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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
September 1, 2014
 
 
Canadian Excellence

Teaching Innovations



The Flipped Classroom

Recently, I've been experimenting with "the flipped classroom" pedagogy as means of improving student learning, comprehension, and application at the undergraduate level.  I first tried out the pedagogy in my first year seminar, AF101x, "Understanding Power and Conflict Through Film: Making Sense of the Politics of the 21st Century", with extremely positive results.   You can read about my experiences with this pedagogy in that course here. I'm currently testing the pedagogy in a large class setting, (e.g. my second year intro to Canadian politics course, PO 263, enrollment of 125).  I'll post details about that experience on the LISPOP blog and provide a link here once the class is complete. 

I also gave a presentation entitled "Flipping Your Social Science Classroom: Some Thoughts" recently at a workshop called, Balancing the Blend: The Active Learning Classroom at WLU on 16 April 2013.  Here are the slides and script of that presentation.

What is "the flipped classroom"? Basically, it's a pedagogical classroom model that asks students to do the initial learning at home, and then to come to class to apply their learning and address any gaps or deficiencies with the help of the instructor.  Here's a short summary:

Think of the math class you took in high school.  The traditional model is that the teacher introduces a new math concept in class.  Then, students go home to do homework, solving questions relating to the new math concept. They come back to class the next day and the instructor takes up the answers with the entire class. In the flipped classroom, students would go home and watch a video or read a reading on the concept.  They then complete on online quiz on the concept before class.  The instructor reviews the answers from the quiz and in class gives a short lecture on any topics that the students seemed to have trouble with as indicated by their quiz answers.  Then the rest of the class would be in-class homework/application exercises in small groups and large group discussion on the math concept.  Near the end of the class, the instructor assesses how well the students completed the in-class exercises, and ends the class with a short lecture addressing any final weaknesses in comprehension and application.  Thatís basically it!

In-Class Learning Assessment Software

For my second year "Intro to Canadian politics class" (enrollment of 125), I'm using software called, Learning Catalytics, which allows the instructor to push real-time questions to students during class to assess learning outcomes.  After introducing a concept, theory, or argument in class (more details here), I use the software to assess whether students have understood the material.  They are asked to answer the questions on their own, using a wifi-enabled device (e.g. laptop, tablet, or smartphone) and then to discuss their answers with their neighbours, at which point they are given a second chance to answer the questions. Depending on the results, I re-teach the material or move on.

The software is an extremely powerful tool and I've already received positive feedback from my PO 263 students about the tool.  As well, I've seen learning and comprehension results improve.  Previously, I wouldn't know if students were learning the material until the mid term and the final exam, at which point it was too late to re-teach the material. Now, I have instant data and feedback and can address gaps in learning immediately and effectively. 

Learning Catalytics is great because the interface is really simple and easy to navigate and the software provides a wide range of question formats, including short answer, fill in the blank, click on diagrams and pictures, draw functions or other illustrations, multiple choice, multi-select, and many others.  I'm looking forward to trying other software as well.

Interactive Whiteboard Apps

One of the challenges that instructors constantly face is knowing whether students actually understand what we are trying to teach them. The traditional model for assessing learning outcomes is a combination of midterm test, final exam, assignments, and office hours, but in my view, these tools are insufficient (and hence why I've integrated "learning catalytics" into my teaching). 

Another tool I've been using in my second year undergraduate class is the interactive whiteboard app (e.g. screen chomp; doceri; explain everything). As you draw or write on your ipad, you can record audio to accompany the text and then you can post the entire thing as a video (mp4 or a link, among other formats).

At present, I only use the software to create short videos on topics/concepts that at least two students have had trouble understanding (as measured by emails or visits during office hours). Students can then download and watch the video as many times as needed.  My next whiteboard video, on the ministerial briefing essay assignment, will be posted in the discussion board section of the course website. That way, students can post questions about the assignment to myself and their classmates. In the future, I hope to integrate the software into my classes as a formal assignment, in which students must use the software to re-explain course content to myself and the class. I also hope to use the software to facilitate group work in a blended learning environment.

Virtual Researcher on Call Program

I am now a participating faculty member in the virtual researcher on call program. According to their website:

Inspire the next generation of champions in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) by bringing experts in these fields into the classroom [high school and elementary schools) with VROC video conferencing.

How does it work?

STEM experts can be brought into the classrooms forÖ

  • 5-10 minute spontaneous video conferencing sessions
  • Up to hour long presentations and Q&A sessions
  • Semester-long mentorship style sessions