Matthias is using several different technological tools that we have available at Victoria, in order to make space and time for more meaningful student-teacher interactions in his classrooms. The most important change he has made for one of his second-year chemistry classes, was the introduction of the flipped classroom approach.
“Students need to be given time to construct their own knowledge. I understand learning as a process by which each and every student makes new material accessible to themselves by interacting with it again and again over an extended period.”
Matthias joined Vic in 2010 as a senior lecturer in theoretical and computational chemistry. Previously he worked at the Centre for Theoretical Chemistry and Physics at Massey University’s Auckland campus. He teaches both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
He explains his driver for this change as always knowing that:
“student achievement had a lot to do with the time they spent practicing actual problems. So I was looking for an approach that allowed me to introduce more time for practice without sacrificing any of the other components of the course.”
In the flipped classroom model students are expected to watch lecture recordings before coming to class. The recordings are usually 15-20 minute long pieces with a small do-it-yourself “cliff-hanger” type question at the end. The entire class-session is then used as tutorial time where students in small groups work on relevant problems or activities that illustrate the lecture concepts. Matthias found breaking down the lecture material into short digestible chunks, and then producing the videos themselves, was hard. However, working closely with ITS in creating high-quality audio-visual material for the recorded lectures, which are available through Vstream, helped immensely. The value of the final result is something that students comment positively on in their feedback.
In the classroom, Matthias uses an online quiz/response tool (GoSoapBox) to collect student answers (anonymously) at the end of an exercise, when all groups report their results back to the class. Students can also use GoSoapBox to anonymously ask questions throughout the session. Other students often respond to these questions, which usually only leaves Matthias to write brief summaries at the end of a particular discussion and ensure the responses are all correct and supportive.
Another important tool that students can access through the course on Blackboard are self-assessment quizzes. Matthias provides these at the start of the course so students can check if they are comfortable with all the implied and assumed course requirements. Often he sees students who are anxious about their own maths abilities coming into the course. Online quizzes with typical problems are a great way to demonstrate what will be expected from students and also to provide links to other online resources (e.g., Khan Academy) that students can use to catch-up or refresh.
The results of this change can be seen in the different kind of exam questions that he is able to ask in the end-of-term exams. He sees that students are now able to work out much more complex problems and their answers demonstrate a higher level of comprehension. At the same time the failure rate has dropped in the course and Matthias takes this as evidence that those students who need support and help the most, actually benefit from the flipped classroom as well.
The next step for Matthias is to implement the approach widely, so that flipped classroom isn't seen as such a novelty. Since identifying that the benefits of the flipped classroom approach means that students are able to perform at a higher level, he feels that the goalposts have definitely been moved. Apart from a wider implementation of the approach, he will review the design of his assessments to make sure they are still effective and meeting the learning objectives.
Matthias believes that through teaching with this flipped classroom approach he is trying to scaffold his students' learning to allow them to take ownership of their learning through engaging with course material in a way that suits them. He feels "students need to be given time to construct their own knowledge". Matthias understands learning as a process by which each and every student makes new material accessible to themselves by interacting with it again and again over an extended period. He acknowledges the term 'Ako' nicely illustrates the fundamental symmetry in the relationship between students and teachers where the students respond to prompts from the teacher, and the teacher is able to amend their approach to respond to the students' abilities and level of engagement.
Commentaries on the pedagogical ideas behind this case study, written by academics from the Centre for Academic Development
Learning Design and Application
The essence of flipped learning designs is the emphasis they place on student engagement with their peers and the teacher in the synchronous ‘taught’ part of a course. Typically this means maximising the interaction with students in a face to face setting such as a traditional lecture theatre, as is the context for Matthias’ class, but it can also be used to structure the engagement with students in a synchronous online context as well.
The key feature of a flipped learning design is the strongly aligned and scaffolded activities (including the assessment) which are used to ensure students use their time productively outside of scheduled class times. The focus outside of the class should be on information, application of knowledge and skills and the generation of motivating questions through an open-ended exploration of a specific area (Schneider, Blikstein, & Pea, 2013).
Inside the class the focus needs to be on collaboration, motivation and engagement, providing students with effective strategies to use their knowledge to answer questions they have identified (in collaboration with the teacher) as important and interesting.
Flipped classrooms can be seen as a modernised version of getting students to read textbooks before class and in many cases videos are being used in this way to overcome student disengagement from large amounts of reading. As with traditional readings it is important that the teacher provides the student with a framework to scaffold their engagement with videos – a set of provocative questions or some other objective to give their viewing a purposeful mode. It is also important to consider how students should take effective notes or incorporate their understanding from the video in something they create. This helps students create the cognitive structures that assist with recall and connect individual pieces of information into a coherent understanding.
Often, this process of engagement with complex information is better positioned after the class has met so that any misconceptions can be identified and addressed before setting more challenging tasks (either groupwork or some other form of assessment) that can be undertaken subsequently:
Schneider, B., Blikstein, P., & Pea, R. (2013). The Flipped, Flipped Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.stanforddaily.com/2013/08/05/the-flipped-flipped-classroom/
Matthias Lein's adoption of the flipped classroom approach to teaching is aligned with his belief that knowledge is actively constructed (rather than ‘absorbed’) by the learner. To make this possible, students need opportunities to engage with a range of specially designed learning activities and tasks (Chi & Wylie, 2014). In the educational literature, this approach is known as constructivism (Jean Piaget) or constructionism (Seymour Papert). It necessitates appropriate allocation of time on task because regular and purposeful engagement with learning activities and tasks is understood as the most effective way for students to construct personal understanding. The teacher’s time is used most effectively in designing the learning tasks for the course and guiding task-based learning practices of the learners, modelling how experts in the field think, behave and solve problems. This behaviour modelling by the teacher is commonly done in-class, while content-heavy aspects of teaching (such as lectures) are broken down into small chunks and left for students to engage with in their own time.
Matthias implemented the flipped classroom teaching approach because it shifts the transactional, information-focused aspects of learning into students’ independent study, creating time and space for teacher-guided and teacher-supported task-based (or task-centred) (Merrill, 2007) and problem-based (Savery, 2006) learning in-class. Matthias organised course content in a format suitable for the flipped classroom delivery: he created short videos focused on one or two key concepts or procedures and added questions or simple tasks associated with each video, in order to encourage deeper student engagement with the materials, while working independently.
In-class, Matthias used an online response system (GoSoapBox) to further engage students with the ideas introduced in the videos. This created opportunities for students to articulate their own understanding of the course concepts, develop solutions for given problems, and receive peer and expert feedback.
Chi, M. T. H, & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP framework: linking cognitive engagement to active learning outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49, 219–243.
Merrill, D. M. (2007). A task-centered instructional strategy. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40, 5–22.
Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of Problem-based Learning: Definitions and Distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 1(1). Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.7771/1541-5015.1002.
Savery, J. R. (2015). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. In A. Walker, H. Leary, C. Hmelo-Silver, & P. Ertmer (Eds.), Essential Readings in Problem-Based Learning: Exploring and Extending the Legacy of Howard S. Barrows, West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.
Reproduce this in Your Own Teaching
This is a quick-start guide for using VStream in your own teaching. If you would like additional support, contact one of our learning and teaching team.
Changing you teaching to adopt the 'flipped' approach requires a bit of course redesign. By going back to your course objectives and being clear about what the students need to achieve will help you plan out key topics, problems and activities.
Breaking your curriculum into small areas where you can record a content video, establish a thought-provoking questions and then a follow on in-class group activity, will ensure you are able to cover the required objectives.
Once you have decided upon your curriculum areas of focus you can plan your pre-class videos.
To make a video you can utilise the University's VStream system. Using the Desktop recorder you can make a simple recording in your office. This recording can be voice over PowerPoint or could include a talking head video of yourself as well. These recordings can easily be made available to the Blackboard course.
To find out more about making videos like this see our technology pages on VStream.
When making focused topic videos like this think carefully about what will be included and what you will show/demonstrate/display to the students. You may want to go as far as scripting your videos. Videos of this nature should ideally be kept to 20 mins or less.
Once you have made your videos you can think about getting feedback from the students both before class (as a knowledge audit) and during class for student questions and reporting back of the class group work. All of this can be done through the use of classroom response software such as GoSoapbox. Using this tool you can set up a pre-class quiz, in-class Social Q&A and in-class polling.
When using a selection of tools and a new approach to sharing the course curriculum make sure you are explicit with your students about why you are taking this approach and what you expect of them. Be clear about how you expect them to interact with the content and activities presented.
In this case study Matthias used a few different tools. He used video recording and delivery, student response and feedback systems and formative assessment.
Contact one of our learning and teaching team to discuss these ideas further and for support using the technologies.