“How engaging is a talking head?” asked Paul Cubbon, a marketing instructor at the Sauder School of Business. Cubbon was addressing one of the misconceptions of the flipped classroom approach. The goal, he said, is not to replace face time with video lectures. Instead, in the COMM 101: Business Fundamentals pilot, Cubbon provided students with short online videos to reduce time needed for the explanation of concepts, allowing for more in-class time for engagement with the material.
Cubbon’s talk was part of a recent presentation, hosted by the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT), which highlighted two pilot projects at UBC that use flipped classroom concepts. In this model, the course delivery structure is “flipped”: lectures are viewed online, and knowledge is applied through in-class interactions and activities.
“Getting that engagement happening” was the rationale behind using a flipped classroom approach for COMM 101, according to Drew Paulin, Manager of Learning Design at Sauder, who designed the course pilot project. The course, which typically has more than 600 students, is now structured around pre-class readings, online videos, and online activities, including self-assessment quizzes and discussions. Class time is spent engaging in experiential learning activities. When students are able to view online video lectures before a class, Paulin said, they come prepared to apply the content, and the learning experience is enhanced.
Cubbon observed that students were more satisfied with the learning experience, had a better conceptual understanding and were better able to apply knowledge in discussion, reflection, and writing activities.
Flipping the delivery of the course content can also result in a better experience for those teaching the course, according to Matt Yedlin, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who uses a flipped classroom approach for his Engineering Electromagnetics course. Yedlin said that this model allows him more time to focus on the design and implementation of classroom activities to probe what students don’t know and to adjust his teaching accordingly.
Yedlin said that he originally arrived at the flipped classroom approach by accident. He entered the classroom one day and found all of his students using their mobile phones. Realizing the potential of mobile phones as “computers” which could deliver course content, he “decided [he] didn’t want to lecture anymore.”
The concept of content delivery via mobile phone is not trivial, Yedlin argues. However, being able to download course videos onto mobile phones makes content more accessible. Having the option to view videos of their class lectures on the bus, for example, allows students to make better use of their time. Mobile phones have a strong connection to social media culture, which is “the lingua franca of students,” Yedlin noted.
Yedlin’s observations of mobile phone use in the classroom motivated him to move his lecture content to videos, and he added accountability through WeBWork quizzes, which include embedded essay-type questions. Yedlin used the quiz results – which were harvested, semantically analyzed, and displayed as a word cloud – to direct the learning activity in the classroom. These tools allow him to assess differentiation in terms of student progress. “This is the power of the flipped classroom,” he stated.
Paulin and Cubbon used similar strategies and tools in the COMM 101 pilot. Student preparation consisted of readings, watching videos, and completing the embedded self-assessment quiz after each video. Students could take the quiz as many times as needed to achieve 100 percent. The purpose of the quiz was to highlight what part of the curriculum students needed to focus on, and to ensure comprehension before they moved on to the next module.
Paulin talked about how he uses web analytics to assess student learning. He can look at the number of quiz attempts and video clicks to analyze and assess student engagement and learning to inform course and activity design.
When designing flipped classroom courses, creating effective video content is paramount. Paulin and Cubbon “chunked” the content for COMM 101 and condensed it into three or four main concepts for each video. They used storyboarding, the sequential visualization technique developed for use in animation, to help limit and define content. Bite-sized pieces are key, according to Paulin. Video is more effective in five minute chunks.
Using high-quality videos is important, but the process of making them requires a significant allocation of time and resources. A better investment may be to reuse existing videos, Paulin suggested. Cubbon agreed, and said that it makes sense for instructors to repurpose existing videos by adding their own content, rather than by creating new ones. Paulin spoke about the need for a “concept library” – a collection of video clips which could be used for many different courses. A concept library could also be used as a resource for students and as refreshers for courses that require prerequisites.
Cubbon acknowledged that flipping the pedagogical and design processes in this approach requires a different focus in class, in that instructors need to “think about what [content] would be meaningful, and bury it in the activity.” He also pointed out that “you can backfill through activity,” citing as an example the in-class discussions that were used in the COMM 101 course. To make the discussions more functional, as well as more engaging, Cubbon worked with CTLT’s Teaching and Learning Technologies team to design a course blog using PulsePress, which mirrors certain aspects of Twitter, such as limiting the number of characters allowed for students’ posts.
Cubbon also pointed out that the flipped classroom approach has greater potential for reinforcing learning than traditional didactic structures. Instead of lecturing, instructors can design in-class activities which encourage the application of concepts. His experience with the flipped classroom pilot, he said, has changed the way he sees his role as an educator. He feels that his job has changed from “instructor” to “navigator, mentor, cheerleader and coach.”
The flipped classroom approach may be innovative, but it is not new, and it is not restricted to higher education. Some early work in this area began more than twenty years ago by Dr. Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard University, who developed Peer Instruction. During the presentation, Yedlin referred to the video, Why I Flipped My Classroom, in which Grade 8 mathematics teacher Katie Gimbar outlines how she uses this model to deliver her curriculum.
Rethinking and implementing course design based on this innovative approach does require a commitment in terms of time, resources and planning on the part of the instructor, but it is also rewarding. As Paulin put it, “The flipped classroom approach does not mean ‘more students and less effort,’ but the opposite. It’s a labour of love. It’s worth the work. Class is more fun.”