post about lecturing, and I have a theory about why the flipped classroom is suddenly in vogue (besides providing fodder for Ed.D. theses). I realized that in my college physics classes I got the benefits of both the lecture and the flipped classroom. Physics I met FIVE hours per week: four lecture hours (standard for my college, which was on the quarter system) plus one mandatory discussion section led by the professor, where we had to be prepared because at any time we could be called to the blackboard to demonstrate a problem. Lab was an additional 2.75 hours. In Physics II and III the mandatory discussion section disappeared, but the work was challenging and I joined a study group to stay on top of it. On our own, my study group did exactly what science students do in a flipped classroom: work together to solve problems. The lectures and textbooks were also essential and I doubt we'd have made much progress without them.
Fast forward to today, where the flipped classroom is all the rage at my university. The edu-research seems to show that flipped classrooms produce the best "learning outcomes" (can't believe I just used that phrase). Is that just because students don't do homework for their traditional lecture classes? I'm sure students are more likely to read their books and/or watch preparatory videos if they know they will have to do actual graded work in class. Certainly the threat of low section grades, to say nothing of public humiliation, forced me and most of my Physics I classmates to be extra-diligent. Maybe the only way to get the students to work problems is to make them do it in the classroom panopticon.
What bugs me, though, is that all of the benefits of the flipped classroom are available in traditional lecture courses. There are plenty of rooms at the library that study groups can reserve if their dorms are inadequate. Our department has a help center staffed by grad students that's open 30 hours per week. The students can read the textbook, listen attentively to a thoughtful lecture, and then work on their own or with a group to put their new knowledge into practice, getting guidance from the help center as necessary. Needs initiative and responsibility on the students' part, but no administrative hand-wringing.
(On a side note, I'm not convinced that science faculty are pushing the flipping fad, as Molly Worthen suggests. I think most of my colleagues would prefer that students know something before they get in the lab with hazardous chemicals or dangerous equipment. We give them a lot of the required background knowledge in our lectures, supplemented by the textbook and the lab manual.)