Sunday, May 14, 2017

Flipped Classroom for the Large Class

This past year I was honored to receive the Innovation in Teaching Award from the UConn School of business.  This post contains the text of my application.  I share it here to contribute to the ongoing discussion about the value traditional large lecture classes in undergraduate education.  I hope that you find my comments helpful.

Course: BLAW 3175/BADM 3720 The Legal and Ethical Environment of Business

Innovation: Use of a “Flipped Classroom” model of instruction for a large enrollment class (100-130 students).

The Challenge:  In a traditional large lecture course, a professor assigns readings from a text, delivers classroom lectures on a topic each class and then gives 2-3 objective exams, each covering multiple topics. Most recently, there has emerged three significant developments challenges to learning success in the large lecture class format. 
First, millennial generation learners have a tendency to “learn to the test.”  They display less intellectual curiosity than past learners.  Millennials tend to prefer to know a little about a lot of things, rather than to understand any particular subject in depth. The large lecture format reinforces this lack of depth by encouraging students to mechanically record information during lecture rather than using the information to foster understanding.  Second, phones and laptop computers in the classroom create competition for student attention in class.  Finally, a culture of textbook rejection permeates the college learning environment.  High costs of printed texts is only one factor in the shunning of textbook purchases.  Seeing themselves as consumers of education, rather than as learning partners, the millennial student expects the classroom lecture to deliver all that is needed for a grade. To their minds, the textbook is superfluous.

Based on the above, I determined that the traditional lecture format was no longer effective for learning in BLAW 3175, and explored use of a flipped classroom model beginning with the Spring 2016 semester. The flipped classroom employs a method of delivering information to students  outside of the classroom while classroom time is devoted to using that information to solve problems or otherwise exploring the relevance of the information in business context.  The goal is to get students to evolve beyond a high school style of learning that involves retaining information to pass a test, and to learn as adults do, converting information into understanding to guide decision-making. 

The Method:  The methodology has four steps:  1. Deliver information, 2. Use the information, 3. Re-examine the information, 4. Assess the learning.

1. Deliver information: To deliver information outside of class I worked with a publisher that specializes in interactive online texts (Great River Learning). Over two and a half years I collected and organized learning resources, writing and compiling a unique text. .  Unlike a traditional textbook, which simply involves reading words, or even a traditional online textbook which is merely a pdf of a printed book, this text is interactive, working more like a website.  The text makes liberal use of internet resources by repeatedly linking out to videos, websites, and blogs. Some of the videos are produced by other universities, news agencies or academic centers.  Some are music videos, comedy skits or other popular culture devices that have been selected to enhance the curriculum. Students, therefore, work in a familiar medium that is similar to web surfing rather than reading a traditional text. 

2. Use the information: Since information is being delivered outside of class, class time is used to work with that information to construct understanding.   Students are assigned into small discussion groups that are permanent for the semester. In one of the weekly class sessions, students work in the small discussion groups responding to a discussion prompt. The prompt is designed so that students will use the information they received through the text to evaluate a relevant instance or circumstance (either a hypothetical or an example drawn from current events). I walk among the groups listening to the discussions and giving individualized direction where needed. Every 10 minutes or so, the attention of the class is called back to the front and the prompt is adjusted or enhanced as appropriate to stimulate further discussion.  Each group is given a summary sheet to report the results of their discussions at the end of the class.

3. Re-examine the information:  After working through each module in the text, students answer a number of early assessment or polling questions. After examining the results on the early assessment questions, I use the second class meeting of the week to concentrate efforts on enhancing understanding of any concepts that showed poor results in the early assessment. Instead of lecturing on an entire module, I can pick the few problem topics and emphasize more provocative examples to illustrate concepts in the targeted areas. Typically, I present the detailed and nuanced material that had been previously left out of traditional lectures because of the need to cover the breadth of general information.  The class is sprinkled with i-clicker response questions where both students and instructor receive immediate feedback on the level of understanding of concepts. Also, I will have reviewed the results of the discussion sessions and will typically have more feedback or follow-up and, when necessary, can return students to back to the discussion groups for further consideration. 

4. Assess the learning: Each text module (20 in all) has an online assessment that is available to students beginning after the second class meeting of the week and is available for 36 hours.  Students who are ready to take the assessment will do so immediately.  Those who wish to re-read the textual material or ask questions of the instructor have time to do so.  Instead of having to “cram” for an exam covering many topics, the assessments cover the material from the most recent module.

Student responses on SETs have been overwhelmingly positive. Students who comment otherwise have said that they prefer not to be challenged to have to think during class.  I consider those comments to indicate a successful result.