Depending on the pre-class activity, demonstrate the extent of knowledge a student has gained on a particular concept. For example, if the instructor assigns a pre-class reading and online quiz, the student and instructor would see, based on the quiz grades, the specific areas of weakness about a certain unit of the course. This would help the instructor by allowing them to tweak their lecture portion of the class to better suit the students’ needs. 
  • Better prepare students for discussion-- and in an English classroom, this is essential. For example, a writing prompt I have assigned in the past encouraged students to write about a time they lost their innocence (or a time of great maturity). Prior to assigning this prompt, I have students read Lilian Hecker’s The Stolen Party which is a powerful short fiction piece about a young girl who realizes the negative impact of social classes (I’ve known other instructors who use Genesis 3 for the same prompt). I noticed that having students read this before assigning the topic “breaks the ice,” and helped them share their own stories much more easily during brainstorming. 
  • Allow more class time for students to “clarify and apply” their learning. This is most important to me as an instructor. There will always be that student who does not understand what exactly we are doing and building in my class, and it is so much easier for them to stay lost if I lecture the entire class session. If students have ample time to work together and build their work while in class, I am able to see who exactly is drowning. 

 Thinking on this model made me consider the following activities that I’ve either already practiced or could try:

 Grammar/ Essay Revisions Edits
 Pre-class Activity: Assign students to watch online lectures on grammar (or writing conclusions, introductions, etc.) and take accompanying quizzes which pinpoint common writing errors.

In-Class Activity: Based on scores, part of class time could be used for lecture to address those gaps in learning, and then, most importantly, students apply those grammar concepts to their writing during in-class peer edits.

After-Class Activity: Continue online collaboration on essays; Finalize grammar edits.


Pre-class Activity: Assign students the reading (… of course) and watch online lectures on the particular reading (many e-texts now have video supplemental material). Students discuss online about a particular concept of the reading. I used Goodreads for this recently, and I thought it provided somewhat of what a “flipped classroom” is aiming for.

In-Class Activity: Based on posts, I was able to tweak my lecture to help guide students toward particular outcomes. In face-to-face groups, students extended their discussions.

After-Class Activity: Students responded to group members on their Goodreads page about the same reading.

 This model puts an emphasis on technology and online resources for students. Many instructors who use this model have their lectures already online, and students are required to watch the lectures before class. While that is a bit idealistic, it is definitely something that an instructor could build overtime, and with free or inexpensive screen recording technology that is already available, it is actually something I would like to try in future semesters. What I like most about this model is that it allows more time for me to work with each student individually, and in essence, treat the class time more like “office hours” for my students.

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