Flipping the learning experience for science students

Dr Martin Khechara, Uni of Wolverhampton, discusses how the flipped classroom enhances the learning experience for his students

At the University of Wolverhampton, we make extensive use of the flipped classroom with both undergraduate and postgraduate students. In fact, we think flipped learning can be so beneficial that we actually have a whole building designed specifically around this methodology – the Rosalind Franklin Science Centre. This building doesn’t have any of the conventional spaces you’d associate with traditional lectures. Instead, we use video (underpinned by our video platform Panopto) to bring students up to speed with key concepts in advance and then focus on the practical implementation of these ideas in face-to-face sessions.

This flipped classroom approach offers significant benefits for STEM subjects, which often have a large amount of didactic content that needs to be transmitted to students. While, naturally, it is important to teach students key underlying concepts, unfortunately this can result in more passive delivery of content by the onstage academic to a large number of students with minimal interaction. The traditional lecturing model doesn’t easily allow for the development of deeper understanding – and here’s where using video to flip our classrooms has become extremely useful.

By flipping the classroom, we can get all the basics out of the way using the video and then spend the live session checking understanding and exploring core concepts more fully. The flipped classroom also offers us the ability to give video instruction to facilitate large practical classes. The video is used to deliver the ‘method’ along with a demonstration of the activity. This has led to more organised sessions and is producing students who are more adaptable. In the words of one of our academics:

“The students seem so much more organised when they come to practical sessions having had access to the videos. 

It’s good because they are becoming independent learners but it’s strange because they don’t seem to need us as much!”

The aim is to give our students the best teaching we can and they have welcomed the delivery of teaching materials via video with open arms, one student commenting: “I think the practical demonstration videos are very helpful and save a lot of time in the practical sessions.” (Level 4 Student)

Some of my peers worry that delivering content via video encourages students to skip the physical lecture. However, in my experience those people who like to attend will and those that don’t like to won’t – regardless of whether or not the lecture is being recorded. For those who want to engage in a different way or in a different format (for whatever reason), video can make the session more inclusive and as an educator, I think that’s no bad thing.

The students seem so much more organised when they come to practical sessions having had access to video 

So, what results have we seen so far? Well, some of the work I have carried out with my research partner Sara Smith has shown that students love the ability to access flipped content on their mobile phones. They also appreciate the fact that they can interact with videos at any time and at a pace that fits their learning needs. In terms of the material they interact with, with the practical demonstration videos, students gain not just instructions but a whole contextual position for their work. 

This is achieved by the tutor linking a task in the video to the overall subject area. 

We’ve also found that the flipped approach improves the way we’re managing time in face-to-face sessions. For instance, we can arrange group activities which explore content in-depth. This group work, backed up with the video learning that has already taken place, has given students the courage to learn without fear of failure and helped them develop relationships with peers that wouldn’t have arisen in a more didactic paradigm. This relationship-building also extends to student/teacher relationships and facilitates student belonging, retention and progression. There has also been a modest concomitant increase in attainment.  

Ultimately, much of what we’re learning is that video technology – Panopto in our case – is a key that can unlock new opportunities for interaction and exploration. We believe that this approach will drive improvements in both student satisfaction and engagement over time. 

Follow Dr Khechara on Twitter @DrKhechara

Find out more about Panopto at www.panopto.com or by emailing uk@panopto.com

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