A path to the Flipped institution?

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Flipped classroom practices have been identified as important developments in pedagogy by numerous sector-scanning reports. For example Innovating Pedagogy 2014: Open University Innovation Report (Sharples, et.al 2014),  Horizon Report 2014: Higher Education Edition (NMC 2014) and Horizon Report 2015: Higher Education edition (NMC 2015). This has also been reflected at our institution, with lecturers across the faculties developing experience in the practice, and faculty management expressing a desire to expand its use in response to reported pedagogical and student experience benefits.

Greenwich Connect, in partnership with academic staff, has developed a Community of Practice to foster the sharing of experience, practice and ideas across the University and Partner Colleges (in alignment with our strategic aims). We have delivered a number of training sessions around Flipped Classroom approaches. These have focused on topics such as:

A) Key Principles of Flipped Classroom

B) Exploration of tools (facilitated as a joint effort between Greenwich Connect, the Development & Communications Team and the Web Services Team)

The attendance of these workshop exceeded our expectations and we ended up organising more sessions. There are also a number of workshops planned for next term.

As in all flipped classroom sessions the participants of workshops were asked to engage with a list of resources (blogs, websites, articles, case studies, info graphics, etc) to give them some theoretical grounding and prepare them for discussions. (Example  instructions can be found here).

The discussions were superb during these workshops, and below I would like to share the main themes that summarise them.

1. Students perception and setting expectations

Despite the fact that there are many discussions and evidence about the extents and nature of students’ digital literacy, it is still crucial to have a chat about the expectations a lecturer may have from students when flipping a class. Students have different backgrounds (social and educational) and they therefore need the clarification from lecturers what this ‘flipping’ is all about and what is expected of them. Some students may not be able intuitively to understand: (a) why, all of a sudden, their lectures are delivered online prior the face to face session; (b) why they are required to engage with such material and any set activities (especially if they are not part of their assessment); and (c) why, if they pay £9000 per year in fees, they need to do all this additional work instead of just showing up for lectures.

It is vital then to explain and reiterate, especially in the first few weeks, the “new role” students have in a flipped classroom approach. Students need to understand that they are in charge of their learning and the lecturer’s role is not just to transfer his/her knowledge to them but also facilitate their learning and coach them in gaining valuable academic and employability skills. Thus, they may come to understand the rationale and the appeal of engaging with the content and activities provided prior the face to face session.

As Simon Thompson said during his TEL workshop at the University of Sussex titled “‘Flippin Heck’ – Insights in to Flipped Education”

“The most valuable time lecturers have with students is face to face, so giving them just content is not enough. Students don’t come to University for knowledge as they can get this knowledge everywhere (Internet, MOOCs, etc) but they need the guidance how to get this knowledge, how to filter this knowledge so we facilitate and teach them how to take this knowledge and help them to understand it.”

2. Flipped academic

Ok, so we know what we want from the students. But do we know what we want from ourselves as academics? The flipped academic is more of a facilitator of learning. To start with it’s worth considering the four pillars of F L I P (FLN, 2014). Also, Bruton (2012) provides an excellent explanation of what a flipped academic means :

  • Informs first and publishes later
  • Works within the research-teaching-service paradigm but adopts criteria to maximize impact
  • Seeks “the truth” and “usefulness” together
  • Views funding received as an input, not an output
  • Builds learning environments, not lectures
  • Works where they need to work

3. Where do I even start ?

One of the most common comments we hear from lecturers is “This sounds great, but I am not sure if I have time”. Sadly as in any other profession, there is so much more we can do but simply there is never enough time to do it all. Well, my answer to that is to start small and see how it goes. Perhaps flipping the entire course may indeed be daunting and not feasible in terms of resources. Also, one size doesn’t fit all, so it may well be that flipping all your classes doesn’t go well with the subjects you teach. Starting with just a few lectures every now and then may be the easiest and most effective approach. We also have to remember the vast libraries of resources already available to us, whether from YouTube, iTunes U, MOOCs, OER, etc. Knowing where to find information can save you a lot of time.

There is also a question about the technical skills needed to create content such as videos. Often this is a big obstacle to lecturers and why they don’t feel comfortable embarking on a flipped journey. It is worth bearing in mind that there are many tutorials on various tools available online and help is available within the university.

4. Engaging students in the class

Many lecturers worry that once they deliver their lecture prior the session they may not have enough activities to carry out during the class time. They also fear that the size of the class may be a logistical problem to facilitate team based learning. Again there are many examples, case studies and techniques available online that flipped academics share. Our Community of Practice has a growing library of such resources for Greenwich academics. For instance, Ablconnect is an online repository of active learning providing hundreds of activity examples across all disciplines.

If you want to read more about flipped classroom, have a look at our other blog posts:



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