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Assessing the Flipped Classroom's Impact on Learning

Four California professors have been awarded a three-year NSF grant to study how the flipped model benefits students.

The flipped classroom model is becoming more popular, but does it increase learning and retention? Four Harvey Mudd College (CA) professors have been awarded a three-year, $199,544 National Science Foundation grant to study that question.

Engineering professor Nancy Lape, chemistry professor Karl Haushalter and mathematics professors Rachel Levy and Darryl Yong all piloted the flipped model during the 2012-2013 academic year. Now, they plan to scientifically study and quantify their results. Campus Technology asked them a few questions about their study, and they responded together via e-mail.

What kinds of flipped classroom activities or options are you and colleagues are studying with your research?

The activities vary by subject and course, but we all are interested having a positive impact on learning, retention and transfer. In mathematics courses in differential equations, we want to focus on mathematical modeling and how to help students identify and correct their own misconceptions. We also engage students with both the procedure-oriented solution methods and the mathematical theory that underlies these methods through problems designed to promote discovery and conversation.

In the engineering course, we are also focusing on correcting misconceptions and working on "ill-formed problems" (problems that mimic real-world challenges and require more complex thinking and grappling with the problem statement, information available and solution methods than a typical homework problem). The majority of the in-class work occurs in small groups, although students are encouraged to set up problems individually before discussing the problems with their teams.

Does some of it involve technology use in the classroom, such as student response systems?

In the engineering course, we use iClickers in the "traditional" active learning section, but not in the inverted section. The inverted section is entirely no-tech (with the exception of a tablet for showing problem solutions).

In the mathematics course, we don't use special response systems. We do have students present problems at the board, work in groups and share ideas.

How will you analyze and measure the impact of flipping on student performance?

We are using a variety of measures to get at students' learning outcomes, metacognitive skills, and attitudes. We are using some content-area assessments both before and after the course. We use post-course student surveys to get a better understanding of students' metacognitive skills (how they think about thinking and learning) and attitudes toward learning. The thermodynamics assessment in the engineering course and the affective portion of the student survey for all of the courses include published instruments.

On your campus are there any examples of flipping in humanities subjects?

A large proportion of humanities subjects already operate in what might be called a "flipped" manner: Students read texts outside of class and discussion takes place during class. We're not aware of anyone in humanities at Harvey Mudd College recording lectures for viewing outside of class.

What lessons have you learned about what works best in the classroom as far as student engagement?

It's clear to us that students love active learning (and research shows it is the most effective method of instruction). They prefer doing something interesting instead of hearing about something interesting in the classroom. Not only is student engagement higher, but we also get more formative assessment on what students are understanding, which helps us plan instruction better.

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Innovation and Government Technology.

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