The Flipped Classroom

Do you have a lot of content in your subject, but no time for student activities in your teaching schedule? The Flipped Classroom concept can help you to design a teaching strategy that lets your students work independently between classes, and gives you the time to work actively with them during class.

What is Flipped Classroom?

A Flipped Classroom (FC), also known as reverse teaching, is an increasingly popular hybrid approach that is turning our traditional method on its head. In brief, it involves students working with their various learning resources prior to class, while the lesson time itself is spent in active learning. This means that traditional in-class activities take place outside the classroom, and vice versa. The classroom has become ‘flipped’.

It is perhaps best to think of the FC in terms of an approach or structure, rather than a method. The core elements of the FC can be subdivided into what happens BEFOREDURING and AFTER the class period, either online or on campus. 

 

BEFORE the lesson, students are given access to what would traditionally have been communicated during the class itself. This may include resources such as teaching videos, articles, podcasts, assignments, tests and suchlike. On what taxonomic level are the learning outcomes in your subject located? The diagram below illustrates the methods that are best suited to the various taxonomic levels. In general, it is true to say that a teaching video will find itself at Level 1 or 2, defined as surface learning. In contrast, so-called meta-learning and deep learning (at levels 4, 5 and 6) can only be achieved by active participation in various learning activities.

Flipped Classroom Bloom

In order to reinforce the effect of working with the learning materials during the first stage, it is common to ask the students to take a test or answer a questionnaire. 

DURING the lesson, once the students are gathered together, they will all have achieved a prior basic understanding of the topic for the day. The teacher is then free to set in motion any number of learning activities, to lead discussions either in groups or in plenum, or to guide the students as they solve various exercises and problems. Active learning is the cornerstone of the flipped classroom. It is precisely the freeing up of time previously spent on lecturing that now offers opportunities for active learning. Unfortunately, many teachers fall into a familiar trap when they start to flip their classroom. They put too much effort into producing the digital learning resources for stage 1, such as teaching videos, and too little into what the students ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO DO when they gather for class. In her blog ‘En ærlig historie om flipping’ (Confessions of a classroom flipper), Evy Beate Tveter talks about how she fell into this very trap. 

AFTER the lesson the students can continue to work with their mandatory assignments and exercises, and carry out other learning activities. The teacher can also act as a guide during this stage, although this will typically happen asynchronically, independently of time and place. 

 

Some good advice about the flipped classroom

The first thing to say is that the FC approach is not necessarily appropriate for all subjects. 
Sadly, there is no definitive blueprint for organising teaching in an FC setting. Suitability will depend on a number of factors, the most important of which are the distinctive characteristics of the subject in question and the desired learning outcomes. If you google FC you get 17,000,000 hits! However, in spite of the enormous amount of material available on FC, there are some consistently key factors that you as a teacher should be focusing on: 

  • An effective structure established in USN’s learning platform (Canvas), combined with clear information and communication of expectations to students about WHAT and HOW, and WHY you are using the FC approach.  
  • Students may be sceptical at first and feel that the FC approach is too time-consuming. However, this will pass . Research has demonstrated the students’ results and active participation are improved when the teacher (1) applied a theoretical perspective when informing students about the FC, (2) integrated assessment as part of the design of the FC and (3) flipped the subject as a whole and not only parts of it.
  • In this video (10:11), Rita Li talks about her experiences of using the FC as part of the bachelor’s degree course in Nursing at USN.  
  • Here are three videos (in Norwegian) made by academics who want to share their experiences of using the FC in their teaching: How to plan and carry out flipped teaching

 

What does research have to say about FC?

In spite of all the hype around the FC concept as an exciting new approach in educational research, there still remains a lack of consensus about what the FC actually is. There is also only a very limited amount of empirical evidence regarding its effectiveness. There is no universal definition, and nor is there any established ‘right’ way in which to apply the concept. We have assumed that the FC promotes deep learning, formative assessment, collaborative learning and involvement. In spite of a large number of articles published during recent years, no comprehensive research has been carried out that either reports conclusively that the FC constitutes an appropriate teaching method, or that unanimously supports the findings previously described in this article. Empirical research to date has been somewhat inconsistent in its design, with little supportive theory and highly variable findings. Abeysekera and Dawson (2014) claim that the FC is ‘under-evaluated, under-theorized and underresearched in general’. Much of the research into the FC consists of comparative studies, setting the characteristics of the FC up against traditional teaching methods. Recent meta-analyses have identified a minor positive effect of the FC on examination results and student satisfaction compared with traditional approaches. 

 

Do you want to promote more active learning?

Many people feel that traditional monologic teaching offers only limited motivation to students and contributes little to their learning outcomes.  In contrast, the FC offers a way of organising teaching that creates more time for active learning. In many ways, the FC is simply a buzzword for a more complex process involving the development of a student-oriented approach to teaching and learning that helps students to divert their focus from consumption to collaborative learning.  
But does it work? 
In a frequently cited meta-analysis carried out by Freeman et.al. (2014), the authors identified a significant difference in examination results following teaching that applied active learning, compared with an approach that did not. Based purely on data from examinations, they concluded that active learning leads to better results and lower levels of failure.  In a very recent meta-analysis (Strelan et al., 2020), the authors found that the main factor influencing the apparent effect of the FC is the opportunity it provides for structured, active learning and problem solving. Some research has claimed that the learning effect of the FC is simply the result of the implementation of active learning (Jensen, 2015). 

Would Vygotsky have flipped his classroom if he had been alive today? In this video (05:16), two master’s students in Pedagogics reflect on how we can view the practical implementation of the FC from a theoretical sociocultural perspective.

 

Resources

As well known, research is fragmented with divergent results and weak design. Here are 3 good articles that we would recommend:

  • 1. Steen-Utheim, Anna Therese, and Njål Foldnes. 2018. "A qualitative investigation of student engagement in a flipped classroom."  Teaching in Higher Education 23 (3):307-24. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2017.1379481 
  • 2. Låg, T., and R. G. Sæle. 2019. "Does the Flipped Classroom Improve Student Learning and Satisfaction? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."  Aera Open 5 (3). doi: 10.1177/2332858419870489 
  • 3. Lundin, Mona, Annika Bergviken Rensfeldt, Thomas Hillman, Annika Lantz-Andersson, and Louise Peterson. 2018. "Higher education dominance and siloed knowledge: A systematic review of flipped classroom research."  International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education 15 (1):20. doi: 10.1186/s41239-018-0101-6.