Lorena A. Barba group

This CFD class is flippin’

Having recorded the lectures when I first taught my Computational Fluid Dynamics course (for graduate students and senior undergraduates), I found myself in possession of around 40 hours of video to use again the next time. I had uploaded almost all the videos to the iTunes U service, and my students used this for lecture recall and replay. This seemed like a worthy venture in technology-assisted teaching, and the students loved it.

But this year I went to the next level: I took the plunge and flipped this course.

The idea is to use the pre-recorded lecture material to assign for viewing at home, and use classroom time to embed that knowledge by means of more interactive teaching and learning. This has been called “flipping the classroom”.

I first heard of this concept from an article in The Telegraph by Daniel Pink (Sep. 2010), telling about the experiences of teacher Karl Fisch. The article doesn’t give many details, nor accounts of the observed results by using this method, but it piqued my curiosity, so I googled ...

I found this more detailed account: “The Flipped Class: What it is and What it is Not” on The Daily Riff (July 2011). (They even have a Flipped Classroom Conference!) According to this article, in a flipped class (direct quote)

A flipped class is “not a synonym for online videos”. This is an important point right now because of the extensive press focusing on Khan Academy. As noted by some recent critics, Khan Academy still promotes the idea of education as a “sit-and-get” activity. However, online videos have been a driver for the adoption of the flipped class. The Flipped Classroom infographic neatly presents the concept, the drivers, and the results in some case studies.

At the same time that I was discovering the flipped model, I was looking for ways to make my classes more interactive. I knew that my lectures could be improved, but I did not know what was wrong with them, exactly. In my search, I found this paper in Science“Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class,” and then read about the experiences of Prof. Eric Mazur with peer instruction. The penny dropped. There was not something particularly wrong with my lectures. The problem is lectures themselves.

There is mounting evidence that lecturing is simply not an effective teaching method. If you find yourself doubting these words, I recommend watching the You Tube video “Confessions of a Converted Lecturer”.

Creating an active and engaged learning environment is automatic when flipping a class, and with today’s technology for creating multi-media learning materials, it can be done without losing any of the content. In fact, it is the perfect use of technology for education; that’s what has educational blogs raving. One blogger hits all the keywords:

Creating a learning experience that allows time in class to collaborate, practice concepts previously shared, and problem solve using teams and critical thinking skills, is a great strategy ...

It is not easy to flip a class. One difficulty is students buying into the model, accepting the responsibility on their own learning that it is built on, and having faith in you as an instructor to accept the change (after all, they expect lectures). The Chronicle blogger R Talbert thus suggests “a constant PR effort to convince students of the positive benefits of the model”.

The other obvious hurdle is the production of video materials. I found myself in an advantageous position, in this sense, having been experimenting with screencasts of lectures for several years now.  I have command of the practicalities of producing video lectures, editing them, uploading and distributing via iTunes U and You Tube (another matter is the time demands!). There are some details in my Teaching summary page about my chosen apps and gadgets that I use for these purposes.

Instructors that want to get started in these methods today have many more resources. The Flipped Class Network is full of advice and examples.

More links

  1. Five ways to flip your classroom, with The New York Times (Dec. 2011)
  2. Flipped Learning, blog/website of Jon Bergmann
  3. Reverse Instruction Tools and Techniques, EmergingEdTech (Feb. 2012)