Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

Context matters in discussions of flipped classes

Posted by Melissa on January 29, 2014

Today, between dealing with a bunch of departmental business and reading for the Carleton English Department Tristram Shandy marathon, I was able to drop in on a local learning community lunchtime discussion of flipping the classroom. This learning community is planned by fabulous members of our IT and library staff, and I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. One of the interesting topics that came up is whether the expression “flipping the classroom”, as it is usually employed, gives a misguided impression of what goes on in classes at small liberal arts colleges.

Often when people hear about “flipping the classroom” they hear about putting recorded lectures on-line for students to view outside of class, with class time then being used for group work, problem-solving activities, and discussions. At a place like Carleton, even without flipping the classroom, much class time is already filled with group work, problem solving activities, and discussions. So if classrooms are already interactive, what does flipping the classroom mean in a Carleton context? I don’t recall who first articulated the idea in our discussion (not me — comment if you deserve the credit) that at a place like Carleton we aren’t using technology to get rid of long boring lectures during class time, but rather we are using technology to optimize the face-to-face, interactive classes that we already have. In our context, flipping allows us to make classroom activities richer and aimed more particularly at places where members of a class are stumbling. Perhaps, such nuance doesn’t matter in the big picture conversation, but it is a distinction worth making when engaging with folks who are skeptical that technology has much to contribute to the small liberal arts college classroom.

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2 Responses to “Context matters in discussions of flipped classes”

  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist said

    I think this is a really important thing to talk about. When I gave up on lecture, it was because I recognized how much I felt like I was wasting the precious time I had with students. If I was just reading the book to them, what a waste! So I prioritized all the things I knew needed to be done and figured out which should be done with me present and which could be done outside of class. All of it was to figure out how to affect the students’ learning in the most positive way. I think you’re right that it’s often couched as “put lectures on video, do homework in class” but, in my experience, then the focus is on the videos. When I talk about it now, it’s always about the coolest things you could do in the classroom. It sounds like Carleton is ahead of the curve with instructors really using the class time in great ways. Probably, in that light, you don’t need to use the phrase “flip the class,” though it’s interesting that you’re having workshops about it.

    • Melissa said

      Andy, I think one of the things that is interesting is how science has traditionally not done a good job of expecting students to prepare ahead of time. Although students have had textbooks, faculty haven’t (or at least not in my experience when I was a student) expected students to use those texts ahead of time, and then faculty basically read the textbook during class. Literature classes, on the other hand, have always expected you to do the reading before class so that you can engage during class time. It’s an interesting disciplinary difference.

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