Professors Flip Classroom

Four Harvey Mudd College professors are turning the traditional classroom setting on its head in an effort to add to the growing conversation about technology’s place in education. With funding from a National Science Foundation grant, professors Karl Haushalter, Nancy Lape, Rachel Levy, and Darryl Yong are researching the efficacy of the flipped classroom model. 

In a flipped classroom, the passive part of a college class—such as a lecture—takes place outside of the classroom through the use of lecture-style videos, allowing students to spend class time working through problems and otherwise actively learning.

“There is quite a bit of pedagogy that shows that having the student passively listen to someone else talk about something is among the least effective ways to ultimately learn it,” said Haushalter, a chemistry professor who is currently preparing to teach his first flipped class in biochemistry. “But if you just throw them right into active learning, if you don’t have the scaffolding, the basic background facts, that won’t be a productive learning environment either.”

The professors ran a pilot program during the 2012-2013 academic year, so the experiment is still in its early stages. 

The second year is “still in beta, but at least we’re out of alpha,” said Lape, an engineering professor. The professors are using control groups to see how the flipped classroom setting fares compared to the traditional. 

“I have two sections learning the same material—one flipped, one normal,” Lape said. “We’re testing the metacognitive function of the students to measure student learning gains.”

Students were not able to choose between the standard and inverted class sections.

Lape said that thus far there seems to be no significant advantage to learning in a flipped classroom environment—the two groups have yielded nearly identical results—but the professors involved agree that the experiment is still too young to draw definite conclusions.

“The main advantage in this system seems to be for faculty members who are already not practicing active learning,” Haushalter said. “If this were the pre-established case, then the flipped classroom method would introduce active learning, which can help students engage and hopefully learn and retain more information.” 

The professors will conduct the experiment for three more years and they hope to fine-tune the program along the way. 

“We want to make sure we are still giving students a valuable learning experience, flipped classroom or not,” Lape said.

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