Friday, March 22, 2013

The Flipped Classroom by Dana Gerber

Flipped Classroom
Infographic created by Knewton and Column Five Media

(Another infographic about this model can be found at This one addresses some of the concerns about this model, but I think the accompanied article addresses the concerns well.)

I am a graduate student enrolled in one of first “flipped” course at UW Madison's School of Library and Information Studies. Professor Kristin Eschenfelder decided to try out this educational innovation for the Spring 2013 class of LIS 751: Database Design. From experience, I can report that this course design has been enormously successful in a variety of ways: workload for both professor and student feels enormously decreased, the pre-recorded lectures are an asset for understanding materials, and classroom engagement is highly active and helpful.

According to Educause LearningInitiative, “There is no single model for the flipped classroom – the term is widely used to describe almost any class structure that provides prerecorded lectures followed by in-class exercises.” The main idea is a simple one that can be augmented for most classroom needs.

Our Databases class follows the basic foundation with a few changes. Professor Eschenfelder loads up slides with audio attached that we watch at home. She also creates a discussion forum for every unit using Learn@UW. During the week, students post their questions about difficult material or technical issues. We're encouraged to document our issues using Jing, which makes it much easier for others to identify the problem.

Our workbook is just a set of questions that pertain to each unit. We are given a few of the questions in the workbook to try out ourselves before we get to class. We aren't required to get anything correct yet – if we turn in our attempt by 9am the day of class, we're given 1 point. Then, we meet up for class, where we spend the majority of the time working through the questions together. We usually do so in small teams and then come together as a class to go over possible answers. If we finish the workbook early, Eschenfelder introduces a new concept so we're familiar before the next unit.

While both student and professor still have work to do, it often feels more playful. The professor glances over our assignment before class to see where we're struggling, but after class she is receiving corrected homework since we all did it together. She has more time to individually respond to questions we may have. As a student, I get to learn at my own pace, often rewinding the lectures, but master the concepts through hands-on group work. I always have the lectures on hand if I can't remember a concept or want to study before a quiz. Lastly, and most importantly, the entire class is alert and engaged. Students are encouraged to talk to each other and to help each other. The professor moves around class, answering questions as needed. We get to commiserate together on difficult subject material. We also get to have lots of eyes on our work in case we're missing a comma in our query, instead of spending frustrating hours alone late into the night.

As part of this flipped class experiment, I can say that the new model isn't complicated, but intuitive. It makes sense. More importantly, the material makes sense too. I am not in school for computer science at all; I am taking a class outside my comfort zone, yet I feel like I have a good handle on all of the material. I feel ready to go out into the workplace. This model respects our lack of time while still respecting the need for us to learn something. Overall, I'm glad that Professor Eschenfelder wanted to try this format out, because I don't think I would have learned as much without it. My time is valued, the tuition I am spending is worth it, and I'll be leaving class with a great foundation. 

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