OPINION: Flipped classrooms should have no place at the 5Cs

A student studying late at night frowns at a thick book.
Serena Mao HM ’25 discusses the flipped classroom model and its potential for inefficacy. (Anna Choi • The Student Life)

Students often diss teachers who don’t teach in class. Yet, in several courses at the 5Cs, this concept is standard practice. To learn new material, students must first struggle by themselves, parsing dense textbooks and scouring the internet for hours just to get a basic understanding of the next lesson’s content. Then, upon arriving to class, they’re expected to immediately apply this knowledge with only a barebones understanding of the self-learned topic.

Perhaps surprisingly, these classes aren’t anomalies. Called the flipped classroom model, this supposedly revolutionary teaching method has recently risen in popularity nationwide, a trend that endangers student engagement and learning. The philosophy generally revolves around one main idea: If students struggle more with applying the concept than learning it, that’s what they should be doing in class — not the other way around.

However, any student can easily point to the disadvantages of flipped learning. One must fully understand new material before they can apply it to assignments, and when this understanding is self-taught, any gaps in knowledge only become more pronounced

On the other hand, when interacting with a teacher in the classroom, learning new content is far more efficient. Especially when the alternative is reading a textbook, classroom teaching better optimizes lesson plans, ensuring that the basics are lightly reviewed while difficult concepts are discussed in-depth. Furthermore, classroom teachers can emphasize, re-explain or reiterate critical concepts, while readings often give one-sentence explanations that require extensive analysis to decipher.

Of course, there’s also the unique component of teacher-student interaction that self-learning leaves in the dust. Sure, students can ask lingering questions from the readings once they are in class, but the process of receiving instant support and feedback during an in-person lesson is far more effective. In a classroom, questions on relatively rudimentary material are answered before moving on to more advanced content, meaning gaps in students’ comprehension don’t build on each other like they would if the material was first absorbed at home. 

And even if resources exist to answer questions outside of class, they require more effort to access and interpret in the context of a student’s confusion. Finally, and most obviously, staring at a laptop or textbook at home is far less engaging than learning collectively in a classroom, meaning flipped learning causes students to quickly lose interest in the material. 

More tangibly, I’ve heard more than a handful of complaints about flipped classes. Though professors I’ve talked to are often reluctant to classify their classes as flipped, students are expected to learn new material themselves, then complete assignments in class — a process that closely mirrors flipped learning. 

As a result, I’ve watched more than a few Harvey Mudd students staring at guided readings they can’t complete without soliciting the help of more experienced classmates, or spending unreasonable amounts of effort flipping through and annotating textbooks. 

Class isn’t any easier: Based on the questions students ask, it’s clear not everyone is on the same page — which is, unfortunately, what the classwork presumes. To be clear, the professors are brilliant teachers, but the structure that their class conforms to forcibly constrains the effectiveness of the course. 

To many, the disadvantages aren’t enough to discount the method. Proponents of flipped learning argue that completing assignments in class fosters a collaborative environment where students tackle problems together and can learn from each other. They further claim that the flipped classroom encourages active learning: the idea that students learn best when directly engaging with applications of the material in class.

These arguments may be valid, but in college, collaboration and active learning take place outside of class time. Since students are already living with each other, they often do homework and study with their peers; academic support programs that involve one-on-one homework help also give students further opportunities to engage in active learning.

This is especially true for HMC, where the school deliberately advocates for a collaborative academic environment while also offering resources like computer science group tutoring or Academic Excellence tutoring. Consequently, the in-class benefits of the flipped classroom already exist outside the classroom, diminishing its positive effects.

Put simply, to increase student engagement and proficiency, 5C professors should do away with the flipped learning model. Teachers should listen to their students’ concerns, recognizing that what appears to be the new education fad is exactly that — a passing trend that only hurts students’ well-being. Regardless of what advocates argue, the reason is simple: It’s easier to be taught than to teach yourself.

Serena Mao HM ’25 is from Fremont, California. She’s enjoying Mudd so far, but chemistry has been especially hard. 

 

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