Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Flipping success and student workload

I used Screencast-OMatic back
in the goon old days, when it was
called BigWordsGoUpOnnaScreen.
I was trolling through the archive, as one does after a summer mostly away from the office, and stumbled on Cassandra's link to this article.

I agree with the author that "flipped classrooms" can work just as well or better for "non-elite" students. In addition, flipping my course has mostly solved my homework and student preparation problem.

I teach developmental writing entirely in a flipped format: the lectures are PowerPoints that I record myself lecturing on using Screencast-o-matic (yes, it is a terrible name, but it is free), I use supplemental videos, including large parts of Schoolhouse Rock from Youtube, and they are required to read the chapter(s) in the textbook, which are actually really well put together. Overall, I think that out of class my students are spending about 2-3 hours on preparation (mostly the writing I make them do) per class session. This is in a compressed 8 week semester, so it feels about right to me.

My first semester doing this was fairly crazy, but the students liked the videos, and while I often went over concepts in class as well, for the most part the in-class portion of class was working through examples and exercises.

Last semester, I started them on "Cornell Notes" which are actually more of a worksheet. They answer questions related to vocabulary, terminology, or concepts from the chapter. They MUST turn in these Cornell Notes to get participation points, and I tell them that they may use them on the final exam. 

This scaffolding actually helped a great deal. Students could not claim they did not know what a conjunctive adverb was: it was right there in their notes. The notes became working documents which scaffolded the in-class exercises. 

I've only had a few students who claimed not to have either technology or time to do the readings; in both cases, they did not stay in or pass the class. Students now come up with a plan on how to watch the videos and do the reading as their first assignment, and based on the notes I'm getting, the out of class preparation is largely happening.

In class time becomes for working in groups or one-on-one; it is very much student centered active learning. I have small classes, which helps, but often with students with learning difficulties, language issues, or a profound lack of previous education.

It is, in some ways, more work for me. I grade the Cornell Notes, and I had to record all the video lectures. But my pass rate has continued to go up, and they are better writers than when I started.

I don't lecture in class, and no one (including me) misses it. Has anyone else in the Misery tried flipping a course or single class? How's that working out for you?

-- Madame Librarian


  1. I've never really understood what a "flipped" classroom was. I assign a reading. Students are supposed to read it so well that they can discuss it the next day. Isn't that the same thing? Or is it that there are video lectures? I rarely lecture, so I don't know what good that would do (or how students would ask timely questions). I guess I'm just not hip to the lingo, as the kids say these days.

    1. I think that is, indeed, the key -- to flip a classroom, you need to be spending significant in-classroom time on lecture (or some related sort of direct instruction). If the main focus of classroom activity is already some sort of active/inquiry-based learning (and that, basically, is what discussion is -- the instructor provides questions, and the students propose answers, and evidence to support those answers, and perhaps even, in a really well-conducted discussion class, begin learning to come up with useful questions themselves), then the classroom can't be flipped, or perhaps was already flipped (because the direct instruction was taking place outside the classroom, via reading, or because the class was already centered on inquiry-based/active learning, outside as well as inside the classroom).

      For the reasons above, I don't see any way to flip my (occasional) literature classes, or the comp classes I teach (which are inquiry-based, with a very little bit of written direct instruction). I can definitely see why flipping a developmental writing class could work, because there's probably more information to be conveyed (though I suspect there are more inquiry-based ways to teach developmental comp as well; still, when you're working with students who are underprepared, there's something to be said for simply providing the information that, for one reason or another, they're lacking).

    2. I agree: I'm often giving them the rules to things like commas that they didn't get at an earlier point. I haven't figured out how to teach punctuation in inquiry based learning. Any ideas are welcome.

  2. Yeah, "flipped" writing classes are hard to do if the writing isn't done outside of class.

    So many of my students would never read, write, or do the prep necessary for the class. How can I build off of that if they don't arrive prepared?

    Several times I tried just giving a mini-lecture of like 10 minutes and then having them write in class. The engaged students did just as well there as they did with any assignment; the disengaged remained disengaged. And grumbled a lot. You see, their ill-preparedness is, was, and shall always be their instructor's fault.

    - Anon y Mouse

    1. I did have some students at first that did not do the reading and viewing, but these days most (but not all) of my students do the preparation. I'm not sure why mine do, and yours do not. It may be because very few of my students are being pushed by parents to go to college, but rather have chosen to come back to school: they are aware that this is a choice. I also am fairly ruthless when it comes to letting the silence linger. If not one can answer the question, we wait expectantly. After five minutes, I tell them the page they need to look at in the textbook, and ask again. After a few of these, the majority of the class gets their act together because I will not spoon feed them after the lecture and supporting materials. I'll explain something that people are stuck on, but they better have the answers when I ask.

  3. It sounds like this approach is working well for your class, which is what counts (higher pass rates and better writing are pretty positive metrics in anybody's book). As mentioned above, I haven't tried flipping, because I don't do much lecturing/in-class information transfer anyway. I'm glad the students are finding/taking the time to do the work; it sounds like you've given them the right set of incentives/support (and yes, more scaffolding for the students always seems to add up to more grading for the teacher). And yes, screencast-o-matic works quite well. I've used it, and have had my online students use it for class presentations. We've now mostly moved on to Kaltura (integrated w/ Blackholeboard on my campus), but I still consider s-o-m a backup.

    I also still have parts of Schoolhouse Rock running through my head from a very, very long time ago. What works, works.

  4. I do more group problem solving each semester. I find the students enjoying it more than lecture, I get to talk for a few seconds with a stusent one-on-one th are having trouble, and the students are aurprisingly good at staying on task.

  5. I do a lot of flipped classroom kinds of activities in my intro physics and astronomy courses. I have assigned reading before class, with online pre-lecture questions based on the reading, that they are required to do before class. Then during class time I'll spend about 10 minutes reminding them of the main points of the reading and the rest of the time is spent on the dreaded clicker questions with discussions and group problem solving. I find that it is more work for me, but also less boring and the students seem to be getting more out of it, based on the trends in their grades and pre/post testing over the semesters since I've started doing it this way.