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Research indicates that 1 in 5 teachers are considering flipping their classroom, so how are educators making the flipped classroom a reality?

The rise and rise of the flipped classroom

As education institutions at all levels face increasing pressure to provide more engaging learning environments for their digitally-savvy students, many are looking to the flipped classroom model to deliver teaching in a compelling new way.

Recent research indicates that 1 in 5 teachers are considering flipping their classroom. Those who already have are seeing improvements in both student engagement and student attainment.

Two broader trends have accompanied the surge in interest around flipped learning. The first is the growth of video as a communications medium, which has helped shape student expectations on how knowledge is accessed, shared and absorbed. The second is the trend towards student-centred learning, which places strong emphasis on the active participation of the student in the classroom.

Tom Davy, CEO at Panopto, a video system widely used to help flip the classroom at UK universities, colleges and schools comments: “Flipped learning is a logical response to these trends. Firstly, the flipped approach typically offers core learning content via video – a medium we know students respond to well. Secondly, with the more passive learning done in advance, face-to-face time can be fully focused on the students’ needs.”

But how can institutions go about creating a great flipped learning experience? 

Taking inspiration from flipped educators

Dr Jeremy Pritchard, Senior Lecturer and Head of Education at the University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences has been flipping his classes for some time. He calls his experiments with the flipped classroom “the most exciting teaching I’ve done in 20 years”. Like many other academics using this technique, Dr Pritchard sends recorded lectures and ‘how-to’ videos to students in advance and then uses face-to-face time for a variety of interactive activities, from group discussions to student presentations. He has found that formally tying the flipped sessions to the final exam assessment gives students a compelling reason to both view the recording and attend in-person. They can also directly see the link between how they engage in the flipped classroom and how well they will be prepared for their assessment.

Preparing students for the flip

As flipped learning aims to empower students to become more active, setting their expectations in advance is crucial. If students haven’t been in a flipped classroom before, they may have misconceptions – for instance, they may mistakenly believe that the teacher is simply making students ‘teach themselves’. They may also not realise how important it is to do the pre-lesson work in advance and therefore come unprepared to the face-to-face session.

Both of these issues can be resolved by educators making it clear to students how the flipped classroom will work, what they need to do to get the most out of it, and most importantly, what they stand to gain from it.

There are, of course, some practical issues to consider as well, such as how to ensure all students can access the video-based learning content no matter what device they have available to them. Educators need to look at technical options which are ‘device agnostic’, such as software-based Panopto, so that students can prepare for their flipped class using whatever technologies they have access to. 

Re-imagining face-to-face time

With a significant chunk of learning being delivered digitally, academics and teachers need to ensure that class time is used to best effect. Many first-time flippers within higher education are initially nervous that students might only watch the recordings and not come to live lectures at all. But with a well-thought-out and enticing programme of activities for this contact time, some flipped educators at universities have actually seen increased attendance at their live sessions.

Flipped teachers at all levels find that one of the key benefits of this learning approach is the freedom it gives them to experiment with a range of in-class exercises. These can include running quizzes to assess how much students have learned from the video, encouraging students to prepare their own presentations or getting students to come to class ready with their questions to contribute to an interactive class debate.

It goes without saying that teachers must be aware that by making face-to-face time more interactive, this can encourage confident students to lead and quieter students to take a more passive role. It’s therefore particularly important in a flipped class setting to identify the students that might need more encouragement to voice their views and find ways to empower them to participate fully.

This, after all, is the whole point of flipping the classroom in the first place!