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Distance Learning | Viewpoint

Flipping To Adapt to Multiple Learning Styles at Minnesota State University

When Associate Professor and Chemical Education Researcher Danaè Quirk Dorr noticed a correlation between student learning styles and achievement in her large organic chemistry course, she decided to flip her classroom and crunch the numbers to see if there was a better way to reach all her students.

Danaè Quirk Dorr
Danaè Quirk Dorr is an associate professor of chemistry and co-chair of the Extended Learning Sub-Meet and Confer Committee at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She is actively conducting research within the field of chemical education with special focus on student learning styles in various learning environments.

The flipped classroom model has become one of the hottest topics in the higher education space in recent years thanks to improvements in technology and an overall change in scholarly mindset. About a year ago, after screencasting recorded lectures for a few years prior, I began experimenting with the flipped classroom model with my chemistry students at Minnesota State University, Mankato. It was then that I realized, and proved with statistical significance, that implementing the flipped classroom model could not only benefit me as a professor of the sciences, but it could also help me adapt my classes to the various learning styles that exist among my students. I haven't looked back since.

The Discovery
For many years, the four learning styles--practical, logical, imaginative, and enthusiastic--and how they affect students have been a fascination of mine. As someone whose primary focus is to pass on knowledge to others, I am constantly aware of these learning styles and how they can be used to generate better learning results and retention of course material. In fact, I had been working on a research project with a colleague at my university over the past few years that examined how traditional classroom teaching methods affected particular learning styles and thus test scores on the American Chemical Society (ACS) standardized exam. It was no surprise when we determined that the traditional teaching method only proved successful for particular learning styles, those typically classified as logical and practical learners, leaving the imaginative and enthusiastic learners with significantly lower test scores.

So how is it possible to adapt my teaching to each one of my students' personal patterns of acquiring information, especially when a lecture hall can be filled with more than 100 individuals?

By flipping the classroom.

The Flipped Classroom
The flipped classroom model can be defined as a form of blended learning that uses a combination of technology and traditional methods to provide students with lecture-specific instruction outside of class to leave time for a more interactive, group learning experience inside the brick-and-mortar classroom.

A few years ago, I began recording my lectures when McGraw-Hill Education made its lecture capture solution, Tegrity, available through Connect, a Web-based assignment and assessment platform that I had already incorporated into my lesson plans. When I first heard about the flipped classroom model, I was ahead of the game as I had most of my lectures already recorded through Tegrity. I went on to research more about this teaching model and I began my fully flipped implementation experiment. As a result, I discovered its ability to personalize learning at a much deeper level because it caters to all four known learning styles.

In My 'Classroom'
I'll admit, I had doubts before I dove head first into the flipped classroom model. Would my students come to class? Would they like the format? Would it help them be successful?

But my doubts diminished after the first unit quiz, which was about a month into the semester. Based on my experience in the traditional classroom, I usually expect an average of 70 percent for the first quiz. In the flipped class, the average on the first quiz was 76 percent.

Here's how I formatted my five-credit, organic chemistry/biochemistry flipped course with a lab:

  • Reduced the amount of face-to-face lecture and class time by 50 percent by meeting for two hours instead of four hours per week;
  • Reorganized use of the lab time, which was limited to two hours per week, by instructing students to prepare for lab via recorded Tegrity lectures and pre-lab quizzes in Connect prior to class time as they were given one hour to complete the experiment and one hour to finish questions to be submitted for grading before leaving;
  • Emailed students at the beginning of each week to instruct them how to prepare for upcoming face-to-face class times by focusing their viewing of the recorded Tegrity lectures on the specific chapter and by completing interactive assignments through Connect, and disclosed the activities that would be occurring in class;
  • During face-to-face class time, instead of lecturing via one-way communication, I utilized clickers to poll students about the topics they'd most like to review to receive their feedback and immediate participation;
  • Based on the students' poll, the class was given interactive activities that also catered to their different learning styles which included anything from worksheets that could be completed alone to group tasks that reiterated the concepts the students collectively needed the most help on; and
  • Throughout class time, I made myself available for two-way communication to interact with the students on a more personal level when needed.

The Power of Flipping
I am very satisfied with the flipped classroom model I implemented. Using my existing digital resources, I was able to effectively target my students in such a way that their achievement was no longer tied to being lucky enough to fall within a specific learning style.

After the semester was complete, I analyzed data collected from my chemistry students who participated in the flipped model and compared it to the research findings of my original work with the traditional classroom. My analysis focused on correlations between student learning styles and the ACS exam scores. The most profound findings showed that student success in the chemistry flipped course showed a statistically significant correlation with completing the interactive problems in Connect and to reviewing recorded lectures.

Additionally, through my data analysis, I found that the flipped classroom model proved effective across all learning styles when examining test scores compared to the traditional method. In the traditional classroom, there were significant differences in the ACS exam scores based on learning style. Based on my traditional classroom data (n=74 students), the enthusiastic and imaginative learners scored lower than the logical and practical learners on both exams. Conversely, there was no statistically significant difference between ACS exam scores when sorted by learning styles in the flipped course (n=91 students). In the traditional classroom, the practical learners scored nearly 10 percent higher than the enthusiastic learners on both exams. Although in the flipped classroom, the practical learners scored slightly higher (3 percent) than enthusiastic learners, it was not statistically significant. With this flipped model, it is clear that my students were able to use effective tools that complement their learning styles to help them learn and ultimately be successful when assessed.

As such, a student in the flipped course stated, "I really enjoyed the format of this course. It allowed me to study in the way that I found best for myself, I could work at my own pace (while still having deadlines), and I was not stuck in a lecture for multiple hours every day."

In my flipped course, the digital tools empowered my students with varying learning styles to learn and perform at their own pace, while still collaborating with their peers, to ultimately succeed at a high level on their quizzes and the ACS standardized exam. Students singled out the benefits of using Tegrity, which allowed them to review exactly what they needed to review, when they needed to review it, thanks to its indexing system. They also didn't simply watch the recordings passively--they took notes and solved the problems presented within the recordings. Many of them noted that in my lecture recordings, I answered their questions even before they asked them.

Another great example of how the flipped classroom model allows for flexibility and adaptation to various learning styles was demonstrated by how various students prepared for the first organic chemistry unit quiz of the semester. Students with the imaginative learning style spent more time viewing the recorded lectures than their peers, and students with an enthusiastic learning style spent significantly less time viewing the recorded lectures than their peers. Despite this, there was no significant difference in ACS exam grades between the students' levels of achievement, regardless of learning style or preferred method of preparation.

Overall and most importantly, I found my students to be very engaged and active learners throughout the semester. I believe giving students the responsibility and flexibility to use non-class time to prepare for a more interactive and collaborative face-to-face class experience has proven to be beneficial for all parties involved.

The Future of the Flipped Classroom
After my semester using the flipped classroom model, I don't anticipate that I will return to a traditional classroom approach to teaching. Reworking my instructional plan and leveraging McGraw-Hill Education's Connect and Tegrity made the flipped model work for my course. Despite the initial risks involved in the decision to flip this large chemistry course, this model has proven to be successful, ultimately aiding in an overall increase in student ACS exam scores. I have already seen the popularity and growth of flipping on my Minnesota State University, Mankato campus and I can only imagine its expansion on campuses worldwide as more and more students and faculty begin sharing its successes. As one student in my flipped course explained, "I thought the course was very informational and I learned more than I thought I had the ability to learn in one course. I loved the online component and would highly recommend this type of course to potential chemistry students."

Extra Credit

Though the achievement gains across learning styles in Dorr's chemistry course may be impressive, no study of a single course, no matter how rigorous, can be generalized to other classes, subjects, schools, instructors, or students. With that understanding and in the interests of transparency and further study, Quirk Dorr has provided additional information on possible confounding factors in her flipped classroom research below.

Rationale and Confounding Factors:
  • n=74 (traditional) and n=91 (flipped) are still good comparisons, despite the difference in sample size. In a large classroom or lecture hall environment, the 17 person difference is not as noticeable as in a smaller class size; 
  • For the traditional classroom, our room was relatively flat with only 7 rows for students to sit in; In the flipped classroom, we had a large tiered lecture hall with about 13 rows for students to sit in;
  • Each group included only fall semester data;
  • The data that I have representing the traditional group was essentially the same for several semesters, though I'm only comparing one semester of traditional results to one semester of flipped flipped results;
  • The traditional class was 88 percent female, whereas the flipped class was only 66 percent female;
  • In both classrooms, only two percent of the students reported that they had not previously taken a chemistry course. Of those who had taken a chemistry course before, 27 percent of the students in the flipped course and 35 percent of the students in the traditional course reported that their most recent chemistry course was high school chemistry;
  • The largest difference in demographics between the two classes was that in the traditional classroom, 20 percent of the students were first-year students, 41 percent were second-year students, and 26 percent were third-year students and in the flipped classroom, 10 percent of the students were first-year students, 47 percent were second-year students, and 31 percent were third-year students;
  • Class composition by learning style traditional in the traditional classroom was 30 percent enthusiastic, 18 percent imaginitive, 21 percent practical, and 31 percent logical, versus 40 percent enthusiastic, 14 percent imaginitive, 18 percent practical, and 28 percent logical in the flipped class; and
  • The learning materials available to the student were the same, except for Connect and Tegrity.


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