A student perspective on pre-class activities in the flipped classroom

The other week I attended the insightful Translating Concept to Practice: Flipped Classroom workshop facilitated by Sophie Karanicolas from the University of Adelaide who was visiting the Taylor Institute. Bergmann & Sams (2014) describe flipped learning as moving content delivery outside of the classroom, and then using classtime to engage students in active discussions and problem solving in a supportive environment.

A key message from the workshop is that student engagement is critical to successful flipped learning and one way in which Sophie did this was to incorporate a variety of pre-class, in-class, and post-class activities. The idea of pre-class activities intrigues me as I often wonder how I can motivate students to participate in these types of activities. For this workshop, the pre-activity was to view a short five-minute video explaining aspects of flipped learning from both the instructor and student point of view. Following the video, there was a short survey asking questions such as The main purpose of flipped pre-class activities should be to enable students to… or The best example of a pre-class activity for students participating in a flipped classroom is a… A few things struck me about these questions: 1) They were student focused, and 2) I didn’t do them. In fact, I didn’t do any of the pre-class activities and showed up to the workshop feeling a little guilty and anxious as I know from experience these workshops are highly interactive.

Six levels of student preparedness

As the workshop progressed, I settled in and my anxiety for not doing the pre-class activities lifted. For her first exercise, Sophie had prepped six whiteboards around the room with a corresponding number on them. She then described the six types of students we may have in our classrooms, according to their level of prepardness:

  1. Prepared, who don’t see the point in attending the workshop and don’t come.
  2. Prepared, who came to the workshop annoyed at having to seemingly do more work.
  3. Prepared, who came to the workshop ready to learn.
  4. Underprepared, who tried but didn’t understand the pre-content and came frustrated and/or anxious of underperformance in class.
  5. Underprepared, who came to learn what you expected them to learn in the pre-activity.
  6. Underprepared who did not come.

Joining Group Five: Coming to class underprepared

Participants then moved to the whiteboard based on their level of preparedness. Obviously, no one moved to Groups 1 or 6 and I, along a few others, sheepishly made my way to Group Five: Coming to class underprepared. But the thing is, I was underprepared, yet I was ready to come and learn beyond what I was expected to learn in advance, hence we made a new category just for me!

Looking around the room, there were participants in all groups and based on our discussions, this is a common situation in most classrooms. Collaboratively setting clear expectations early in the course, revisiting those expectations and getting students active in discussions and groups early in the semester were all ideas generated during the workshop to handle these situations.

Have realistic expectations

Realistically, not every student will come prepared every time but — based on the shared experiences of the group — instructors should continue with their plan and revisit the class expectations to create the learning environment they desire. The result is that students will usually begin to come more prepared and ready to work with their peers. After the workshop I did complete the initial pre-class activity. It only took 15 minutes, got me thinking about the topic and would have been useful to have done before the class. Lesson learned!

Having students work in mixed groups is acceptable as “both underprepared and well-prepared students benefit from group learning, but perhaps for different reasons” (Barkley et al., 2005). Well-prepared students benefit from articulating their knowledge to the underprepared, who in return benefit from explanations from their peers.

Key workshop takeaways

  1. Communicate expectations, get students active with a variety of activities early in the course and be consistent.
  2. Flipped learning does not have to happen every class, but could happen at the beginning of a unit or once a week.
  3. It is important to make sure pre-class, in-class, and post-class activities are linked and support each other.
  4. Keep the pre-class activities short and concise (a five- to 10-minute video, a short reading and a few key questions to get students thinking).

Flipped learning is gaining momentum in higher education and there are many activities to choose from to engage students in a variety of ways. The in-class activities are the opportunity for students to engage deeply with peers and course content. For more ideas on activities that can be done in the class, here is a video of Natasha Kenny, Educational Development Unit Director at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning speaking during the workshop about in-class activities https://mix.office.com/watch/klpsj9149q7r

So, how important is it to complete the pre-class activitites? In short – Very. The pre-class work really did have a purpose and I can say for certain that at times I felt lost and not able to follow the conversation. Next time, I will commit to completing any pre-class work so I can engage at a deeper level during class.


Barkley, E., Cross, P., Major, C. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques: a handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2014). Flipped learning: gateway to student engagement. Eugene, Oregon:ISTE

Patrick Kelly Education Development Unit, Taylor Institute for Teaching & Learning

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