Fully Embracing the Flipped Classroom

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The flipped classroom has existed as an organized model for nearly two decades. It’s not a fad. It’s not fading into the wallpaper. It’s not disappearing from the academy. In fact, the flipped classroom was beautiful preparation for the direction higher ed is taking post pandemic.

From now on, we’re not going to be able to assume that we can keep a lid on information and technology, or even assume that we’re going to be in the same room with students at the same time. Students need to be empowered to teach themselves things.

With COVID fading behind us, have we encountered the perfect storm for introducing the flipped model back into higher ed, but at full scale this time?

Dr. Robert Talbert, author and Professor at Grand Valley State University, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss why now is the perfect time for higher ed to embrace the flipped classroom.

Why the Flipped Classroom Bested Other Models During COVID

Everybody had a difficult time pivoting to remote learning in March 2020. But professors who used the flipped classroom approach prior to the pandemic had it a little easier than traditional teachers.

Maybe that’s no surprise. But here’s what did come as a shock: Flipped classrooms fared better than hybrid, online, or technology-enhanced instruction. All these models assume a scarcity of information and students who are unable to access the information that does exist. This approach didn’t fare well during the pandemic because students needed too much help. Chegg’s information stack overflowed with newfound online students looking for free answers.

Flipped learning, on the other hand, makes a totally different set of assumptions. In this model, teachers assume students can teach themselves basic things through resources such as books and YouTube. 

Why will flipped learning be even more important post-pandemic?

After the pandemic, we understand more than ever the importance of self-regulation and self-teaching.

Now, we need to help students advance in the new world, which is still complex and getting harder to comprehend every day. To do that, we require a model that teaches degree-seekers how to be learners and doesn’t just feed them information and ask them to give it back to us. That’s what flipped learning provides for us.

Answering the Objections to Flipped Learning

Doesn’t the flipped model overestimate students’ self-motivation, though? They’re capable, sure. But will they actually do the work?

“Self-motivation is a tricky thing,” Robert agreed. “It places a high standard on students.” 

It expects that students will take a small list of basic information, transfer-oriented learning objectives — like stating a concept after watching a video or reading a book — and then give examples. Most students have the ability to carry out that initiative, but the question is one of motivation.

“A well-designed flipped learning classroom provides a structure for students to build their self-motivation,” Robert explained. “We don’t necessarily assume that students are experts, but we also don’t assume that they come with nothing in terms of motivation, either. It’s on us as instructors to create an environment where students are going to want to do the things we ask them to do.”

A lot of students struggle with this because they have never been asked to teach themselves things. That has been seen as a bug rather than a feature of their classes in the past. Often, students complain if they have to teach themselves things. You see it on course evaluations. 

But it’s time to come to grips with the fact that that’s not only a feature, it’s the whole purpose of being in college — to learn to teach yourself things.

Helping Students Succeed in the Flipped Environment

We have to teach students how to teach themselves. We can’t just assume that students will pick up information by osmosis, which has been the mode of traditional teaching methods since the first university got started in 1088.

So what does a flipped classroom need to succeed against that background?

It should include a set of clear objectives, opportunities to practice what they’re learning, a feedback mechanism, and a chance to improve. Those components of the teaching model don’t change from a traditional classroom. But the responsibility for them moves from the instructor to the student.

Next-Steps Advice for Higher Ed Admins Considering the Flipped Classroom Model

Around the world, faculty members and administrators seem both intriguing and skeptical of flipped learning. They appear to think that something in it would be worthwhile, but they’re hesitant.

Maybe they’re concerned of a theoretical confrontation with unmotivated students. What if things go south? Could professors lose tenure or a promotion over this model? Will they have to spend so much time working through a flipped approach that they can’t write grant proposals or do research?

Administrators need to help faculty members remove these barriers. Once they do, you’ll probably see a lot of success. And as it always does, that success will breed more success.

The best thing institutions can do is to enable talented, dedicated, committed faculty members. Give them the resources they need to step out and try this. Have their backs.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Robert Talbert of Grand Valley State University. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.


If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.