Flipped Learning

Flipped Classes Continue Evolving at Stanford and Harvard

Instructors at two universities on opposite sides of the country, both with extensive experience in flipped learning, are continuing to tweak the model, according to articles recently published in their respective student newspapers. In flipped learning lecture is typically delivered through pre-recorded lectures that students watch before coming to class; then class time is dedicated to other activities.

Harvard University has been holding "active learning" lunches for faculty interested in flipping their courses. An article by student reporters C. Ramsey Fahs and Daniel Wood reported an increase by faculty in the flipped model, as well as "logistical challenges and student concerns."

For their part, students have expressed concern about workload. "We are now asking students to do all the readings and watch the lectures at home and then come to class. And in order for the flipped class to be successful, students need to attend class," noted Dustin Tingley, a government professor and vice provost for the Advances in Learning Research Group. That position is new, having been created through a merger of two research arms, the one in the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching and the other in HarvardX, the institution's MOOC division.

Tingley also pointed to the amount of work required for faculty to create videos of their lectures. Referring to those lectures produced for edX, Tingley called it a "huge time investment."

Following experimentation at Stanford by two faculty members, one computer science course taught in the flipped model has evolved into a hybrid approach. As described in an article by Hannah Knowles, "Introduction to Computer Networking" was flipped in fall 2012. Instructors Philip Levis, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Nick McKeown, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, found that students remembered more from the class and had a "deeper understanding" of the topic of networking. However, after some students said they missed in-class explanations, the instructors modified their approach.

Currently, students must attend class on Tuesdays, which encompass "exercises and guest speakers." However, Thursday classes, which offer traditional lectures to review concepts from the videos and other online materials, are optional.

That smaller class size, said Levis, has made the live lecture "more intimate," wrote Knowles.

Stanford professor Bruce Clemens also flipped his course, "Solar Cells, Fuel Cells and Batteries," in 2012. But last year, he reverted to traditional teaching.

The materials science and engineering professor found that too many students weren't watching the lectures before coming to class. "So they'd come to these problem sessions, and they weren't prepared, so they wasted a lot of time figuring out how to work the problem," he told Knowles. "There was some resentment among people who did do the background work — to have to nurse along people who hadn't prepared."

The instructor said he might try a hybrid approach next year, giving students the option of watching videos or doing readings, perhaps with credit attached, but then bringing them together for problem solving.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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