The Flipped Classroom: Student-Teacher Feedback Reply

The best kind of student-teacher feedback is in person. As we all know face-face conversations are the core of any good relationship. However technology can be used to supplement face-face meetings. Sometimes it can be very helpful to obtain online feedback from students. By having feedback occurring outside of class not only can time can be saved in the classroom but the teacher can get important information about student’s understanding of the material before walking into class.

One way of obtaining feedback from students is by putting questionnaires online.  I usually associate my questionnaires with the screencasts that I assign students for homework.  After watching the screencasts the students are asked a series of very short questions. The purpose of asking these questions is to determine the student’s level of understanding of the material covered in the screencasts. I got this idea from a Harvard professor of physics, Eric Mazur. He uses questionnaires in conjunction with his teaching technique called peer instruction. I ask several questions for homework from which I expect only very short answers. One question is often a conceptual one which tests students understanding of the concepts but one in which the answer cannot be directly found in the screencast. Another question I ask is for students to list the difficulties that they had understanding the concepts taught in the screencast. This is a very informative question that allows me to look for any patterns of misunderstanding by the students. Since I teach math I often embed a question in the screencast. Therefore I also ask students to write their answer to the embedded question in the questionnaire. These 3 questions allows me to determine what conceptual problems students had understanding the material. Since I can view these answers before I come to class I am able to adjust my lesson depending on the student’s feedback.  This is called just in time teaching.

In order to post these questions online one needs a platform from which to post them. One could use a learning management system such as Moodle (free and open source), Sophia, Blackboard, Schoology, etc. A very popular and easily accessible platform can be found using Google Docs or Office 365. All of these platforms have the ability to easily create and post questionnaires. Just as easily teachers can retrieve student answers.

Questionnaires are not the only way for teachers to get feedback from their students online. Forums, wikis, blogs, email, etc. are also very effective methods. The ability for teachers to obtain feedback from student’s online gives the teacher very important information about the students understanding of the material. Since this feedback is obtained before class the teacher now has the opportunity to reassess what will be taught in class. This leads to more effective and targeted teaching which can lead to deeper understanding of the material by students.


The Flipped Classroom – Teacher-Student Feedback 1

A major purpose of taking the flipped approach to teaching is to create more time in the classroom in order to enable more active learning types of student learning experiences. In addition to off-loading content to the “cloud” one can carve out more time by enabling feedback to happen online. There are different types of feedback: teacher-student, student-teacher and, student-student. Today we will talk about teacher-student feedback


Teacher-Student Feedback


One type teacher-student feedback is grading. In a traditional classroom the student hands in the work to the teacher on paper, the teacher then grades the work and in many cases enters feedback on the paper and then puts a grade at the top of the paper. Grades are often entered into the teacher’s paper grade book. If students want to know all of their grades or their average they have to ask the teacher to look in the grade book.


This type of teacher-student feedback can be moved online. Whether creating your own website using Google sites or using a learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle, Blackboard or Schoology, students can submit assignments by uploading them to the class website. This way no actual paper passes hands. One nice side-effect of using the technique is that assignments are time-stamped. No more can students claim that they handed in an assignment when the teacher says that she does not have it.  Teachers can then grade these assignments online. If the document was created using MS Word, the teacher can use the comment feature to insert comments on the document. This is a much more readable way of writing comments then by writing the comments by hand on a piece of paper. Teachers can also upload this graded document back to the website so that students can retrieve the feedback. In many LMS environments there is an online grade book that fully integrates with the uploaded assignments. The teacher can upload the graded assignment, enter a grade in the same window and even add a summary comment. Once submitted some LMS systems will automatically generate an email to the students (usually this is optional) with their grade and summary comment. Students can then retrieve the graded assignment online.

Moving the entire grading process online saves class time. Teachers do not have to take up class time passing out papers to the students. Students do not have to ask the teachers what their average is or what their grades are.   This class time savings probably amounts to 5 or 10 minutes which is a lot as all of us teachers can attest to. Students have time to digest the feedback before class and teachers can even ask the students to email them with questions regarding their grade rather than taking up class time with questions. Of course, sometimes it is important for teachers to speak directly to the students and this is always an option at the discretion of the teacher especially now that more class time has been saved.

Many teachers immediately cringe at the thought of grading papers online. I maintain that this is just an old (albeit very ingrained habit) and can be broken. For example, I have always read the newspaper over breakfast each morning. I finally broke myself of the habit and now I not only always read the newspaper online but I actually find this an easier way to get the news than constantly fiddling with papers. It took a while but now I actually prefer this way of reading the news. It is nice to keep old habits but wouldn’t it be better to save more time in the classroom for more essential work? Even if the time saved is to field questions on the returned assignments at least now there is more time to do this.

If the goal of the flipped classroom is to create more time in the classroom, why not use other techniques that can save class time. Teacher-student feedback is one place that can be done online. It saves only a small amount of time but as we all know, effectively using time in the classroom is a critical factor to creating a good learning atmosphere.

The Flipped Classroom – Content Reply

The whole purpose of flipping your classroom is to create time so that more active type learning can occur. The teacher creates a screencast that delivers basic information. The content that fills up this class time is not set. What works for one teacher does not work for another.  My math class is 100% collaborative. Students are divided into groups and together they work on projects, look for patterns ,argue, discuss, research etc. Another teacher has a project -based learning class while another has a mastery class. The content of what happens in a flipped classroom is unique to the teacher and the students she teaches.
So often teachers get so up caught up in the videos that they forget that this is all being done for the sake of true learning in the classroom.  There are as many different ways of running a class as there are teachers. Think through your goals for your students. What kind of learning meets their needs?. The answer is very subjective yet it’s  the most important part of the flipped classroom. 
Before considering flipping your class I recommend performing some thought experiments.  Pick a short lecture that you deliver and make believe that you already have a video of this lecture. Keep in mind that the amount of time taken up by a video typically takes two to three times as long to deliver.  Now consider what you will do with  the void of time that you just opened up.  What type of learning do you want your students to experience?  What type of skills do you want them develop?  What type of feedback will be experienced in the classroom. By this I mean teacher-student, student-teacher and student-student  types of feedback. What are the  outcomes from your class? 
Do this for several lessons. Think through carefully what you want to accomplish. If you find yourself getting excited by the prospect of changing the way your students learn then and only then you are ready to begin the  process of flipping your class.
Good  Luck!

The Flipped Classroom – What If? Reply

Now that you have created your screencasts how how do you create a more dynamic classroom environment? I have addressed this in previous posts but one way would be what I call the “what if” approach. In order to get students to think more creatively why not have them think of a “what if” question and then have your students explore the question in depth.  For example, in a math class you might ask your students to explore the graphs of quadratic functions and then come up with a “what if” question. One student might ask “what if” a graph was upside down? What is the quadratic equation that describes this graph? If you are history student studying world war 2 you might ask “what if” the United States did not drop the atom bomb on Japan? How would that have affected the course of the war?

Teachers could also present students with these types of open-ended questions. Questions would be designed to enable the students explore the subject matter deeply and creatively.  This would sharpen the student’s critical thimking and reasoning skills while at the same time have them think like real historians, mathematicians, etc.

The point is that with the time saved by posting lectures online the students will now have more time in class to explore the subject matter in-depth. In addition they can take more responsibility for their learning and develop the critical thinking skills necessary to explore these kinds of open-ended questions.

What,you say? You don’t have the time? “What if” you did?

The Flipped Classroom – End It Now! Reply

The ultimate goal of the flipped classroom is to end it!! Think about it.  The flipped approach to teaching provides time to do more innovative, experiential, discovery-based projects in class. We often post our lectures online so that we have more time to do these kinds of activities in class. I find that I am more and more having students discover concepts in class and using the screencasts to summarize what they have learned. Using this method the screencasts do not actually save class time.  They are still useful for students to review what they have learned.  As I approach the teaching of my classes with a student-centered state of mind, the more I am finding that I want students to figure stuff out for themselves. Even putting lectures online is often giving students too much information. The problem that we all have is that there is just not enough time to have students discover every concept on their own. Even in project-based learning classes there is often a call to post some lectures online to save class time.

The ideal is to kill the flipped classroom. Make it defunct!  End it!  Make it no more! Why put lectures online when there are so many ways students can explore the material on their own?  Unfortunately the reality is that we don’t have enough time in class. We do need the screencasts as a crutch. Until that time when we have the perfect curriculum (ha!), or enough time to do exactly what we want to in class (ha, ha!) we will probably always need ways to save time in class. The flipped classroom is one such approach.


The Flipped Classroom – Spreading Fast Reply

More and more often lately I find references to the flipped classroom, sometimes in the most unlikely places.  Recently I found a few references that I find very interesting:

The new president of Dartmouth has been selected and there was a small article about it in the NY Times. In the fourth paragraph of this article I saw the following:

Information technology, he said, has already “significantly changed everything about the way we live our lives,” and he said he expected that it would be increasingly used to take “moments of passive engagement” — like listening to lectures — and “flip” them, so students spend that time on their own, and reserve class time for interacting with the professor and classmates.

I also saw another article in  Campus Technology that explains about how two community colleges in Massachusetts will be trying out a blended model of instruction that integrates online content from edX.  “edX is a non-profit organization founded by HarvardUniversity and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer massive open online courses, or MOOCs.” What these two schools are doing sounds suspiciously like the flipped classroom model.

Both of these articles are talking about flipping their college level classes using a blended approach.  By using edX as a means to implement the flipped classroom, the Massachusetts community colleges will be able to use online resources as a way to open up time in the classroom to more fully engage the students.

The movement of the flipped classroom to the college level will give more prestige to the flipped classroom model. All us flippers should be watching these developments and use them to help convince administrators in our schools that the flipped classroom  is worth implementing.

The Flipped Classroom – Simplicity Reply

Many people make the mistake of starting something that is too complicated. This same mistake can easily be made when flipping the classroom. First of all teachers should start small. Start flipping with just one class or maybe start with just one topic. Although ideally flipping should start on day one of the academic year, that is the ideal. There is no compelling reason why a teacher can’t try flipping in a particular topic.

Very important is  how one creates the screencasts. There are very sophisticated programs out there that can help one to create and edit a screencast. I would NOT recommend using any of them at first. Start simple. The cloud-based program Screencast-o-matic is a wonderful piece of software to begin creating screencasts. It is simple to use and can be accessed at from any computer. It records all movements on the computer screen within an adjustable rectangle along with audio. If you pay the $12/yr fee you can get the pro version which allows you to save files in screencast-o-matic format for future editing. What I like best is that it also can save your screencast as a video file and you can easily upload your screencast to YouTube as long as you have an account on the youtube site. Screencast-o-matic has very basic and simple editing features that is all most people need.

It is also important that teachers do not feel that they have to make a polished screencast. I have found that it can take 1 hour to make a 10 minute screencast. This includes preparation time. The amount of time devoted to creating a screencast could easily double and triple if you are a perfectionist. That is not the point. When you are lecturing in front of the classroom you are not perfect. It is OK to make mistakes and then immediately correct them. Watch some of the screencasts at the Khan Academy site and you will see what I mean.

Simplicity is the key. Plan your screencasts, use easy software to record them such as screencast-o-matic and don’t be a perfectionist. The place where you want to be most creative is in the classroom. That is the point of the flipped classroom. Devote your time and creative energies to implementing a dynamic, creative and collaborative classroom. That is where all of your efforts will be rewarded.  Good luck!

The Flipped Classroom – How much time is really saved? Reply

One big argument for using the flipped classroom approach to teaching is the time that is saved in the classroom by posting screencasts of lectures online. The time saved in the classroom can be used to create a more collaborative dynamic, creative, discovery-based classroom.  For years I have been trying to figure out how to save significant time in the classroom so I can explore topics in more depth with my students. The flipped classroom was my solution. So the question is how much time is really saved? To be honest, time is not always saved when posting screencasts. If a screencast is posted that summarizes what has been discovered in a discovery lesson, then it is not clear how much  time has been saved. Surely the screencast will help students who need the reinforcement of the concepts that have been uncovered in class. It may help their understanding so that they ask less questions in class and they might ask for less extra help from the teacher and  it might help them to better grasp future concepts. It might even help the teacher to spend less time in class reviewing concepts.  All of this can save class time but it is not clear how much time is saved.

When a screencast is posted of a simple lecture then significant class time can be saved depending on the amount of content covered. The amount of time saved was driven home to me the other day when I forgot to post a link online to the latest screencast that was to be viewed for homework. The screencast was to cover a simple introduction to polynomials. It was a rather long one at 11 minutes. When I realized my mistake I figured that I had no choice but to lecture the class on  the material in order not to lose a day of work. Amazingly what took 11 minutes to cover in the screencast took 25 minutes to cover in class! Creating a screencast is very efficient when you don’t have students asking questions and you are not making the mistakes and digressions that can often happen in class. So forgetting to post the link online cost me not just 11 minutes in class time but 25 minutes ! That is half of our class period. That time could have been better spent reinforcing concepts or conducting discovery-based lesson on graphing polynomial functions.

The bottom line is that by posting lectures online instead of delivering them in class can save significant class time. This savings can translate into having more time to create a dynamic, collaborative learning environment.

The Flipped Classroom – Collaboration Reply

Collaborative learning is an essential feature of the flipped classroom. Students who work together, teach each other, and think creatively together acquire essential life skills. If students are working in groups they have the time and the ability think carefully through a problem. Teaching is the best way of learning and those students who teach others in the group will solidify their own learning while helping others. The educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom reported in a classic study that the average student tutored one-to-one using mastery learning techniques performed better than students who learned the conventional way. Students being tutored by their fellow students and by their teacher should benefit substantially according to this study.

I am continually amazed when I watch my students assisting each other on challenging problems. They are more engrossed in the subject matter than in a traditional lecture. The other day a fellow teacher who is also flipping her class told me that the second she stopped talking to the class as a whole and had them work together in groups, the entire classroom atmosphere changed and became more attentive.

If one of the qualities of a quality classroom is to create an atmosphere that is focused and supportive then the collaborative classroom atmosphere that can be found in many flipped classrooms is the way to go.

The Flipped Classroom – Mix It Up Reply

There is a tendency for people who teach in a flipped classroom to do things in a similar way each day. For example in a math classroom there is a tendency to do a lot of worksheets. It is important for the teacher to have a multiplicity of approaches and to engage the students in the various ways people learn. Students working in an active learning, collaborative environment that is truly student-centered won’t feel bored with the material. This is very hard to do. In my math classroom there are many days where students work on problems together. However, there are equally as many days that students make presentations, work with manipulatives, teach each other, play games, etc. This takes a lot of work and time. I try to plan 1-2 weeks in advance so I have plenty of time to think through new approaches. Not every day is successful but every day should be student-centered. It is also important to have a good grasp of your students weaknesses and strengths so the class can better meet the needs of your students. Most importantly, you must come into each and every class with a student-centered state of mind.