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Flipping Lifts Learning Outcomes in Science Course

A five-year experiment among students taking an upper-level undergraduate science course found that the flipped and active model improved student outcomes, particularly among females and students with lower grade point averages. The research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Yale University suggested that the better outcomes were a result "in part [of] students interacting with course material in a more timely and accurate manner."

The results were reported in the December 21, 2015 issue of CBE Life Sciences Education.

In the experiment, the researchers studied student exam results from a one-semester course required for all students pursuing majors in biochemistry, molecular biology and chemistry at U Mass over a five-year period. The course was offered in a "traditional" format for the first three years and in a flipped version for the last two years. Throughout that time the course used the same online homework for students to practice problem-solving and the same online, interactive textbook.

The standard-format course met for three 50-minute sessions each week. Lecture material was presented with PowerPoint slides and the presentation was recorded and made available to students online within 24 hours.

The flipped course met either for one 75-min session each week or for two 50-minute sessions. A week before class students were given access to prerecorded lectures, each broken into five- to 20-minute chunks. Since viewing the lectures carried no credit, students chose whether or not to watch them. The flipped courses also used more active learning in the classroom. For the 75-minute sessions those were primarily in the form of "peer–peer think–pair–share activities," clicker responses and example problems that students worked through during class. In the twice-weekly 50-minute sessions, the class would use team-based learning, in which groups of five to eight students would team up through the semester and work through in-class problems and other assignments.

The researchers found that students given most of the course content outside of the classroom scored 12 percent higher on tests than their counterparts in more traditional classes. Also, the study reported, women demonstrated a greater benefit from the flipped classroom on exam scores than men. The standard classes showed a consistent four to five percentage point difference between male and female students; there were "smaller gender differences" on exam scores within the flipped class than when the flipped approach was compared to the standard lecture approach.

Also, students with lower GPAs in the flipped courses showed greater improvement in online homework problems in the weeks immediately before the exam than students with higher GPAs and better exam scores in the flipped- vs. standard-course modes.

Both outcomes, suggested the researchers, may point to the "fundamental strength of the flipped classroom": the use of a "wider variety of learning tools that allow [students] to better exploit their learning styles."

However, noted the report, all students benefited. As David Gross, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at U Mass explained, the flipped model "engages everyone more; we get more interaction."

Of course, a flipped and active class "can be really noisy and chaotic," he added. "But what we see is students will fairly readily come to us and ask more questions than in a traditional class."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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