University encouraging flipped classes for fall

The push is part of the University’s eLearning initiatives.
July 24, 2013

Colleges and universities around the country have begun adopting new ways to use technology in education, and the University of Minnesota is no exception.

Part of that shift is the implementation of flipped classrooms — courses that reverse the traditional lecture model with the use of pre-recorded lectures and online student forums.

Many University professors are experimenting with the flipped classroom model, and in the coming year, even more courses are set to be flipped.

“There has really been a dramatic uptick on the part of faculty that is almost a renaissance of thinking about how to teach better, and how to use new tools, that is more aggressive than it was before,” said chemistry professor Chris Cramer, who served as the faculty liaison for the University’s Office of eLearning and taught a flipped course last year.

In flipped classrooms, professors record and post lectures online for students to view outside of class. During normal class time, students generally participate in group work, hands-on activities and class discussions.

The flipped classrooms are in line with goals that Karen Hanson, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, laid out in February for the University’s eLearning initiatives, which include redesigning programs to integrate online components into courses.

As part of that initiative, the Office of eLearning has been working with several other University offices to help professors looking to flip a class, said Bob Rubinyi, director of the office of eLearning.

The Center for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Information Technology and the University Libraries have been collaborating with professors and administrators to provide support for faculty members who want to integrate new technology into the classroom.

“We’ve all been trying to work together over the last six months to create more wraparound support for faculty that want support in eLearning,” Rubinyi said, “so they don’t have to go to many different places for help.”

Flipped classes at the University

Though faculty members aren’t required to take up the eLearning initiative, many professors, including Cramer, have elected to. 

After teaching a flipped course last year, Cramer was also one of five professors to offer the University’s first massive open online courses, or MOOCs, this summer, an experience that he said prepared him to flip his second course this fall.

“[The MOOC] was more work than I expected, but it was pretty rewarding,” he said. “The student feedback was phenomenal, and it really helped me learn the subject better.”

Now, Cramer can take some of the content he created for the MOOC, like recorded lectures, and use it for a flipped class at the University, he said.

But professors can face drawbacks when creating flipped classes. When associate professor Michelle Driessen flipped one of her chemistry classes, she had to figure out how to engage with the large number of students who enrolled.

“I was assigned to teach 350 students,” she said. “But the largest active learning classroom holds [fewer] students.”

Her solution was to split the class into three sections that each met once a week for 50 minutes in a Science Teaching and Student Services active learning classroom. Because students only attended class for one session a week, she said, it was important they stay engaged during class time and listened to lectures at home.

“I think once students start to get used to the idea of maybe learning a little bit differently … they enjoy the flipped classroom,” she said. “But I don’t know if a lot of the freshmen I teach are prepared for that.”

Like Driessen, Cramer said he’s received mixed reviews for his flipped class.

“You get baked by at least a few students that say they want you to lecture more,” he said.

Jessica Wyatt, a chemistry freshman, said it’s unrealistic for professors to expect students to learn from videos at home.

“Flipped classrooms at the [University] are really obnoxious,” she said, “because you don’t get the lecture-style learning that you’re looking forward to when you go to college.”

On the other side of the spectrum, graduate student Kelsey Brown said a flipped classroom format would be attractive to her.

“[Flipped classes] would give students a lot more time to ask questions and already get familiar with the material so they can delve deeper into the [subject],” she said.

Though Driessen said creating flipped classes takes more work than preparing for a traditional lecture course, she still plans to flip a more advanced chemistry class in the spring because of positive feedback she got from students in her current flipped course.

“I feel like I’m here to put students in the best situation possible for them to learn and for me to teach,” she said. “So if it is more work for me, I guess that’s my job.”

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