As the term suggests, a flipped classroom upends the traditional formula for delivering course content. Instead of listening to a lecture during a class period, students work on applying knowledge gleaned from previously shared material, such as a recorded lecture, a video, or written document. A goal of the flipped classroom is to engage students in active learning, wherein they can work on pertinent, well-designed exercises, participate in group work, or explore the implications of concepts raised in the lecture.
Eric Mazur, professor of physics and applied physics at Harvard University, is widely credited with first proposing the main tenets of a flipped classroom during his keynote address at the Association of Learning Technology conference in 2012. Some of the key principles of the flipped classroom, however, have long been features of humanities pedagogy, in which it is common to assign readings of a novel or a historical document as homework and engage with the material at length, in class-wide discussions or small groups. In such scenarios, faculty encourage and guide students in complex, higher order intellectual activities, such as analysis, evaluation, interpretation, and synthesis.
At its heart, a flipped classroom might be best understood as an alternative or supplement to traditional lectures, as class periods become devoted to practicing ideas or applying knowledge first experienced as lecture material outside of class. Derek Bruff describes this in a diagram.
The rationale for the flipped format follows from the premise that a lecture can sometimes promote inactivity in students, who merely perform the role of passive recipients of knowledge. Lectures also seemingly operate in a single mode in which a faculty member expertly transmits the content of a course to an audience of students. By contrast, the flipped format encourages multiple modes of educational inquiry, communication, and exchange.
An advantage of the flipped format is variability of pacing, as engagement with course content can be slowed down or sped up in accord with student comprehension. On a corresponding note, there are ample opportunities within the flipped classroom to gauge students' understanding of course material and intervene accordingly. For example, when a small-group exercise illustrates that a particular concept has proven difficult to understand for multiple students within the class, a faculty member can adjust the pacing so that this "stickier" issue or puzzling concept can be directly addressed.
Designing the Flipped Classroom: Active Learning
The benefits of a flipped format are reliant on the careful consideration and design of in-class activities that correspond to the lecture attended to outside of class. It is incumbent upon faculty implementing a flipped classroom to craft exercises and group activities that align with the learning outcomes of their course. As James Lang writes, "careful and strategic design…matters in the flipped classroom." As a counter example to well-designed group exercises, Lang reports an experience of small-group work from his undergraduate studies: "we had no real task to complete, beyond the vague injunction to discuss the passages; the teacher offered no guidance or supervision while we worked and instead did something inscrutable up at the front of the room; and although a connection may have existed, she did not articulate for us any connection between what we were doing in those group sessions and what we did in our essays or exams."
Clear, detailed instructions for exercises and group work are thus of the utmost importance for the flipped classroom. Attention ought to be paid to indicate the purpose of exercises and to underscore the relevance to the course objectives overall.
Some examples of active learning include student presentations, problem-based learning, group projects, jigsaw technique, and one-minute or five-minute essays.
Another key to the flipped format is to offer incentives for completing lecture before class. Short, low-stakes quizzes and brief, written responses can ensure that students engage with the lecture material and signal the importance faculty place on completing both the lecture and in-class work.
Active Learning (CTL webpage)
Further Reading & Resources:
Bain, Ken, Super Courses: The Future of Teaching and Learning. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021.
Bruff, Derek. “Helping Students Learn: the Flipped Classroom and Peer Instruction.” Licensed Image CC-BY-2.0.
Farmer, Robert. “What Is the Flipped Classroom.” Learning Technology Blog, University of Northampton, 2015, blogs.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/2015/01/16/what-is-the-flipped-classroom. Accessed 11 June 2021.
Lang, James. Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016.