In the most basic of terms, classroom learning environments can be considered along a continuum from teacher- centered to student-centered. At the far end towards teacher-centered lies the lecture, an efficient method of content delivery centered on the teacher. At the other end is something like student group work, in which students engage with each other and the teacher plays a more passive role. While there will always be a place for these and other classroom activities, the past decade has witnessed a move away from the lecture towards a focus on classes that emphasize student centered learning.
One of the common ways of increasing student-teacher interaction during class time is to move content delivery outside of the classroom using Internet technologies. The result is a more efficient use of class time, the time when students and teachers are together and have the best opportunity to interact, discuss, and ask questions.
Despite the many benefits a student-centered model of teaching (sometimes called “flipping” a class) creates, there are some hurdles one must overcome in order to implement the process effectively. The first deals with some common misconceptions about what a student-centered classroom really means. Some perceive it to mean a wholesale shift into an online space in lieu of a traditional class space. Yes, fully online instruction is a growing field and will continue to be an important part of higher education, but a student-centered or flipped classroom is not a fully online classroom. Instead, a flipped classroom celebrates class time by moving the content delivery, typically a passive, non- interactive activity, into an online space. This frees class time for more interactive applications, such as problem solving and group discussions.
The other major misconception is that the online videos of lecture material will discourage class attendance. This concern stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the practice. While one could record full-length lectures, a quick survey of videos that teachers are posting online shows that most practitioners of flipped teaching produce videos that are between 5 and 10 minutes long. In such a timeframe, not everything from a traditional lecture can be included, so gaps must be filled in during class along with further discussion and practice. In my experience, class time becomes much more valuable to the student, not less.
Technology is another roadblock for some educators. Creating content and making it available to students can seem a daunting task to those who have not had much experience working with audio and video. Luckily, the process of creating and editing videos has become much easier, and many of the tools needed are already in place on most people’s computers. One of the easiest ways to get started is with PowerPoint or any other slideshow software, since many teachers already have lectures set up as slideshows. Combine those slideshows with screencasting software that records your voice and activity on your computer screen, and you’ve created your first flipped lesson. One of the more popular screencasting options is actually just a website (screencast-o-matic.com), which runs entirely in your web browser.
For additional help in creating material, TCU’s New Media Writing Studio provides a space where faculty can get assistance with crafting digital content for use in student- centered teaching. In addition to regularly scheduled events, the space is open during the week for faculty to drop in and work on projects.
Once the mechanics of generating content are settled, the next step is deciding which lessons to flip. While entire semesters can be flipped (moving all lecture or otherwise heavily content-driven material out of class), that may not be the best solution for every teacher. In fact, the vast majority of people flipping classes tend to move only a select number of lessons out of class. Factors such as discipline, grade level, and difficulty of the material all weigh on the decision. Each person will have their own thoughts and concerns, but consulting videos that others have made (via YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) can help to spark new ideas on ways to organize the content.
Another large issue is that of assessment. In many cases, the work students do outside of class to prepare for in- class application replaces traditional written assignments. How then can we assess if nothing is submitted? There are a number of solutions to this problem, the simplest of which is to assign a short quiz at the beginning of class, asking questions based on the material students prepared for that day. The quiz can then act as a springboard into discussion and debate over the material. In lieu of quizzes, a teacher could also closely monitor participation in the ensuing discussion and assign a participation grade based on performance in class. As a final way of checking if videos are being watched, YouTube offers detailed analytics data on every video uploaded.
While some barriers remain, creating online content for use outside of class has become much less challenging, and doing so comes with many benefits. However, at its core, student-centered learning creates classes that are more engaging, more valuable, and ultimately more rewarding for both teachers and students.