Monday, February 23, 2015

One Instructor's Flipped Classroom Philosophy

Earlier this month, our Education Development Centre hosted a teaching round table on the flipped classroom.  At the session, engineering instructor Shermeen Nizami shared her philosophy for flipping her own fourth year undergraduate class.

Nizami began by sharing Rogers' diffusion of innovation theory.  She found this after her first flipped course was over, but felt it correlated well with that happened in class.  As shown in the below diagram, there are innovators, early adopters, the early majority, the late majority, and the laggards.  The distribution of these groups is shown in blue, while market share of an innovation is shown in yellow.  A question Nizami asked herself was who is in the chasm? Why do some students feel like the flipped classroom teacher is not doing her job? ("I want you to lecture to me!") For any classroom innovation to be successful, we need buy-in from students.


Why flip in the first place? In any given class, 30% of learners are apparently blocked; they can't be reached.  60% might be described as passive learners, and only 10% as active learners.  Could flipping help bring more students into the active segment? Is it worth it? It is if you believe that more students fail a lecture-based class than an active class, and that the rates of retention claimed in the learning pyramid are even close to accurate.

How do you flip? Nizimi says teachers need to look through the eyes of a student, and help students see themselves as their own teachers.  The mindset of both the student and the teacher need to be flipped. The teacher needs to be careful to keep students at the points of maximal learning: at the edge of their comfort zone, but not quite into the panic zone.

Design thinking gave Nizimi an useful model with which to approach her classroom:
  • Empathize: validate the level of difficulty students face in class
  • Define: gain students' confidence that you are on their side and not trying to trick them
  • Ideate: involve students and come up with creative solutions
  • Prototype: create opportunities for students to try out the proposed solutions
  • Test: solicit student feedback; be brave
The round table ended before we got a chance to get into the meat of what Nizimi's students were actually asked to do before and during class, but I did appreciate the constant reminder that we should involve students in the learning process as much as possible.  Whether I get the opportunity to formally flip or not, I hope to keep that thought in mind in all my teaching practice.

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