Preparing to turn the classroom upside down by Dr David Nutt

I think it was at the HEA-STEM conference (London, April 2012) in a talk given by Prof Simon Bates from the University of Edinburgh (now at the University of British Columbia) that I first heard of the “flipped” or “inverted” classroom. The basic premise really appealed to me: contact time with lecturers is limited and precious, so why do we so often use them simply to present material? Given clear directions, the students can read things for themselves! Instead, the timetabled lecture slots can be used to create a dialogue: addressing areas of difficulty or common misconceptions, applying the material to real-life examples and so on.

There are all sorts of ways to flip the classroom, but the most common approach seems to be use video podcasts, like those from the Khan Academy, combined with “just in time teaching”. Students watch the videos in their own time in advance of the timetabled lecture and are assumed to have covered the material. This is often checked by getting them to complete an on-line quiz, with a number of questions based on the material, plus a final open-ended question asking whether there are things they have found unclear or particularly difficult. The day before the lecture (this is the “just in time” bit), the lecturer collates the data, finds out what areas are causing difficulty and prepares material for the class which addresses these issues.

I’ve decided to take the plunge and flip two of my lecture courses this year, a second year course on spectroscopy (5 lectures) and a fourth year course on biomolecular modelling (5 lectures). The second year course contains many fundamental concepts and equations which just need to be learnt. In this case, the lecture slots can be transformed into workshops, in which the concepts can be put into practice. I anticipate that the lecture slots for the fourth year course will become much more research-focussed, for example discussing a paper from the literature which uses the theories and approaches described in the video podcast to address a real scientific problem.

I’m currently starting to prepare these courses. Using a web-cam, Camtasia Studio software and a Yeti microphone (purchased as part of a previous HE-STEM project on developing video resources), it’s straightforward to produce good quality video podcasts. That’s the easy bit! The next bit is seeing how it all works in practice… I’ll let you know how I got on after Christmas!


My introductory video podcast for the students:

Introductions to the flipped classroom approach:

Other interesting web resources:

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