Flipped Classroom Successes in Higher Education

by Kelly Walsh on January 6, 2013


Colleges and University Professors are Improving Learning Outcomes, and Lowering Costs, with Flipped Classroom Techniques.

Last year I took my advocacy of the flipped classroom ‘on tour’ with presentations at colleges and conferences across the U.S. I also developed and delivered an online workshop about how to get started with ‘the flip’, which seemed to be a great learning experience for all involved (including me!). I believe that this is one of the most powerful approaches to leveraging technology in an instructional context to come along since the world started “going digital”. This year I will continue this focus, with an expanded online work shop (to be offered several times over the year) and an ebook on the topic that I hope to publish by March. Today I kick off the new year by sharing a number of stories about higher education institutions and professors leveraging this technology successfully.

Shoreline Community College Improving Grades with ‘the Flip’
Guy Hamilton heads the biotechnology program at Shoreline community college. A snowstorm a couple years ago prompted him to try some new software that would let him record his lectures and post them online. Students loved it and as he graded the next set of final exams he gave, he discovered that students performed about 15 to 20% better than the norm. That was all it took – Hamilton now records all his lectures and spends class time having group discussions and solving problems.

This format is especially effective for working adults who don’t have the same type of time availability that traditional students do. Being able to watch these devices at home on the computer or mobile devices is particularly helpful (of course this is also a huge help for the traditional student as well).

Ann Garnsey-Harter is Director of Shoreline’s virtual college and e-learning support services and explains that Shoreline faculty have been expanding their use of this type of software (the specific application(s) is use were not referenced in the source article), and while many teachers may not be aware that flipping the classroom is a growing educational trend, they’re simply doing it because it makes sense. Students love being able to, “go back and listen again to what was said” in a lecture, as many times as they want.

The Flip Energizes Computation Fluid Dynamics Course
The scene in Assistant Professor Lorena Barba’s Computation Fluid Dynamics Course is not what one might expect in a Boston University graduate level science course. After having flipped the course by posting videos of lectures online for home study, she now uses class time to guide highly interactive, collaborative problem-solving sessions that clarify concepts presented in the lecture.

Instructor Barba explains, “The challenge of the flipped model, I have found, is designing the class activities by which the students are led to discover the important concepts, and explain them to each other. During these activities, the instructor can walk among the students giving them personalized attention, sometimes giving a tip or asking a question.”

For Barba’s students, the flipped classroom has engaged them and deepened their command of the subject matter. “Watching condensed versions of traditional lectures at home allows me to reinforce the concepts demonstrated in class without sacrificing the ability to ask questions of Professor Barba or my classmates,” said Brad Garner, a student pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. “The biggest upside to the ‘flipped classroom’ concept is that it provides a structured platform for peer-to-peer learning; every class is like a study group,” added Andrew Wixom, a first-year PhD student in mechanical engineering. “In our class, everyone helps out and the coding projects feel almost like a collaborative effort.”

Flipping the Chemistry Lab at Western Washington U. Addresses Budget Constraints
Steven Emory is the Director of Advanced Materials Science and Engineering Center at Western Washington University where he is also a professor of chemistry. While working to address budget constraints he and colleagues realized that some of their labs could be done on computer and that this could result in significant savings. These were labs that were basically about “mixing stuff in a beaker” and there was not much to do in terms of chemistry, and turning them into online tools would enable them to add things like animations that showed how molecules were interacting during electrical productivity experiment. Once the labs were flipped, students could spend as much time as they wanted on them so if they struggled they didn’t have to feel pressured to complete them in the two hours normally available in regular lab class.

Over time, Emory and his colleagues converted about half of their labs into virtual labs, which was clearly a win in terms of saving the college money. He remains “cautiously optimistic” about how helpful the solution is from an educational outcomes perspective, and has seen some clear gains.

Hybrid Approach Incorporates the Flip In Statistics Class
Ken Frank teaches a statistics class at At Michigan State University, with a hybrid approach. Frank has used lecture capture equipment to record his classroom lectures and then post them online so his students can access them anytime. Now, in a typical class, Frank lectures first and then during the second part of the class he has students work on lab exercises or conduct review sessions on their own or in small groups to make sure they understand the material. He also gives students case studies and asks them to solve problems using statistical software. If students get stuck during any of this class work, they can review his video lectures.

During these review sessions and labs, students are learning cooperatively, and socially. “You use technology for social learning and social opportunities,” Frank says. “When three people watch a video and one student says, ‘I don’t understand what he says.’ Another student can say, ‘I think what he means is this …'”

Washington State University Facilitates Large Core Classes With Flipped Techniques
Virtual course delivery also helped to address challenges at Washington State, where enrollments in a core speech class far exceeded the size of their largest lecture hall. To work around this constraint, WSU made the course lectures available online, and made physical attendance optional. Online quizzes and a requirement that students deliver their speeches via computer expanded on the digital nature of the course, helping to make it more relevant to today’s communication demands.

All the examples above attest to the power of flipped course techniques. While this article focuses on higher education, flipped course tools and techniques are being applied in high schools, middle schools, and at the K-5 level. Additionally, this approach can work in all academic subject areas, and you can start small and scale up as desired. Check out our “Reverse Instruction Tools And Techniques” article series to learn more and get started with your own flipped course content!

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Is Reverse Instruction Education Technology’s Perfect Storm?
Add Voice Over to PowerPoint Presentations in 5 Easy Steps
8 Great Reasons to Flip Your Classroom (and 4 of the Wrong Reasons), from Bergmann and Sams


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer and a 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 Classroom 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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