After her experience as a part of the University of Georgia’s inaugural class of “Fellows for Innovative Teaching,” psychology professor Kacy Morris decided to “flip” her introductory psychology class in fall 2015 — swapping in-class lecturing for interactive activities and having students learn the material outside of class.
“When I made that switch, grades improved,” Morris said, “And it did feel to me that students were more engaged.”
Morris said more professors are flipping their classes to promote active learning. In a “flipped” or “inverted” classroom, students teach themselves the material outside of class time. In lieu of lecturing, the professor actively engages students with the material using practice problems, group worksheets or group discussions.
While academic research cited by the UGA Center for Teaching and Learning found that flipping is an effective teaching style, some students are skeptical of the method.
Patrick Feltey, a junior computer science major, is enrolled in a flipped class — intermediate French. For the course, he takes small quizzes on the material at the end of every class. However, since he’s responsible for teaching himself, Feltey feels penalized if he teaches himself the quiz information incorrectly.
“I like to get the information from the professor,” Feltey said. “That way he or she can clarify throughout the entire process of learning rather than all the students going in blind and then basically trying to figure it out on their own.”
Junior political science and international affairs major Andrew Stephens, however, found the flipped style of his Introduction to Global Issues class rewarding. Stephens enjoyed the group assignments and learning from his peers’ perspectives.
“Like all students, I’ve been in big lecture halls where people just sit on the computer and don’t participate,” Stevens said. “When people are participating in class, you hear people’s different perspectives. Generally speaking, it gave me a better depth of knowledge because we were all engaging in the conversation.”
The origin of flipping
UGA’s Vice President for Instruction Rahul Shrivastav said flipping is “a means to an end,” primarily serving to free up class time for professors to do other instructional activities.
According to UGA’s CTL’s website, active learning uses specific instructional techniques that engage students to critically think about the material, with the instructor serving as “an expert guide.”
The CTL also cites several academic journals of teaching and education which found active learning is associated with improved test scores, conceptual understanding, long-term retention and usage of the material, as well as helping to address misconceptions in the sciences.
CTL Director Megan Mittelstadt said it was CTL’s “Fellows for Innovative Teaching” inaugural class of 2014 that “began the conversation” about incorporating flipping into UGA’s classrooms. In that faculty developmental program, 24 UGA professors flipped their classes as an experiment.
Today, Mittelstadt estimates that approximately 25% of classes at UGA are flipped.
“We’ll chat with faculty about the feedback that they get from students,” Mittelstadt said, “Usually, what I hear pretty much mirrors the literature — that first students might be wary of it, but once they see the benefit, they really engage and really enjoy [their flipped class].”
Boots on the ground
Once serving as the “point-man” for integrating flipped classrooms into the physics department, associate physics department head Craig Wiegert has taught flipped classes for over five years. Wiegert said some students do feel left out in the cold.
“A common complaint that we hear is that, ‘The professor is expecting us to teach ourselves.’ To some extent, that’s true,” Wiegert said. “I wouldn’t say it means that we’re throwing you to the wolves.”
While acknowledging student qualms, Morris said she continues to support flipped classrooms. Morris said the conventional method of taking notes and listening to lectures leads “to a very surface-level understanding of the material,” and increases the probability that students will memorize the material for exams before forgetting it.
“Now, I will say that, at the same time, some students hate flipped classrooms,” Morris said. “I know that some of my colleagues had a drop in their course evaluations, and I know in chemistry for example, that they’ve had a lot of problems with students really hating, despising flipped classrooms.”
Maggie Stuhlreyer, a sophomore genetics major, takes issue with the general chemistry classes at UGA. For her, the effectiveness of flipped classrooms lies in its
Stuhlreyer said her Calculus I for Science and Engineering class incorporates a workbook and video combination where examples are “clearly explained,” alongside a mini-lecture at the beginning of each chapter.
However, Stuhlreyer said she had a different experience in her general chemistry classes, saying it provided little guidance. She said her chemistry classes offer “no examples or concepts explained.”
“If all flipped classrooms were set up like MATH 2250, I think it would be beneficial for everyone,” Stuhlreyer said. “It is much more efficient than a regular classroom because when students come to class, they already know what concepts they are struggling with and can ask questions.”
Although there is no formal review process to judge whether a flipped class is effective, Mittelstadt said students can receive help learning the material from UGA’s Division of Academic Enhancement or during their professor’s office hours.
Additionally, Mittelstadt said the CTL offers an abundance of resources to help professors flip their classes, such as teaching workshops and the One Button Studio, a video recording application that helps teachers to create video lessons that substitute for their lectures.
“What we were really trying to impress on faculty in [CTL] is that you’re really going to be ambitious with your flipping,” Mittelstadt said. “It’s a time-consuming endeavor, and so you really have to be prepared to look carefully at what you’re doing.”