Flipped Classes Part 2: 5 Things to Consider When Flipping your Class

So, in part 1 of this series,  I introduced how I define a flipped class. Along the way, I mentioned a few things that need further details. As promised, here they are! So, without further ado, here are 5 things you need to consider when flipping your class.

1. Student Time

I made this first because it's so incredibly important but also the easiest one to forget. Despite all of the benefits of a flipped class, we don't get to ask for more time from students. So, if you are going to require students to do something before class, that absolutely has to be offset by how much is required of them after class. Some of the time they would normally spend on their homework is offset by the fact that they have already gotten some practice during class, but this is a pretty small amount.

Generally, the rule of thumb is that for every credit hour the course is, you can require 3 hours per week of student time for the median student. In fact, for lots of universities, this is written as policy. Traditionally, one of those three is used by class time. However, we are living in the time of COVID and have learned lots of non-traditional models. In fact, lots of hybrid courses are flipped. There are even a few resources I've read that use the two terms interchangeably (though, I hope we have learned better by now).

There are a few ways you might accomplish this offset:
  • Move some of the problems that you might normally ask students in their homework to the before-class work.
  • Move some of the problems that you might normally ask students in their homework to in-class activities.
  • Assign students traditional homework assignments but have them start on the assignment as their in-class activity.
I typically do a combination of the first two. But, as I mentioned in part 1, I have seen successful implementations of the third.

2. Content Delivery

The usual default for delivering content is to post videos. I think this is a great option, but I want to repeat what I said in the last post: make your videos short. Seriously, the shorter the better. If you can make a 30-second video that gets across what you need, that's amazing! Though, a good general rule of thumb for a video is that 2-5 minutes is ideal, and more than 10 is getting dicey. After that, student attention drops off considerably.

Now, if you're going to do videos, where are they coming from? Lots of instructors want to create their own, but I want you to have a serious conversation with yourself about how much time you have to devote to that. It takes a ton of time to make your own videos. I've usually just used existing videos on the internet because there are already lots of great educators out there who have made lots of great videos. A fear I often hear about using someone else's videos is that students won't feel like you're the instructor, the person in the videos is. I can say that it's possible if one person had made all of the videos and other content that you're using, but if you're building this yourself and curating the videos and other materials yourself, it should be fine. I personally have never had this issue.

Now, although videos are the most common option, they aren't the only option! Especially for upper-level courses, I would suggest you strongly consider requiring students to read the textbook instead of or as well as posting videos. The way I make my decision is whether knowing how to read and absorb information from a mathematical text is an important learning goal for the course. For courses like algebra or calculus, the answer is usually no, and for those courses, I tend to stick with videos and some written examples for quick reference. However, for upper-level courses and especially for proof-based courses, I often find that the answer is yes. However, I also often find that students need some support learning how to get information out of mathematical texts. So, if I'm going to assign readings, I usually include a reading guide or worksheet to help students find the most important parts. I also recently started posting PDFs of the readings with my written comments in the margins. I can say things like "This is really important, so pay extra attention here," or "This is a really common mistake, so watch out for that," or "I really don't like this notation. I typically use this notation instead."

3. Before Class Activity/Assignment

Okay, so you've decided how you're delivering content. Now, you need students to be doing something with this content before class. They need some motivation to make sure they get it done (as we all often do!), and they need to engage in the material in order to absorb it. My default setup for this is to have some sort of assignment that is auto-graded and that the students have multiple (ideally unlimited) attempts on. We use Canvas as our Learning Management System (LMS), and it has a built-in quiz feature with lots of options for auto-graded questions. I've also built this into external homework platforms that we were using for the course anyway.

I really like this setup because it gives them the space to test their understanding and ask questions if it doesn't go well before they even get to class. Now, you might be thinking: okay, that's cool for Algebra or Calculus, but what about upper-level courses? Those kinds of problems can't be auto-graded. To which I say, only if you stick to super-traditional questions. I've implemented this in both an introduction to proofs course as well as an introduction to real analysis course. Here are some suggestions for auto-graded questions that would work well, even in an upper-level course:
  • "Which of the following are examples of blah?" Great way to test whether students actually understand and can apply a definition, rather than just regurgitating it. You could do it as multiple-choice (only one choice is correct) or multiple-select (more than one choice might be correct and all have to be selected to get full credit).
  • Any true or false question. This is especially a good tool for proof-based classes, with minor adjustments to the statements of key theorems. Try the converse. Try changing universal to existential quantifiers or vise versa. Try taking out or changing a hypothesis. Again, this is a great way to explore students' understanding of a theorem (and its limitations) rather than just repeating its statement
  • Find the Error. This one depends a little bit on the tech you have, but I love giving students a sample solution to a problem that has some error in it and then asking them to identify the error. I love these questions in every class, but the hard part is getting it auto-graded. The new Canvas quizzes tool has a "hot spot" option, where you can upload a picture and prompt students to click on something in the picture. On the back end, you tell it where students are supposed to be clicking on the picture. I've used this tool for find-the-error problems, asking students to click on the part with the error. It limits the kinds of errors I can ask about, but so far, it's worked pretty well.
There are, of course, other options for pre-class assessments. For example, one colleague of mine would give students a quiz at the start of class, which almost exactly matched one of the questions they were asked to complete before class. The before-class questions were not graded, and students were given detailed solutions to study from. This got around the auto-graded part while also limiting the grading workload. 

4. In-Class Time

Part of the goal of a flipped class is to free up class time for more active learning. However, this then opens up the question: what does that active learning during class look like?

One question you'll want to answer as you plan is whether class time will include any lecture. Over time, I've landed on typically including at least a little bit of lecture. If nothing else, it gives students a sense of comfort. It also gives an opportunity for whole-class discussion. When students come to class already understanding the basics, it's easier to get questions and ideas when working through a problem at the board. 

My usual format would be to lecture for a short period of time at the start of the class, either going over the main points they should have gotten from the before-class work or some things that weren't covered in that work. After that, I typically give students a worksheet of problems to work through in groups while I circulate, and they spend the rest of the class time on that.

Teaching during COVID has been different, as one might expect. This semester, I'm mostly doing instructor-led work, while making sure they get plenty of active practice scattered throughout. Think of it as a lecture with lots of frequent clicker questions. Though, I'm using desmos classroom activities as my clickers. And so far, I love it! I'm already planning an entire post on desmos activities!

This semester's format is taking more careful planning and pacing than I'm used to, but I just haven't been able to get Zoom breakout rooms to work so this is what I have landed on. So far, it's actually going pretty well and I'm getting good feedback from students. Though, I constantly feel like I see all of these great questions and activities I could assign students during class, but there just isn't enough time. Alas, perhaps once we are back to a more normal semester...

You also are going to want to think about how and whether the in-class work is graded. I would highly suggest that if you count the in-class work towards their grade, avoid grading it for accuracy. This should be a space where students can make mistakes and learn from them, without penalty. This semester, I'm giving students 5 points of participation for each class day as long as they were in the desmos activity and generally doing stuff. They earn all 5 points even if they didn't complete every problem and regardless of whether they got the problems correct. When we were in person and students were working on worksheets, I would usually have a copy of written solutions at the front of the room for students to check their work, and they would earn participation points for the day by completing a quick check-in at the end of class. Some of my absolute favorite teaching moments were watching students (often who weren't even working in the same group on the worksheet) at the front of the room debating a solution. The check-in would just be a quick three-question survey: 
  1. What is something you learned or understand better after class today?
  2. What is a question that you have or something that you have not yet mastered?
  3. Is there anything else that you would like to share with me today?
Again, they get points just for writing anything down, but it's a great way for me to gather feedback. As an added bonus, it helps them with metacognition and self-regulation. Speaking of which...

5. Self-Regulation

Some of the feedback I've gotten from students is that they like the format, but it can be chaotic and confusing at the beginning. When you think about it, this totally makes sense. Even though (as we talked about in point 1) we aren't adding to the total time commitment for the course, we are doubling the number of assignments by giving them before-class and after-class assignments.

So, if you're thinking about flipping your class, learn from my mistake. Give students very clear and easy to find resources for knowing what they need to be accomplishing and when. This semester, I started sending out a weekly email that lists each day of that week and the list of things they must/should/can do on that day. This gives them an easy checklist for each day and helps them regulate the importance of each thing on the list. A few students have already commented on these, so I can tell they are using them. You could also just create one for each week and post it on your LMS for students to look up each week. This is what my awesome new colleagues at UK created for the asynchronous version of our online College Algebra class.

In fact, giving students these extra-clear agendas and instructions is a great way to get student buy-in. Which, not-so-coincidentally, is what I'll be writing about in part 3!


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