Flipping learning on its head

The latest buzzword to hit UK higher education is coming home to roost. Nicola Yeeles finds out more about flipped learning

Flipped: crazy, upside down, or spun in the air?

The flipped classroom does indeed turn traditional pedagogy on its head. Instead of the lecturer or teacher giving a demonstration or talk to the students during contact hours, that input is offered online for students to experience at a moment convenient to them. Typically, this takes the form of a video, but it could also be a screencast or podcast. Contact time is then freed up for more interactive experiences: problem solving, collaboration or discussion.

Like many trends in education, the notion is not new. It’s how the Open University has run its courses for over 40 years. In days gone by the technique might have been called blended learning, and the principle forms a key part of massively open online courses. But flipped learning has a new imperative. The government recently endorsed FELTAG recommendations that all publicly funded further education courses should provide 10% of their provision online by 2015–16, rising to 50% by 2017–18. How long before higher education is next? As students become paying consumers, their expectations are rising. They are comfortable with video and they expect their learning to have elements of ‘gamification’ and interactivity. They also want classes to offer more than just a talking head.

Proven benefits

On the ground, the benefits to teaching and learning are numerous. Instead of focusing on input, which can be time consuming, lecturers can use their scheduled time together for discussion or reproduction of the taught concepts. As the lecturer is not tied to the lectern, there may be more opportunity for interactive, co-operative activities and for them to pay more attention to individuals during contact time.

They also have more time to steer the class away from misunderstandings and errors. Ketan Kothari, vice president of marketing at Edmodo online learning provider, said: “The goal is to help the teacher. She can then focus on the concepts, and to do what she does best which is to actually impart the knowledge. Our goal [at Edmodo] is not to make this another burden but to take away the mundane aspects of teaching.”

Giving students control of the content they are learning can help create more independent and reflective learners – which in turn leads to a deeper level of learning. Those who need to spend longer understanding those concepts can take their own time to go over the input at home. An online repository of information is also invaluable for people who have missed classes. Frank Steiner, marketing manager at the University of London Computer Centre, an IT service provider to over 150 educational institutions across the UK, points out: “There is an expectation from students that they will be able to see their lectures later. It’s part of the consumerisation of IT.” If the BBC can do it, why not their university?

Current climate

In the US, flipped learning has received considerable attention in the last six to seven years, especially in the schools sector. In the UK, the approach has been used for years in some disciplines, such as within the humanities. But in the past three years, universities have begun to turn increasingly to flipped learning.

Frank Steiner identifies a common approach. Universities are starting to run pilot projects, for example, focused on specific departments, which are then scaled up if successful. Examples are the MBA programme at Durham University; maths and biosciences undergraduate programmes at Cardiff; social sciences classrooms at the University of Bristol.

In September 2014 Nottingham Trent University hosted the first ever UK conference centred on the latest acronym, SCALE-UP, which stands for studentcentred active learning environment with upsidedown pedagogies.

Does it work?

In a recent small scale study of lecture capture which surveyed 1,000 City University students, 91% of learners used lecture recordings and 93% of them said it helped their exam revision and assignment preparation. But beyond that, flipped learning has been shown to create statistically significant improvements to learning outcomes. Deslauriers et al (2011) compared two sections of a physics class both taught via interactive lecture methods for the majority of the semester. During the 12th week of the course, half the class was given flipped learning, without a formal lecture. At the end of the week, students completed a multiple choice test, and they produced an average score of 41% in the control classroom and 74% in the flipped classroom.

Starting to flip

Frank Steiner said, “For a university looking at flipped learning, the first decision is whether to invest or not. They have two choices, either to buy the kit and use a platform like Mediasite, or to use a mediabased solution like Panopto.” He highlights that there are considerable costs associated with buying lecture capture equipment and making that work – including ongoing fees to suppliers for maintenance, and potentially the future cost of replacing that equipment in five–10 years’ time. Alongside that are the resources needed for staff training and development. By way of example, Leeds University is currently investing £2m in a new lecture capture and multimedia management system. Starting from September 2014, around 50,000 hours of timetabled teaching activity will be recorded and published in the University’s virtual learning environment each year.

Once the resources have been captured, universities face the challenge of how to manage them. They need to establish who owns the copyright on the recordings, how they can be stored and distributed without compromising that copyright, and how to control access to any recordings which may contain confidential or copyrighted information. Jisc Legal has published useful guidance on the legal considerations.

There are pedagogical challenges too. Students need to buy in to the idea of peer learning and be sufficiently independent to access the resources. As more free videos pop up online, they will have to be shown the value of their paid-for education.

Meanwhile lecturers will need training and support to embrace a new style of teaching, for example, in neatly ‘tying up’ an hour of contact time that has been delightfully unstructured and student-centric.

A future for the flipped classroom?

There is clearly much that needs to be in place for a university to embrace flipped learning. Lynette Lall is information and learningtechnology adviser at Jisc, which supports colleges and universities on the effective use of digital technology. Lynette highlights the need for a strategic approach to the issue: “It needs a whole organisation, leadership and management approach. Learning providers need to ask: how are you going to support the staff that are going to be at the front line delivering this? There is currently a disconnect between teachers and lecturers coming into the profession and how they are going to be supported in their jobs.”

She points to the role of e-learning teams across further and higher education who will be critical in both helping staff to deliver flipped learning, and raising students’ digital literacy to cope with the changes. Within five years then, the exciting potential of digital technology for learning may actually start to be realised.

For further information about Panopto visit: https://panopto.com/panopto-for-education/

Photo credit: HackNY dot org CC BY SA  

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