No lecture, more learning

“Flipping” the college lecture class — students watch short videos at home and do activities in class — appears to boost learning, writes Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic.

A three-year study at the University of North Carolina found significant gains in student performance in “flipped” settings, writes Meyer.

The study examined three years of a foundational pharmaceutics course, required for all doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) students attending UNC. In 2011, (Vice Dean Russell) Mumper taught the course in a standard, PowerPoint-aided lecture format. In 2012 and 2013, he taught it using “flipped” methods. Student performance on an identical final exam improved by 2.5 percent between 2011 and 2012—results now in press at Academic Medicine—and by an additional 2.6 percent in 2013. Overall, student performance on an identical final exam improved between 2011 and 2013 by 5.1 percent.

Students also came to prefer the flipped model to the lecture model. While 75 percent of students in 2012 said, before Mumper’s class, that they preferred lectures, almost 90 percent of students said they preferred the flipped model after the class.

After the first year, Mumper replaced readings with clinical studies, which students discuss in class. He also cut student presentations, which were unpopular.

At first, students complained, said Natalie Young, a Pharm.D. student. “We just were used to just going to class and not having to do so much preparation for the class.” With the flipped model, “you actually have to do reading or watch the [lecture modules], you actually have to prepare for the class.”

Other professors aren’t as good as Mumper at teaching in a flipped model, Young said.


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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’m not sticking up for lectures here, but *CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING*.

    How big is your class? Having class discussion with 200 people is a very different sort of beast than having it with 30, or with 12.

    Are you teaching high school students, selective undergrads, community college students, or professional grad students at a prestigious university (which is the case here)?

    What are your students like, in terms of their culture and personality?

    What sort of teacher are you? What’s your personality like?

    As I said, I’m not against lectures. I think they really have their place. And I’m not against flipping, either, although I suspect that the “benefit” of flipping primarily comes from convincing students to spend more time on things; watch the normal lectures outside of class, and THEN come in and do extra work.

    I’m just against articles written as if there is (or should be) some sort of one right way to teach. There isn’t: because not only are *students* not industrial widgets, but neither are teachers. Different teachers have different approaches that suit their personalities and allow students to participate in the conversation that, hopefully, leads to learning. Sometimes that conversation is a lecture, sometimes its structured activities, sometimes a discussion, and sometimes — we must be honest — it’s just a disaster.

    But educators quickly pick up on what DOESN’T work for them, and hopefully avoid it.

    I’m also against publsihed articles in which the author actually puts in print the phrase “they was”. (Paragraph 20)

  2. In my experience, if students actually work with the material, test scores will go up (or stay high). Usually, the more interesting the material, the more work the students put in. The best way to make the material interesting probably varies based on the material, the students, and the abilities of the teacher. I’ve had students who were really into the discussion of primary literature, while others were so overwhelmed that they disengaged. Some students love labs no matter what, while others are squeamish or have a hard time interpreting the data to get the right conclusions. Some people give boring lectures, while others are interesting. I would think that anything would be an improvement over power point, though. I’ve used lecture with high school and college students, but never power point. While I have certain topics that have to be addressed, I like the flexibility of being able to draw out answers to their questions.

  3. This makes me think that all of my college classrooms were “flipped.” You could not understand the lectures (yes, the profs lectured, but also answered questions and asked for comments) unless you had done the readings. Some courses had discussion sections, which also required preparation.

  4. Great idea, but unfortunately it will only work in environments where the students care and are actually willing to work and meet the teacher/instructor/professor halfway… Otherwise, it would be a train wreck. Which is a pity.

    • Exactly. I’d love to run my classroom this way, and I think it would help my kids. But I will never get the buy in necessary. The wast majority would never do the work at home, for reasons both good and bad.

  5. What’s so “flipped” about this classroom?

    Had the professor instituted a pop quiz about the assigned pre-class reading, students would have prepared for class, correct? And perhaps their grades would have improved? I don’t think 5% improvement is earth-shattering, when it seems the only thing the new model did was motivate the students to do what they should have been doing anyway.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Have to say I love well-done lectures in areas which interest me. Problem is, if I know something about it, i get itchy to participate. Some discussions are interesting, somie got boring.
    I would probably have liked a flipped class, if it worked as advertised.
    Speculating here; doing the prep would likely help you discover something you didn’t know you didn’t know, and which might not be addressed in a conventional class.

  7. He leido No lecture, more learning — Joanne Jacobs con mucho interes y me ha parecido didactico ademas de bien redactado. No dejeis de cuidar esta web es muy buena.