Who flips?

scientists discussing

Scientists discussing labs and student research.

Flipped classes have been in the air for me this week.  I enjoyed another Olin College Innovation Lab, where business leaders argued that in-class lecturing was doomed.  Then I helped with an NSF/ACS workshop for biologists and chemists (mostly) interested in teaching innovation.  The majority – really – described already flipping their classes.

This pair of experiences tied into conversations I’ve been having all year, where blended learning kept growing in popularity. This is partly a recognition of the undeniable presence of learning via technology, and partly a reaction against MOOCs (combining face-to-face and distance teaching vs massive distance learning).  Flipped classes are a subset of blended learning.

Flipping is on the rise for various reasons, but in this post I’m less interested in why flipped classes are growing in popularity than in who does the flipping.

First, who is more likely to flip their classes, tenure-track or adjunct faculty?

This is an important question, given the current divide of the professoriate into these two sectors, and also the general resource stresses afflicting campuses.

Sample Twitter posts on flipping.

I asked this question on Twitter.  Here are two responses.

We can imagine either population taking the flipping lead.  Tenure track faculty have enormous resource advantages, including better access to campus support, a greater likelihood of not suffering economic stress, and the ability to innovate iteratively within a single curriculum over a guaranteed span of time.

Adjuncts, on the other hand, have the ferocious incentive to develop better teaching in order to win continued employment.  Moreover, if adjuncts tend to be younger than their tenure-track fellows, that generally predisposes them to be more comfortable with flipping-enabling technologies.

The answer to this question matters enormously.  It impacts where campus leaders direct resources.  It has implications for professional development and career strategies.

Second question: which disciplines are most likely to embrace flipping?

Many humanists tell me they have been using flipped pedagogy for decades.  Historians, philosophers, literature profs assign readings for out of class time, then devote class time to discussion.  Composition instructors use class time for writing and workshops.  For them, the flipping trick isn’t a major break with their established practice.

Scientists already have labs, of course, and many experiment with in-class discussion.

Social scientists, as usual, straddle these two cultures.

As with my first question, there are strong implications for campus and personal strategies.

So who among academics will lead the way in flipping their classrooms?

Imperial moth.

One biology professor brought his pupal object of study along.  

(thank you to my Twitter discussants, like Michelle Franz, Joann GolasMikhail GershovichEstelle Metayer)

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8 Responses to Who flips?

  1. Michelle (@lrndeveloper) says:

    As my comments on twitter demonstrate, there are so many different tangents that this question can spark! I tend to think that adjuncts are more inclined to flip (for the reasons you state above) even though tenure-track have the resources. Sadly, it seems that many institutions aren’t willing to provide the same support to those who innovate regardless of the fact that regardless of faculty status such endeavors impact student success. For me, that is one of the underlying problems.

    Also, based on the general research focus of TT faculty it seems to me that innovation in the form of #edtech and flipping would fall much lower in priority unless it can be accounted for in their tenure. This is a much larger animal to discuss as it seems to me that the Academy isn’t inclined to allow Digital Scholarship to play as large a role as research.

    As it relates to disciplines I’d say that STEM sciences are likely to embrace flipping. One, because (as you state) they are already doing so to some degree by having lab time, etc. Also, STEM focused disciplines are also inherently experimental and would likely be more inclined to test innovations. This, then, begs the question of do faculty have the *time* to flip given the other obligations upon them (committee/administrative work, etc).

    Another interesting aspect of the “who” question would be are faculty at 2-year institutions more likely to flip than 4-year?

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    • Great thoughts and questions, Michelle.
      Let me try a few of them.

      Disciplines: that sounds about right. An extra support for STEM taking the lead is those fields’ historical preference for technology, as compared to that demonstrated by the humanities.

      2-year vs 4-year: good question. Perhaps 4-years would take the lead, given their newfound completion agenda.

      Adjuncts: perhaps that’s where edtech should be focused.

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  2. Yes, a lot of important questions here. Another important consideration might be what kinds of courses are most flip-able. I suppose there is a way to turn any lesson into a flipped lesson, but I suspect (and anecdotal evidence confirms this) that a lot of the recent experimentation in flipped classrooms is happening in introductory classes. It’s a way to make them more engaging, to assure the mastery of fundamentals, and to deal with the varying degrees of preparation students bring to intro courses.

    Flipping (with online tutorials, lectures, etc) might make more sense for STEM-based courses that are heavy in concepts, operations, and the need for practice and repetition (though by that argument, they’d also be great for foreign language courses, which have been sending their students to labs to practice with electronic tutorials for years). That said, there seems to be a lot of promise in thinking about how we can reconceptualize humanities classes around skill building with the help of technology. Robert Williamson, Jr. just gave the ACS a great run-down of how he uses Twitter-based homework assignments in his religious studies classes to do just that (http://tinyurl.com/knpa8vf).

    But those are the types of courses more conducive to flipping, not the profs more likely to experiment with it. In addition to the tenure-track vs. adjunct distinction (already some good thinking done in the post and response here), I also wonder if flipping is something that could be useful in programs in which faculty share responsibility for certain courses with a fairly rigid set of skills and outcomes that need to be met. But I think it might be useful to think, first and foremost, about who is most likely to innovate their pedagogy, rather than adopt new technologies. At heart, I think those who flip are strongly motivated by their conviction that flipping makes for more effective learning. There are many ways to flip, but the goal of all of them is to make class time more rewarding for everyone involved.

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  3. Great points, Amanda.

    Introductory classes tend to be larger, too, aren’t they? That’s where clickers can really help.

    Twitter: would that be during or outside of class sessions?

    Faculty class autonomy: if we want flipping to grow, maybe we should work with sets of classes (a premed program) where this isn’t much curricular flexibility. A success there would go further than with a single prof’s section.

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    • Michelle Franz says:

      Oh, this gets my creative juices flowing! It makes me want to experiment more with flipping programs and working in a more interdisciplinary fashion. Perhaps some sort of pseudo mentorship program for the latter. Anyway, how can we build an entire program that rolls concepts from different courses in the discipline’s curriculum while infusing the humanities portions as well? Ultimately, it feels like you are taking one giant class over the course of your program. It would take some work to do (particularly getting administrative buy in) but I suspect it could be done well and would be an interesting innovation to see evolve. I’d be curious to see impact on student success and retention as well.

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    • The Twitter assignments were both inside and outside of class, but mostly outside. For instance, Robert would have the students read Ecclesiastes for homework, then compose a Tweet that began “In Qoheleth’s view, God is…”. Quite a lot to say in a short space! In another variation, he had students read a secondary source on scripture and then boil the thesis down to a single tweetable sentence or two, then Tweet a second time in response to at least one other person’s summary. Best of all, he then used Storify to organize students’ Tweets for class discussion, showing them how different topics emerged, or showing major distinctions in how students were reading a text.

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