Flipping the Classroom


For the most part, the classroom learning experience on traditional college campuses has remained relatively the same for the past century. Of course, there have been lots of technological advances to help professors, but in most classrooms it’s the Sage on the Stage – the faculty member lectures and students listen and take notes.

But in an age of ubiquitous wireless devices on campuses, professors are competing for the attention of students in class more than ever. To improve student learning in the future, the pedagogical foundation of some classrooms will need to change.

One interesting concept that has received a lot of attention recently is Flipping the Classroom. The underlying premise is that students review information outside of class through videos or other materials, and the in-class time is reserved for debate, discussion, and review of specific concepts.

What’s so new about that, you might ask, given students have been reviewing materials for generations before class. Sure, they have, but the idea behind Flipping the Classroom is that technology, such as the Khan Academy and iTunesU, makes this easier to achieve. I’ve talked with several college professors, department chairs, and deans who have succeeded in making this change to several courses over the last year and here are some of their initial findings:

  • Student resistance. Students may say they Facebook in class because the professor is not interesting, but give them an alternative format and they’re likely to resist. Departments that didn’t advertise in advance that a particular course would be taught in this new fashion faced several course sessions of skeptical students. But eventually the students who stuck it out reported in evaluations that they enjoyed the class more than any other in their college career.
  • Makes students more accountable. My reaction to this idea when I first heard about it last spring was that it replaced real teaching. I’ve also been in plenty of classrooms where it’s obvious the students didn’t do any of the assigned readings. But professors who have tried this method say that students are actually better prepared for class because the materials are more engaging and they know that the class will be structured around the information assigned in advance.
  • Not ideal for all disciplines. Some disciplines, math and economics in particular, are better suited for this type of teaching than others. Innovation in teaching should be encouraged, but a one-size-fits-all approach across the entire university is just as bad as keeping outdated teaching methods in place.

Making such a sweeping pedagogical change is not easy on any campus, but creating a more innovative teaching environment might be a magnet to attract students in the future and help them improve their learning in classes.