Screencasts for a Flipped Classroom ~ ASSETT TwT Group

Last Updated: 05/30/2013

Description of the problem, idea or opportunity

What I observed in the classroom when I used to give traditional lectures consisted of a short period of unrest at the beginning of the class (while students get settled in) a short period of focus and apparent understanding (probably less than 20 minutes), followed by a general loss of interest (evidenced by lack of eye contact, fidgeting, and other distracting activities throughout the classroom). At that point it feels like a waste of time for all parties involved.
The “flipped classroom” approach was conceptualized in part due the ineffectiveness of traditional lectures, an opinion that recently appears to be more generally accepted. While the idea itself is not new, technologies developed in the last several years have made the implementation of a flipped classroom more accessible and probably more effective. Examples of such technologies include class social networking (such as D2L), formative assessments using daily quizzes on reading material or other course content that are due shortly prior to class time (i.e., Just in Time Teaching), and screencasts. While I have experimented with reading quizzes and other Just in Time approaches, I have had difficulty implementing the strategy in a consistent and effective manner.
I have had better success using screencasts outside the classroom. Screencasts are short 5-10 minute videos commonly prepared on a tablet PC that introduce material, formally describe complex derivations, and work example problems that are more sophisticated than ones that can be effectively solved during a class period. My desire is to prepare these short videos a day or two in advance of class and somehow incentivize students to watch them in preparation for planned in-class activities, which may include clicker questions, problem solving, demonstrations, and individualized support to students. Class time would not consist of lecturing to any extent.

Description of how it has changed over time

To date, I have implemented screencasts in Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer, and am beginning to create and implement them in Fluid Mechanics. I had originally used them as a means to recover from mistakes I made in lecture, but their popularity with students took off, and I began using them more regularly, showing formal derivations, worked example problems, and tips and tricks for doing the homework assignments. I am currently interested in making more extensive use of this technology by providing more of my own screencasts on D2L and aggregating similar screencasts from other sources, such as learncheme.com.

Description of factors that make it compelling now

For me, the time is ripe for exploring the use of screencasts. Tablet technology has advanced to the extent that writing on them is nearly the same as writing on paper. Recording and editing videos is very straightforward, and publishing them to YouTube or other locations such as Vimeo is very easy.

Additionally, it seems that recent student cohorts are more amenable to non-traditional classes, as instructors have been increasingly embracing alternatives to a straight 50 or 75 minute lecture. Somewhat surprising to me, much of the feedback I’ve found from students regarding alternatives to lecture had been remarkably positive. Students rarely comment that they would prefer a traditional in-class lecture.

Implications for not solving or addressing it

I think much would be lost if this strategy wasn’t more thoroughly implemented in the near future. In my typical class period, I make extensive use of clicker questions to emphasize course concepts (and to promote discussion and avoid lecture), but I feel there is a disconnect between my typical class period and what is expected of students when they are working on their homework assignments or taking exams. I also don’t believe students are reading the textbook very thoroughly prior to class, either because they are short on time or don’t see the benefits of reading the material. My hope and belief is that students will be much more interested in watching short screencasts prior to class. Moreover, functions on D2L and YouTube allow me to view which students have watched a particular video, and also view the typical retention rate for that video (the time at which they stopped the video, re-watched a part, or skipped to another section). Using these tools I hope to prepare more effective screencasts that are actually watched by the majority of students for their full durations, complementing other in-class activities.