Flipped Classroom | Project Spotlight

Missouri State U Improves Learning Outcomes With Flipped Course

Missouri State University (MSU) has implemented a flipped classroom model for its Introductory Psychology course, resulting in dramatic improvements in student learning outcomes and course completion rates.

Challenge

In 2010, four-year public higher education institutions throughout the state of Missouri embarked on an initiative of academic collaboration and course transformation to improve student learning outcomes and reduce costs. As part of this initiative, each institution committed to redesigning one large enrollment course with academic problems such as poor learning outcomes or high DFW rates (rates of students earning grades of D or F or withdrawing from the course).

In collaboration with the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT), the universities engaged in a competitive process to determine which schools would redesign which courses. The competitive process was intended to ensure that each university redesigned a different course — creating a pool of redesigned courses that universities could potentially share with each other.

MSU was selected to redesign its Introductory Psychology course, with the goal of resolving a number of problems:

  • Modest student learning outcomes, with approximately 30 percent improvement between pre-test and post-test scores for the course;
  • A DFW rate around 24 percent; and
  • Significant "course drift," with up to 18 sections a year taught by many different faculty members using different textbooks and vastly differing syllabi.

Solution

The faculty members in the MSU psychology department developed the redesign plan. "We did a lot of reading of the literature and we knew pedagogically we wanted to break this course down and start over," said Danae Hudson, associate professor of psychology. That reading led them to select a flipped classroom model. "We really wanted that kind of model for our class, where we basically had to force the students to be engaged with the material because prior to this they weren't," she said.

Hudson thinks the term "scrambled class" better fits the model of MSU's redesigned Intro Psych class. "We're flipped in that we assign homework and technology-based activities, so [students] have to do their online work before coming to class, and then in class we're able to focus more on activities, demonstrations and some lecture. But it's very much activity-based because they've actually done the work prior to coming to class and they're familiar with the content," said Hudson.

A team of five faculty members worked through the summer to select a publisher for the redesigned course. "We invited every big publisher to come in and give us a presentation that summer, and we had a list of about 30 different attributes that we would take into consideration," said Hudson. Some of those criteria included individualized feedback on student performance, an individualized learning approach and high-quality interactive PowerPoint presentations. "We wanted technology that was going to give us the ability to go in before class and get data on how the students were doing — what concepts they were understanding or struggling with — so we could use that information to tailor our class the next day," said Hudson. "In the end, it was unanimous that Pearson was the way to go for us," said Hudson.

Part of the transformation to the flipped classroom model involved implementing MyPsychLab, an online homework, tutorial and assessment tool from Pearson. MyPsychLab provides individualized student data for instructors and individualized learning for students, two of the main criteria on the department's wish list. "I can see how much time students are spending in MyPsychLab. I can see how many attempts they've made on their post-test and a lot of other information that's useful for me as an instructor," said Hudson. The tool also lets instructors assign a study plan for students. "They take a pre-test, and based on their score it generates an individualized study plan for them so they don't have to spend time working on concepts they already understand," said Hudson.

Implementation

MSU worked closely with Pearson to customize the textbook, MyPsychLab software and study plan. "We have customized almost everything we can customize to make it exactly what we want," said Hudson. "We had some very clear ideas on what we wanted to do, and as a result, it has actually changed many aspects of MyPsychLab itself because Pearson has pushed some of our changes out to everyone."

MyPsychLab is hosted on Pearson's server and integrated with MSU's Blackboard learning management system. Students purchase the textbook, which includes an access code for MyPsychLab. They can access MyPsychLab through Blackboard, and instructors can transfer grades from MyPsychLab to Blackboard.

MSU ran its first pilot section of the revamped course in the spring of 2012 and then spent the summer fixing the inevitable little glitches before rolling out the full implementation in the fall of 2012. According to Hudson, they've been refining it ever since. "We really have standardized the class," said Hudson. "Now we have a team of Introductory Psychology instructors, and we do everything as a team. We have a standard syllabus that everybody has contributed to creating, so no one feels like they're just being told what to do, and we have weekly team meetings. We feel like there's a lot of consistency in the course now and I think students appreciate that."

Results

The course transformation has paid off with improved student learning outcomes and reduced DFW rates. According to Hudson, Introductory Psychology students used to average about a 30 percent improvement in scores from the pre-test to the post-test, but over the past four semesters of the redesigned course, those scores now average 76 percent improvement. "We have more than doubled our improvement in learning outcomes and significantly reduced our DFW rate. It used to be around 24 percent and this last semester we were down to 18.2 percent, which is a significant reduction, and this is a much more rigorous course now" said Hudson. "When you think about it in terms of dollars and retention, that's pretty significant."

According to Hudson, response to the redesigned course has been positive. "We've had a lot of great response from colleagues about what we've done to the class and the kind of outcomes we've achieved," she said. "Students love the course. They understand that engaging with the material in this way has really helped them to learn and ultimately perform better on exams."

Hudson thinks the flipped classroom model has helped her as an instructor, too. "I feel like I'm freed up from the content," said Hudson. "I don't feel like I'm tied to going through the content in class because I can check MyPsychLab to see what content the students are understanding and what they've already mastered and where I need to put my focus and my energy for that class time together."

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About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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