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Reverse Instruction – A Tale Of Two Students and Active Skill Learning

by Kelly Walsh on December 18, 2011

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A look at the learning science behind flipping the classroom, through the lens of a fictional tale.

Last week we were introduced to Kieran Mathieson and the CoreDogs approach to the flipped classroom. This week we further explore the resources Mathieson has made available through CoreDogs, and how to leverage Reverse Instruction techniques to improve student learning outcomes.

The CoreDogs site logo (modified), reproduced with permission

Kieran has produced a variety of media to help to introduce and explain CoreDogs and the advantages of the flipped classroom, such as this video, “Teaching Web Stuff is Hard”. Another fun way in which Mathieson has introduced these ideas is through a story titled, “A Tale Of Two Students”, in which fictional university students Mike and Eric take the same “Web100” Web Development course with two different professors who use very different approaches to instruction.

While the tale is fictional, it is firmly grounded in Mathieson’s successful utilization of reverse instruction and what he has observed while employing the technique. In it, he offers insights into the learning science that informs the successful outcomes that flipping the classroom can help to produce.

Fictional instructor “Prof. Ishenul” uses the traditional lecture-based approach to delivering course content, using a standard, robust (i.e. lengthy and large) text book from an academic publisher. In contrast, “Prof E. Fective” uses on enhanced online textbook that covers the core concepts of web development in depth, and is organized around tasks, rather than specific technology concepts. Professor Fective’s course is blended, or “hybrid” - combining online learning and exercises with face-to-face classroom time that focuses on reinforcing the content learned by working through assignments and helping students understand material that challenges them.

The following excerpt from an interview section in the story provides a sense of the shortcomings that can sometimes come with traditional lecture based course delivery:

Ann: How did the course go this semester?
Mike: Not good. The professor went so fast, it was hard to keep up. His examples were complicated. I didn’t understand them.

Ann: Did you read the book before class?
Mike: Sometimes. But there was too much to read. Maybe 50 pages per class. Usually, I only had time to skim. When I did read, there was so much going on that I got confused.

Ann: How about the projects?
Mike: People goofed off. Jim, on my team, left all the work to the rest of us. I didn’t want to grade him low on participation, because we’re going to be in other classes together.

Ann: Did Jim learn much?
Mike: No, but he got a good grade. He pulled all-nighters before the exams. I don’t think he remembers much now, though. Don’t ask him to make a Web site for you!

Ann: Do you know how to make a Web site?
Mike: I hate to say it, but no. I know some HTML tags and stuff, but I don’t know how to use them to build a site. Maybe I’m just not cut out for this.

In contrast, these excerpts from an interview with fictional student Eric give a sense of how the flipped classroom approach can be quite challenging, but highly effective:

Ann: How was WEB 100?
Eric: Tough. More work than I expected. Stuff to turn in every week. You had to keep up.

Ann: Ever get frustrated?
Eric: (Laughs) All the time. Making good Web pages isn’t as easy as it looks. When you use the Web, you don’t see all the work that goes into a good site. You have to think about goals. You have to learn how to find bugs and fix them. The HTML and stuff are only part of it.

Ann: What about the class itself? The textbook and such. Was that OK?
Eric: … The class was mostly online, easy to fit in my schedule… the thing that stressed me was that I had to do a lot of exercises. It helped being able to meet Prof. Fective in person. We could sit down and go over something.

Ann: Anything you particularly liked about the course?
Eric: Yes, I did like making my own site, the eMe. It’s pretty good. You can check it out. It’s at http://erictawney.com. Oh, and CoreDogs was the cheapest textbook I’ve ever had. Some profs make me spend ten times what I spent on CoreDogs, for books I hardly used.

The story goes on to provide further insights into the theory and benefits of reverse instruction. The following edited content from “A Tale Of Two Students” is intended to convey some of the ideas shared there, and whet the reader’s appetite to click over to the CoreDogs web site and learn more!

Active Skill Learning
Research in the learning sciences suggests that the traditional approach has significant limitations, and the frustrations expressed by student “Mike” are common with the traditional model. Prof F. used a different approach, combining features of deep learning, outcome-based learning, and active learning. Let’s call it Active Skill Learning (ASL).

ASL courses are designed around learning outcomes. The author/instructor identifies skills students should possess by the end of the course, and then works backwards. Only material that helps meet course outcomes is included in the course. CoreDogs is a good example of outcome-based learning. Each chapter is about a task, like “Creating a Web page with text.” The chapter covers only the HTML tags and CSS rules that help with that task, and nothing more.

Traditional publishers don’t design textbooks around outcomes, instead they attempt to cover every topic that professors might think important. The result is that so many topics are included that few if any can be covered in depth. The course is “a mile wide and one inch deep.” Students only have time to learn facts, they don’t really have time to learn how to apply what they’ve learned.

Combining Summative And Formative Learning
Researchers often contrast “summative” and “formative” learning assessment and feedback. Summative feedback is separate from learning, with the goal of measuring how much students have learned in the recent past, versus formative assessment, in which students submit work, and get feedback about what could be improved. Students are then able to correct and resubmit their work. Summative and formative feedback can work best when used together. Formative feedback to help learning, and summative measures to assess student achievement. However, many professors only give summative feedback.

ASL makes heavy use of formative feedback. Students complete exercises every week, and submit them through the ASL software. Instructors assess the work, and ask for improvements. Students can change their solutions, and resubmit. The cycle continues until the grader is satisfied, and the student then gets a completion badge or other grade or ‘award’ for the exercise.

Wrapping Up
“A Tale Of Two Students” also discusses Deep Learning and Metacognition in the context of ASL and reverse instruction, and all these discussions are more in depth and informative than what we’ve summarized here, so please click over and give it a read.

Kieran Mathieson is currently working on creating the site flippedtextbook.com, where teachers can create their flipped classroom content. We look forward to sharing more about this as the site evolves.

In closing, you know the drill … we love to hear about your experiences with this topic, so please comment and share you thoughts, experiences, or questions. Thanks!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Succeeding With Reverse Instruction – One Instructor’s Inspired Approach
7 Stories From Educators About Teaching In The Flipped Classroom
The Khan Academy (offering 1100+ free tutorial videos)

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer, and an adjunct faculty member, at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Class Workshop in a Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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