HMC Flipped Classroom Study Shows No Difference

Harvey Mudd College’s ongoing controlled experiment on flipped classrooms is entering its third year since its initiation in 2012. According to papers submitted about the experiment, the results for the past two years have shown no significant differences in learning between a flipped class and a traditional class.

In a flipped, or inverted, classroom, students watch video lectures outside of class and work on problem sets together in class.

Three professors at HMC have led the study: Nancy Lape, associate professor of engineering and associate department chair; Rachel Levy, associate professor of mathematics; and Darryl Yong, associate professor of mathematics. They experimented through the Engineering 82 and Math 45 classes, with half of the sections designed as control sections taught in a traditional classroom style and the other half taught in an inverted style. The experiment aims to compare students’ content levels and carry out attitude surveys across different treatment and control sections.

“We believe it is important to run controlled studies when determining the effectiveness of any given teaching technique, and equally important to consider the context in which the study takes place,” Lape wrote in an email to TSL

According to papers by Lape and her colleagues, the control and flipped sections showed no significant differences in learning, metacognitive or affective gains. Lape wrote that reasons for this result could be that “the HMC culture is already heavily focused on group work” and that “the activities carried out by both sections were basically identical.”

“We think it is possible that at commuter schools, the group work time in the flipped classroom might result in a difference in learning,” Lape wrote.

The lack of experience in teaching flipped classrooms could have been another reason.

“We personally had a lot of experience delivering interactive lectures but not much experience in designing flipped classes,” Lape wrote.

Students in flipped classrooms had differing opinions toward this new way of teaching. Joshua Ryan Lam HM ’17 spoke favorably of the strategy.

“It basically forces you to review the concepts beforehand, and then you can kind of form your own questions, and you can talk to the prof ... as opposed to you go to the class, you do the lecture, and there’s no time for questions or anything,” Lam said.

Lam, however, added that if he forgot to watch the lectures, he felt "completely lost" in class.

Aaron Friend HM '17 said that he did not like the program. 

“I might be prejudiced because I’d already taken Intro to Differential Equation in high school, so I already knew a lot of the material, but I felt like the way it was presented with the flipped lecture notes kind of trivialized the material," he said. "After being experienced with my math classes in general, I felt like it definitely took a giant step down in terms of quality.” 

Friend added that in his non-flipped classes, he felt that he accomplished more than students in corresponding flipped classes. 

While Arthur Chang HM '16 said his flipped class was not as productive as he expected, he noted, “I really like the fact that we have access to lectures online because we can stop and go back to the parts we don’t understand." 

He also cited the difference between subjects as a reason why some students liked certain classes and not others.

“It actually has something to do with the subject because I didn't really have many questions [in Math 45], but if my current chemistry class is flipped, I would have a lot of questions for the professor," Chang said. "So I think it also has something to do with the material."

Lape wrote that class subject might factor into the success of the method, but the professors do not have the data to attest to this. Lape, Levy and Yong will continue the flipped classroom experiment for two more academic years.