Project Spotlight

Real-Time Classroom Feedback Enhances Flipped Learning at Temple College

Terry Austin, an instructor of anatomy and physiology at Temple College in Texas, has boosted student retention rates in his classes — and he attributes part of that success to the real-time feedback system he's using in his flipped classroom.

flipped classroom
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Clicking Off

Austin teaches both online and face-to-face courses, and he's an avid user of technology inside and outside the classroom. About 12 years ago, he started using classroom clickers to solicit feedback from students and conduct mini-assessments, so he could keep tabs on how well they were understanding his lectures and adjust his explanations on the fly. But he was frustrated by some of the limitations of the clickers: They could only be used to assess student learning inside the classroom and they could support only multiple choice or extremely short answer questions.

About three years ago, during a get-together with a colleague from Ohio State, Austin learned about another classroom response system, called Learning Catalytics, that enabled instructors to ask a variety of question types and that was Web-based, so students could use it anywhere they had an Web-enabled device. Austin is a faculty adviser for Pearson Education, so when Pearson acquired Learning Catalytics in April 2013, the company asked him if he would be interested in trying it out. He started using it almost immediately, one semester before the company made it generally available in January 2014.

Flipping On

Today Austin teaches several online courses, as well as one face-to-face course that he describes as a hybrid between an online and traditional course. "It's not 100 percent flipped, but a significant portion of the class is flipped," he said. His students watch short lecture videos at home, and then they log on to Learning Catalytics to answer a few questions about the concept covered in the video lecture. When the students return to class the next day, they get together in small groups to discuss the same questions and submit group answers. "It makes for some really interesting discussions," said Austin.

Austin can see each student's individual and group answers to the questions, and he uses that information to guide his instruction on tough concepts. "For the typical instructor, chances are really good that they have no idea whether the students have read the chapter before they start talking," said Austin. "I do. I know that they've read the chapter. I know that they have a good understanding. I know they've talked about it with their cohorts in the classroom."

Learning Catalytics has five different "session modalities," including the team-based assessment, clicker-like multiple-choice questions and an image upload question, which Austin calls the "lab scavenger hunt question," where he asks the students to find an object, such as a specific bone from a disassembled skeleton, and send him photo of it with their smartphone.

Austin also uses Learning Catalytics' classroom intelligence system, which lets him keep tabs on how well students are understanding his lectures while he's talking. "There's a red line, like a heart monitor in a hospital, but in this case you want a flat line because that means everything's good," said Austin. "If a student doesn't understand something I've said, they push a button on their device, and that little red line jumps up on my screen. It's called a reaction graph, but I've renamed it the 'wave of confusion.' When I see that wave rise, I know there's a problem, so I'll stop what I'm saying and change the explanation."

According to Austin, the system works better than requiring students to raise their hand in class and ask a question because they don't have to be risk embarrassment by saying, "I don't get it." When Austin sees the 'wave of confusion' rise, he revises his explanation of the concept he was covering when the wave rose. If students still don't understand, they can click a link to send him a private message.

Blending for Success

Austin appreciates being able to know whether his students are understanding and being able to ask them questions "either in the middle of a traditional lecture, or when they're studying at home looking at a video," he said. "I know they get it, they know that they get it, and the administrators are happy because they're seeing the students participating in active learning."

At the end of Austin's first semester with Learning Catalytics and within minutes of submitting his students' final grades, he got a personal phone call from his department chair who wanted to know how Austin had managed an 84 percent retention rate, with most of the students succeeding in the course. "It's because I keep them busy, and I keep them informed all of the time," said Austin. "They know where they stand. I know where they stand. And they're succeeding because of it."

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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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