Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Flipped classroom

Teaching innovation: a flipped classroom model

PoliticalScience 553: Intro to Stat Computing, a course given by Professor Sellars that I took this semester, followed a flipped classroom model. Basically, this model inverts the traditional pedagogic order that goes from classroom to homework. Within the flipped classroom framework, course materials and assignments are sent to students days prior to class, so that they can learn on their own paces. In class, the teacher guide student discussions or collaborations, or answer questions. Since the course objective of PS553 is to familiarize students with the basics of statistical computing, application is the key, which means that students need to apply the methods to manipulate and analyze data. Such a course with a heavy emphasis on practice lends itself to the flipped classroom model. Professor Sellars tweaked this model a little bit to fit the course content. Course slides and problem sets were shared on Learn@UW two days in advance to class day. We worked on the problems after reading the slides. On the day we met, we continued playing around with the data to solve problems, and raised questions along the way. Professor Sellars would answer those questions on a one-on-one basis. 

Never taking such a course before, I felt excited about it. I found it fulfilling to work out a problem on my own after reading the slides. Of course, obstacles arose, and sometimes it was frustrating being stuck on a problem that just wouldn’t be fixed. However, when Professor Sellars helped me to figure out the issue, the sense of relief was just as good. Another aspect of this model that I felt benefiting is that it stimulates more learning than the traditional teaching model. I usually found myself clicking on those supplemental links provided at the end of the slides, either out of curiosity or necessity. For example, when I couldn’t find out how to work out a problem based on the materials given, I would go to those links. Sometimes, I also searched for solutions on the Internet on my own.

However, in the second half of the semester when slides stopped coming in because the focus shifted to our own course project and all sorts of other assignments piled up and needed my time investment, the learning momentum screeched to a stop and I almost completely ignored this course. 

After personally experiencing the flipped classroom setting, I think that the success of such a teaching model hinges on students’ own initiatives, as the center of the teaching switches from teacher to students. Therefore, it becomes critical to stimulate students’ interest and incentivize their self-learning. If they are not interested in the course content, it is hard for them to sit themselves down and study course materials on their own, let alone completing homework. Rewarding classroom interactions, where students and teacher exchange ideas, discuss and even debate the issues, could be one important incentive. If students, who enter the classroom with sufficient prerequisite knowledge and preparation, participate in class activities, showcase their learning outcomes, and get their problems solved, they will be further motivated to study and even yearn for more. As a result, a virtuous cycle is formed, immensely improving the learning outcomes. 


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