Flipping to enhance student engagement: Lessons learnt Downunder

karanicolas-sophie-slider-01I recently had the pleasure of meeting colleagues from the Taylor Institute of Teaching and Learning, on the grounds of the snow covered and yet sunny University of Calgary. As a visiting scholar from the University of Adelaide in South Australia, I ran a flipped classroom workshop for my Canadian colleagues.  I soon found out that some faculty were flipping in creative and innovative ways whilst others were struggling with just how this flipped model could actually work in their discipline. What stood out however, was the goodwill and the willingness that everyone shared in discussing their experiences in an open and frank manner. So in the spirit of true flipping there was a buzz in the openly lit and contemporary learning space of the TI classroom, with vibrant debate, problem solving, collaboration and creative discussion. The workshop belonged to the staff at Calgary University and I was their acting as their conduit, helping my ‘students’ bring their innovative and contextualised flipped plans into life. This is what true flipped learning is all about, handing over the learning to the students so that they can engage in meaningful learning.

But what was my contribution in all of this? One could say that I had very little to do with the way that colleagues materialised their flipped classroom plans.  Herein lies the main misconception about flipping, that the teacher has very little input into the students’ learning apart from pre-recording lectures for students to listen to in advance of the face to face. Policy makers themselves may view flipped learning as a cost effective method of education, supposedly because the students are meant to do all of the learning by themselves. The truth is that flipped learning requires a teacher to spend a great deal of their time rethinking the way that they teach. Flipped learning teachers transform into architects of learning through careful planning to orchestrate learning and engage their students.

The term ‘flipping’ could also lend itself to sounding somewhat flippant. I have heard faculty being concerned that flipped learning is about ‘dumbing down’ academic standards. In fact, it is quite the contrary. True flipped classrooms are capable of turning everything you ever thought about teaching upside down. Educational commentators have always promoted the importance of instructional design by starting with the end point, assessment, and then design the learning backwards. Scaffolding student learning in the flipped classroom is all about this constructive alignment. Aligning learning outcomes and assessment to pre-class, in-class and post class activities. It is about being mindful of cognitive overload that hinders the students’ ability to engage in deep and meaningful ways. It is about the teacher being explicit in how they facilitate and nurture the development of self-regulated learners with the future skills they will need as graduates and professionals in an ever changing workplace.

In my experiences of using the flipped classroom approach with my oral health students at the University of Adelaide since 2008, I found that the most effective way to design flipped classrooms is to work in teams, just like we expect our students to do. Cathy Snelling, my oral health colleague and Allan Carrington a very passionate academic developer were my first critical friends. Allan, then bought his own critical friend an educational researcher, Ian Green who provided the expertise we needed to evaluate our early flipped classes.  I didn’t realise it then, but I belonged to my first Flipped Classroom Community of Practice (CoP). Discovering the effectiveness of working with colleagues to advance my own teaching practices that enhanced student engagement, I jumped at the opportunity to facilitate a Flipped Classroom Community of Practice at the University of Adelaide. In 2016 this CoP consists of 35 cross disciplinary academics and academic developers, where we peer review each other’s flipped classroom designs and engage in scholarly activity.  We ensure that our flipped classroom model, based on constructive alignment is robust and peer reviewed. To facilitate this constructive alignment our Community of Practice members have developed a flipped classroom design template that helps teachers in the design of their flipped classes. This template allows for a diversity of approaches and interpretations that are necessary for flipping to work in different educational and professional contexts.

I have also been fortunate to co-lead an Australian national Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) flipped classroom research project, with the aim of building teachers’ capacity to translate the flipped classroom concept into effective classroom practice. Having now worked with over 400 faculty members across Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada, we have collaboratively developed a set of peer reviewed principles that guide the planning, implementation and evaluation of flipped classrooms. These principles include:

  • Careful linkage of all learning segments (pre-class, in-class and post-class) to learning outcomes and assessment. Examples of how this in enacted can be accessed on our Flipped Classroom
  • Pre-class activities need to focus on remembering and understanding the topic’s key concepts. Activities need to be succinct and interactive to motivate and engage students to complete the assigned pre-class work.
  • Be mindful of cognitive overload which impedes student engagement. Embed interactivity in all learning segments, pre-class, in-class and post class.

A wonderful instructional design model, the Café Tool Kit  developed by colleagues at the Southern Cross University here in Queensland, provides a stepwise approach to managing cognitive overload.

  • Feedback loops – embedded interactivity from the pre-class activity sets the tone for student engagement through feedback mechanisms that help students monitor their understanding.
  • Student Induction – This is a crucial aspect of flipped learning. Teachers need to explain the reason why this method of learning is adopted, the initial challenges that students may face and strategies they could use to overcome these.
  • Explicit Instructions – Students need to know how and when the pre-class activities will be undertaken and provide them with a due date for completion. Release the pre-class at least a week before the scheduled class session.
  • Teacher and student accountability – Make learning count. Students will engage in pre-class activities when they see that the teacher responds to emerging learning issues that are addressed in class.
  • Make learning relevant and interactive – In-class and post class activities need to be contextualised. When students attend the class session, learning activities must provide students with opportunities to analyse and apply the pre-class key concepts to authentic and real world situations. This will highlight the relevance of what they are learning to their future graduate contexts.

More of this information can be accessed on our website and I am always happy to collaborate and work with colleagues on their flipped plans. Please feel free to email me on sophie.karanicolas@adelaide.edu.au

Please don’t forget to find your own critical friends, especially from the very talented staff at the TITL who are so willing to support and assist faculty. Also, don’t attempt to flip everything all at once, remember that ‘from little things big things grow’.

Finally, I would like to sincerely thank Lynn Taylor, the Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning), Natasha Kenny, Director of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, all the wonderful TITL staff and colleagues who attended my flipped classroom workshop. Everyone made me feel so welcomed during my stay on the beautiful campus of the University of Calgary.

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