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Research: Flipped Learning Improves How Students Perceive Ability To Learn Physics

A long-term study by faculty within five Canadian and American institutions has found that physics students have more confidence in their ability to understand course content when reflective study is combined with collaborative activities in a flipped classroom form.

A recent paper published by Physical Review Journal offers the results of a project that involved nearly a thousand students within two universities in four different physics courses. The goal was to examine whether students' epistemological beliefs could become "more expertlike" with the right interventions — and reduce their anxiety about taking science classes.

Using an experimental design, data from student interviews, writing product assessments, and the "Discipline Focused Epistemological Beliefs Questionnaire" (DFEBQ), the researchers found that student self-perceptions changed in two of four of the DFEBQ factors. DFEBQ provides a means for measuring four areas of belief: certainty of knowledge, justification for knowledge, source of knowledge and attainability of truth.

"It has been shown that in typical physics classes, students' beliefs about their own learning deteriorate or at best stay the same. I want to reverse that result," explained Calvin Kalman, principal researcher and a professor in the Department of Physics at Concordia University, in a press release about the project. "This study shows that if you combine a meta-cognitive activity with an interactive activity, students can better hone their thinking abilities for that course."

In this case students who were part of the experimental group were expected to engage in reflective writing, a meta-cognitive activity, before class in order to express in their own words what various textbook concepts meant, how they connected to concepts in other chapters and how they pertained to personal experiences. A control group of students performed summary writing, simply recapping what the textbook covered. Then when both groups came to class, they did collaborative work with fellow students and instructors in the lab.

As students struggle to understand material on their own, they may come to the wrong conclusions, Kalman pointed out. But uncovering the truth in a collaborative setting can help improve their understanding, as well as their approach to learning.

"I want instructors to move away from relying solely on the traditional lecture method," he added. "Instead, I envision what is called a 'flipped classroom,' where students try to understand concepts before coming to class, and then have an opportunity to explore these concepts in the class alongside their peers, and with the guidance of a teacher."

The results indicated that students who experienced the full suite of activities "become more expertlike after the one-semester intervention, beginning to see physics knowledge as interconnected and evolving, which can be better learned by relating the material to their prior knowledge and their life experience," the researchers concluded. "Students who experienced summary writing did not experience such a change." Specifically, the experimental group became more expertlike in certainty of knowledge and source of knowledge.

Other researchers in the project came from Mount Royal University, the University of Calgary, the University of California, Riverside and McGill University.

The research report is available on the Physical Review Journal Web site.

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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