Turning learning on its head

Universities are embracing the flipped-classroom approach to encourage greater collaboration and improve student experience

Putting the cart before the horse’ is a common criticism heard from educational traditionalists in relation to flipped learning. Yet, in reality, the concept has been with us in various forms for many years – from the infant school child of the 1960s who collected twigs and feathers to bring to the school nature table. However, it is only in the last few years that flipped learning as a teaching technique has risen

to the top of the education agenda with many prestigious institutions investingtime and effort into developing sophisticated and effective programmes for their students.

For the innovators of flipped learning, the long-established routine of a lecture followed by homework is literally flipped on its head, with the lecture material being delivered by a variety of interactive methods, including podcasts and videos, prior to the contact time. The advantages are many: the material is available on a number of devices, students can view it whenever and wherever it suits them and it can be reviewed as many times as they want. With the ability to add subtitles and vary the speed of playing, students can take much greater responsibility for their own learning by reviewing and concentrating on the areas they find more challenging.

The students have welcomed the delivery of teaching materials via video with open arms

As students come to class prepared and knowing which questions to ask, tutors can directly address those specific queries, rather than teaching to the middle. Students receive exactly the information they require to progress and it engenders collaborative working and peer assistance, as those who grasp the concept quickly are confident to help others who are struggling. The University of Birmingham has recently introduced the flipped classroom to its science department, to huge student acclaim. 

“Using Panopto to flip the classroom gives my students the chance to view the material multiple times if they needed to,” says Dr. Jeremy Pritchard, Senior Lecturer and Head of Education from the University of Birmingham School of Biosciences “This allows them to learn the content at their own pace. It also frees up that lecture session to focus on other things”

Blended learning auditoriums are changing the way lectures are presented to students

In a recent poll at the University of Huddersfield, an overwhelming 84% of students voted in favour of videoing student tutorials. As the tutorial material will be permanently available, they anticipate that this will be particularly helpful to students with learning difficulties or for whom English is not their first language.

Most flipped learning occupies a middle ground with a split between lecture material online and face-to-face teaching. At one end of the spectrum is the distance learning model with practically all material provided online and very few physical lectures. At the other end is the unusual approach first trialled 18 months ago by Leeds Beckett University where students sit in small groups before a shared screen, with direct links to the tutor who is also in the room. This specially adapted space installed by Crestron has quickly become the most requested room for lessons. 

So what’s the downside? The most obvious obstacles are costs and logistics. Installation of a custom-made flipped learning suite, as recently commissioned by Leeds Beckett University, requires a substantial investment in computer infrastructure and demands simplified control. However, extremely effective flipped-learning schemes can be implemented at very little cost, and are usually enthusiastically embraced by students who quickly see the value.

The aim of all of this, of course, is to give our students the best teaching we can

In a wholly integrated flipped model, the preliminary course material for an entire module can be uploaded at the outset of the course and viewed by students as soon as they are ready. Analysis by John Hattie in 2008 showed that self-paced learning is particularly beneficial for gifted and motivated students, who are able to absorb much of the material prior to contact time and come to class with a deeper understanding.

The University of Wolverhampton has invested in specifically designed classrooms for the flipped-learning approach, which they feel is of particular advantage in STEM subjects. Much of the theoretical information is transmitted by video prior to lessons, freeing up face-to-face time for deeper exploration of the key concepts. Once in the classroom, students are ready to follow practical experiments being demonstrated on video, having already studied the lecture material.

The Crestron touch screen delivers enhanced wireless control

“The students have welcomed the delivery of teaching materials via video with open arms,” says a science lecturer at Wolverhampton. “The aim of all of this, of course, is to give our students the best teaching we can.”

Perhaps the greatest advantage of flipped learning is the effect on homework submissions. Using a traditional method of teaching, the teacher has to trust that the salient points of the lesson have been clearly delivered for students to complete the homework. If not, students who fundamentally misunderstand the point cannot complete the homework and the lesson must be delivered again. In the flipped-learning model, however, it is apparent to the teacher at the outset of the lesson which students are already confident with the material and which students need particular help. By setting the written task during contact time, the teacher is in a position to offer immediate help and feedback.

The future of flipped learning opens up a range of possibilities. As technology advances, flipped-learning videos and other material can be cross-referenced, enabling students to view the material in whichever mode they find most useful. The ability to deliver material in a variety of forms means that teaching in every subject can be flipped effectively.

Small group discussions take place in specially designed meeting rooms at Cardiff Business School Post Graduate teaching Centre

As flipped learning is fully absorbed into mainstream education, the benefit and popularity of the Leeds Beckett
model will become increasingly attractive and custom-made suites will become the norm rather than unique. Many more institutions will install sufficient connectivity to allow ‘Bring YourOwn Device’ (BYOD) as students utilise an ever-expanding range of technology. 

Although flipped learning in its present form is still in its infancy, a recent survey showed that 67% of 453 teachers who had flipped their classrooms reported improved test scores. Whichever model is implemented, there is no doubt that flipped learning is a fast-growing phenomenon, popular with students
and lecturers alike for both its versatility and the useful extra contact time it


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