My motivation for trying flipped classroom

This semester I am responsible for a non-compulsory bachelor course. The course is about rationality and critical thinking. Since one of the aims of the course is to teach own thinking, I find it appropriate to deviate from the traditional lecturing style. By traditional I mean presenting the material within the 90 min as a monologue with a few interactions. This leaves no time for exercises or in-class assignments. If students are gently nudged to read the material before the lecture time slot, the time can be used for questions, exercises and hence a deeper understanding of the material (Biggs, 1999, Abeysekera and Dawson 2014). That is, I can use the classroom time for activities normally considered as homework as well as I can engage students in problem-solving. This is a more active and social learning style, contrasting strongly with MOOC (massive open online courses). Given the rise of MOOC the role of us lectures becomes more and more that of a tutor, i.e. motivating and guiding students. In this sense, trying out a flipped classroom is a controlled trial compared to students watching Harvard or MIT lectures and asking us lecturer questions. Here I mean by controlled trial, I can ask who has listened to the mp3 files and adjust my lecturing accordingly.

The recent surge in procrastination among students (Svartdal, 2014) makes it also highly relevant to nudge students into being deep learners. Weekly assignments or home-work are not common in psychology courses (more so in methods and statistic courses). However, the topic of the lecture is probability and Bayes theorem – as this is an essential part for decision-making under uncertainty. Importantly, the topic is fundamental to the entire course and hence I have chosen to teach it in the second lecture. The pensum books have Bayes Theorem also right at the beginning.

Providing clear assignments is a corner stone of goal-orientated teaching. The flipped classroom approach allows each student to self-pace the learning of the material. With clear instructions and a previously established supportive environemnt (they know each other and the teacher), the actual lesson fosters asking the crucial questions , i.e. can you explain once more.

In sum, my motivation for the flipped classroom is to have as much time as possible for answering questions and solving the exercises. This way, I hope that all students in the course have gained a sufficient understanding of Bayes theorem to proceed easily to the other chapters.

Method

In the introduction lecture, which was on Tuesday 03.03.2015, I explained and emphasized the idea behind the flipped classroom (based on ch. 2 in Sams, A., & Bergmann, J., 2012). The material is a recorded lecture, mp3 with pdf, from my colleague R. Biegler at NTNU, lasting 45 min. The material / topic is highly familiar to me, as we both have developed this course, and the recordings have received very good feedback from students at NTNU. Due to practical issues, I have not yet recorded it myself but asked Robert Biegler to provide a tailored version for the PSY-2027 course. The topic is made easily understandable with the use step-by-step explanations in an accompanied pdf file and an excel sheet. Parts of the lecture are inspired by Gerd Gigerenzer. Briefly, instead of solving the problem with a formula, one uses diagrams to derive the solution. This is more intuitive as many studies have shown (i.e, even kids can do it). The lecture / video extend his approach and focuses on examples familiar to young people.

The mp3 file, pdf file and excel sheet was uploaded to the Fronter room. The first slide of the pdf included an instruction and the learning goals. The instructions follow the Cornell note-taking method (Sams and Bergmann, 2012). Briefly, students are told that they can pause and rewind the mp3, shall make notes and record questions that occur to them. Finally, they shall also summarize their learning. This was supported with a few guiding questions, provided as learning goals on the first slide.

The plan was to usse the first 45 min for an in-depth summary and exercise of Bayes theorem and the second 45 min for a more traditional lecture style, where I present how being aware of base rates, conditional probabilities and alike can help in understanding what statistical tests actually measure.

In the classroom time (90min) my colleague R. Biegler from NTNU virtually joined the lecture through skype.

Result

On Tuesday 10.03.2015 over 20 students came to the lecture. Some have not been in last week’s lecture. I started with asking questions from last week’s lecture and gathered the answer. The result was mediocre, as none of the students remembered the distinction between instrumental and epistemic rationality. Next I asked how many of the students had listened to the mp3 files. Roughly half raised their hands and half admitted not having listened to the files. After a few seconds I decided that the topic is too important to leave the non-prepared students clueless and Robert and I jointly went through the material of the mp3 files in the classroom. I had prepared a complete back-up for this situation and started at a very low level, engaging students at all steps to do the calculations themselves and say what they did not understand, i.e. pacing the material so that everyone could follow. In other words, I used immediate feedback.

I was going through a few exercises also on the blackboard. However, there was no time to let the students solve a task in small groups in the classroom. So I repeated that they shall do it themselves as homework.

During the break, two students that listened to the mp3 files left the room and did not return. Unfortunately, they missed the novel stuff not covered in the mp3 files that I presented in the last 30 min.

Reflection

First, the concept of flipped classroom was very new to the students. Since not all registered students attended the first lecture, some did not check Fronter or their student email account, basing a lecture on students having done their part was doomed to fail.I was not aware of how insufficient it was to use Fronter. Emailing it out to all students, ideally to their private email- address (which I do not have) may have at least guaranteed that all knew about the homework.

In addition, the students were a very heterogeneous group, some knew me from the PSY-1003 course, but some did not. Accordingly, the students may not have felt “secure” and contact me. Since I was realizing the pitfall of using “flipped classroom” so early in the course, I prepared a complete back-up – and as it turned out, saved the day.

Second, the material was not enough tailored to the heterogeneous student group. I should have spent 10-15 min “discovering” the need for Bayes theorem in a playful manner, slowly paving the way for the mathematical and graphical tools.

Third, I have used the lecture on 17.03.2015 to check whether the students have learned something from the previous lecture. The students showing up, felt still alien to concepts such as probabilities and struggled with translating percentages into numbers. I take that with me to provide them with more opportunities to get familiar with the tools to make Bayes theorem easy, as not all students have yet reached this level.

A final evaluation will be how they solve an exam question. Providing them with the mp3 files and an exercise sheet to pace the learning individually should help them to perform very well on this exam question.

Discussion

The “flipped classroom” project in a narrow sense has not worked and had to be replaced with a more traditional lecture style, still very interactive and with a colleague presenting the material via skype. The co-presentation skype-me worked very well for the first 45 min, but the visualization of the simulation program was suboptimal. The time point of using flipped classroom is not recommended. The students, due to previous experience, are not familiar with preparing before a lecture. Most prepare only for exams but come unprepared to lectures – a finding many of my colleagues and I across topics here at UiT, have made. The percentage of students preparing before a lecture is higher in other study professions and among students of clinical psychology (at NTNU at least it was). However, some of the students of the PSY-2027 were prepared and I apologized to them for the lost opportunity of exercising in the classroom.

I have already restructured the teaching plan for next year’s version of the course. Offering flipped classroom in a later lecture, approximately as 4^{th} or 5^{th} lecture. This gives me enough time to provide a secure teaching environment as well as measuring their previous statistical knowledge. I can also use the earlier lectures to introduce them to Bayes theorem and conditional probabilities in a better way than I did this year. Currently, since the course is still ongoing (till mid of May 2015) I sneak in Bayes theorem at two more lectures. Recently also a student started a discussion threat at Fronter. Still some hope that the message spreads just in time for this year.

References

Abeysekera, L., & Dawson, P. (2014). Motivation and cognitive load in the flipped classroom: definition, rationale and a call for research. Higher Education Research and Development

Biggs, J (1999). What the student does; teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 18(1), 57-75

Sams, A., & Bergmann, J. (2012). Flip your classroom: reach every student in every class every day. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education ASCD

Svartdal, F (2014). RESULT lunch seminar, dec 2014