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Long-Term Learning Gains Remain Elusive with Flipped Model

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The flipped learning model doesn't necessarily work in the long term, according to an experiment at West Point. Researchers at the United States Military Academy found that the use of "flipped courses" generated short-term gains in one subject and had no impact in another. However, the researchers reported, the flipped model "broadened the achievement gap" over time. The research project was undertaken by faculty at West Point and Tufts University.

The project, reported in a working paper published by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, used a flipped model in which students learn material by watching videos before class and then participate in "more in-depth" discussions and the "application of the concepts" during class.

The researchers tested out the efficacy of flipped learning in a fall 2016 randomized controlled trial involving two required core courses at West Point: Introduction to Calculus (for freshmen) and Principals of Economics (for sophomores). "Both courses require extensive problem-solving, a common attribute of flipped classroom courses. They also lend themselves well to consistent grading to provide an objective measurement of student learning," the researchers explained.

Course sections were randomly assigned to standard lectures (the control group), where students sat through lectures and solved problems outside of class, or flipped classrooms (the treatment group), where the content in the lectures was presented through 20-minute videos (the same ones for every section) and students worked on interactive problem-solving during class. All 29 instructors for the two courses participated, and each of them taught at least one flipped and one traditional class. Math made up a larger portion of the sample with 20 instructors and 852 students; nine instructors and 476 students in economics participated.

The researchers found that the flipped classroom approach "produced a strong positive short-term effect" in math and no impact at all for economics. However, students who were female, black or Hispanic or who had lower baseline academic performance (as measured by their ACT scores) didn't see gains in math from this approach; the gains there were "driven by white, male and higher achieving students."

As the paper stated, "The flipped classroom has a 69 percent larger white-black or Hispanic achievement gap relative to the standard lecture and it exacerbates the difference between students who scored in the top and bottom ACT quartile by 23 percent." And while the average effects may have faded "by the course final," the achievement gaps remained.

Also, the researchers noted, flipped didn't work as well in those classes led by instructors who preferred the standard lecture approach. In other words, flipped success varied by "subject, student characteristics and teacher motivation" for the model.

Their conclusion: Tread carefully. "The exacerbation of the achievement gap, the fade-out of effects and the different effects by subject suggest that educators should exercise caution when considering the flipped classroom," the researchers wrote.

The working paper is openly available on the Annenberg Institute website.

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 [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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