"We live in an information age," says Dr. Karin Strohmyer, assistant professor of education/special education at Buena Vista University (BVU). "Students must be able to solve problems and think critically and creatively because we are preparing them for positions that do not yet exist."
In response to the changing times, Strohmyer has integrated a teaching model into her classroom that is commonly referred to as "flipping." Flipping -- which is also known as reverse instruction, backwards classroom, and reverse teaching -- is an alternative model to the traditional lecture-style of teaching. In a flipped classroom, students read content and view pre-recorded lectures via short video or podcast (a multimedia file that can be downloaded from the Internet) prior to the class session. Face-to-face class time is devoted to discussion and problem-solving activities so students have the opportunity to analyze and reflect upon the knowledge they have already learned from the lectures.
"I think because the students are actively applying course material, they have a better understanding of real-world concepts," says Strohmyer, who is flipping two of the three courses she is teaching this fall. "This increased depth of knowledge has not only provided students with more confidence as future teaching professionals, but also with improved accuracy."
Specifically, students use face-to-face class time as an opportunity to examine what they have learned through examples, case studies, role play, collaborative activities, literature reviews and research. After this step, students must complete an independent application assignment on their own time.
"By participating in learning exercises, we get the chance to move around and get out of our comfort zones," says Mikaela Fiedler, a sophomore elementary education major from Storm Lake. "It is extremely beneficial to see how teaching theories and strategies actually apply in the classroom."
"The intention of flipping is to take out the lower-order thinking skills such as memorization, and instead analyze examples and issues so that students have the opportunity to make the topic their own," adds Strohmyer, who also used the teaching method when she taught at Fountain-Fort Carson High School in Fountain, Colo.
Strohmyer began flipping her courses at BVU in the fall of 2011, which also marked her first semester of teaching at the university. Initially, she only partially flipped the classroom by using a combination of the traditional lecture format and reverse instruction. After surveying her students to identify which teaching method was preferred, however, she learned that most students preferred the flipped model.
"Flipping allows us to explore real-world situations," says Andrew Gisch, a junior chemistry and secondary education double major from Laurens. "Because we are required to read and view podcasts before class, we are able to use class time to reinforce important concepts that we are already familiar with." Andrew is taking Differentiated Instruction for Exceptional Learners with Strohmyer this fall.
"Flipping will make me a better teacher because I will already know how to effectively use several teaching approaches in the classroom," adds Mikaela, who is taking Strohmyer's courses in Differentiated Instruction for Exceptional Learners and Characteristics of Students with Mild/Moderate Disabilities this fall.
Despite all the advantages of using the flipping model, Strohmyer did encounter some obstacles during the first semester. In addition to experiencing various technical issues, she quickly discovered that online quizzes and discussion boards were necessary for students to complete after viewing the podcasts. Since adding this requirement, students have become more actively engaged with the course material during class time, says Strohmyer.
Flipping also requires an immense amount of organization and preparation. Strohmyer, who creates the pre-recorded lectures for each of her classes, says the positive effects of reverse instruction on students' overall learning are well worth the extra effort.
"I've observed that students are more confident going into the classroom, that they have a more thorough understanding of theories, and are more natural and capable problem solvers," says Strohmyer. "It is important that students engage in learning exercises so that they're not surprised when they enter a classroom to teach, and that they can implement teaching strategies with fidelity because they have already dealt with real-world scenarios in college."
Strohmyer, who presented the model to BVU colleagues at a Faculty Friday informational luncheon last spring, also anticipates flipping to become more prevalent in college classrooms. "I think we will begin to see more and more professors use the method as they become familiarized and comfortable with it," she says. "There's only so much that can be covered inside the classroom because we're often very limited in time. Flipping is a great way to cover more information and discuss it more meaningfully through application and analysis."
"'Flipping the classroom' is a hot topic in higher-education pedagogy right now as we seek to find new ways to engage this generation of students using an array of strategies that take advantage of advanced technology and active learning," says Dr. David Evans, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty.
"Dr. Strohmyer brings valuable experience in this message to BVU and is having an impact already in the way we think about teaching," he notes. "Last year she gave a very well received Faculty Friday presentation on her use of the 'flipped classroom,' which has prompted considerable conversation and good thinking on campus. While I don't believe that this strategy is the best for every course or faculty member, I am pleased that we have a faculty member so interested in it so that we can develop skill and expertise to employ a wide range of teaching approaches to help our students learn most effectively."