The Promise of the Flipped Classroom in Higher Education

A chemistry lecturer at Ohio State University is tweaking this blended learning model to make classes more interactive and help students learn better.

by / May 27, 2014 0
A senior chemistry lecturer sees potential for deeper discussions and a greater focus on the scientific method with the flipped classroom.
A senior chemistry lecturer at Ohio State University has been flipping his classroom for the past two and a half years, but is looking for ways to make teaching and learning even better with this blended learning model. 
The flipped classroom allows students to learn online and then come to campus to work on projects and practice problems with teachers, according to the Clayton Christensen Institute. As a leader in the university's Digital First initiative to bring more technology into the classroom, Matthew Stoltzfus started his foray into flipped teaching when a student in a journalism class offered to videotape his lectures. After receiving feedback from students, he cut down the video lectures until they were three to five minutes each. 

Flipped classes promote interaction

Now he has students watch shorter videos at home and work out practice problems in guided online tutorials. That frees up class time for deeper discussions, critical thinking and problem-solving. 
"I really think that chemistry is much more than trying to memorize facts; it's interpreting data, making conclusions, making hypothesis," Stoltzfus said. "And the flipped class has allowed me to do that much more effectively."
This method has increased classroom interaction among his approximately 300 students with the help of the student response system Learning Catalytics. Through this system, instructors ask open-ended questions, view student responses by location in the room and send messages to groups of students so they can know which peers they should discuss their answers with. 
Flipping the classroom has also potentially contributed to higher final exam scores compared to other course sections, Stoltzfus said. But he wants to make teaching and learning in the classroom even better by fine-tuning what he's doing. 

Tweaking the model

That fine-tuning process starts with the lecture. The easiest first step to flipping a classroom is putting every lecture online without thinking about what medium a concept is best taught in, Stoltzfus said. However, if research says that in-person lectures are not effective, then the same is true of online lectures.
That's led him to think about matching each concept with mediums that work well for that concept, such as simulations, demonstrations and math problems. Stoltzfus also wants to analyze final exam results to see which concepts he can work on teaching better. And then he would like to see students start creating content to teach these concepts themselves.  
In addition to these three overarching goals, Stoltzfus is pondering how to emphasize the scientific method of identifying a problem, gathering evidence and proposing a hypothesis. Much of the thought process that students go through is lost in a traditional teaching model, and he hopes to bring it back.
One option he has considered is to show a video of a chemical reaction and have students make a prediction, hypothesis and theory about it. Then he'll look at their comments, highlight a number of them in class and talk about the thought process behind them.

Where to start flipping your classroom

For instructors who are considering trying the flipped classroom method, Stoltzfus recommends changing step by step rather than all at once. If instructors are nervous about technology or are thinking about how to improve their instruction, he suggests starting with a topic or concept that students generally don't understand based on final exam scores. 

By starting with a topic that students already struggle with, there's less of a risk of adversely affecting their learning, Stoltzfus said. "If we change our instruction, we don't have to completely hurt students because they're not doing well in the method they started."
Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.