Posts Tagged ‘flipped classroom’

Talbert’s _Flipped Learning_

June 29, 2017

I just finished Robert Talbert’s Flipped Learning. Here is a brief review.

I will preface the review with a couple of comments. I have “known” Talbert online for years, although I have never met him in person. I was also mentioned in the acknowledgments, although I did not play much of a role in writing the book (you will see below that I have a lot of work to do with flipped learning). Finally, I did not receive any payment of any sort for anything related to this book, and Robert does not know that I am writing this review (he does not even know that I read it).

This is an excellent book, if only because it actually defines what flipped learning (or flipped classrooms, or inverted classrooms, or whatever) actually is (spoiler: it is not simply showing videos outside of class). Prior to reading this book, I would have said that I have been flipping my class since 2010. I usually have my students read/watch videos/work on problems outside of class to introduce the material and use the in-class time for sense-making. However, this is not sufficient to be flipped learning by Talbert’s definition, and I think that his definition is better than what I had in my head. The issue is that Talbert requires the out-of-class work to be structured, and I often do not do that (basically, the definition is that there has to be a structured introduction to the material prior to class, followed by active learning in the classroom). I have read Talbert write about Guided Practice previously, and I always thought that it seemed like a good idea. The book helped clarify why this is essential, and I am in the process of preparing Guided Practice assignments for next year because of the book. In fact, I found that the book format allowed me to understand a lot of his ideas that I had read about for years, and I found myself wishing that more of my online friends wrote books about how they teach (so please get on that, everyone).

Talbert gives step-by-step instructions on several things that can improve your classroom (designing the course, creating Guided Practice assignments, etc). This really acts as a how-to guide, in many ways. He also spells out what the point is: you do flipped learning to take advantage of the active learning in the in-class.

The last section of his book is helpful to anyone using active techniques. For instance, he talks through what to do when students express dissatisfaction because the professor “isn’t teaching” (or “I have to teach myself everything”). This is worth reading even if you never plan on doing flipped learning.

One thing that is worth noting is how useful I found it that the book was written by a mathematician. He frequently used examples relating to mathematics (three of his six case studies were on mathematics classes), and this helped me digest the material. In contrast, I have been reading a lot about Team-Based Learning this summer, and there have been zero examples of a mathematics classroom (although I found stuff on statistics and math for engineers), and the lack of relevant examples has slowed me down a bit in imagining how my courses might look like if I implemented Team-Based Learning. Of course, some may view the focus on mathematics as a drawback, but I (and likely those reading this post) found it helpful.

It was also enjoyable to read a book on teaching written by a mathematician because Talbert thinks about education in the same way one thinks about mathematics. For instance, he gives two approximations for the definition of flipped learning before settling on the one he uses. Also, he abstracts his ideas on flipped learning as much as possible. I paraphrased his definition above by referring to “in-class” and “out-of-class” time, but he abstracts this to “group space” and “individual space,” respectively, so that he can accommodate blended and online courses.

In summary, I feel like I am a bit of a veteran with the flipped classroom, but I am changing my planning for next year because of this book. It was quite helpful. I will end with my two favorite quotes from the book.

Q: I am having a hard time finding appropriate action verbs to use for my learning objectives…Is there a place I can go for hints?
A: Yes, and it’s called “the internet.”

(Talbert goes on to elaborate his answer above).

In a flipped learning environment, we instructors have to make educated guesses on the “center of mass” of the students’ ZPDs based on their execution of basic learning objectives and design the group space activities accordingly. Getting this guesswork right is part science and part art (possible part magic).

When to start flipping

February 1, 2013


Joshua Bowman tweeted the following question:

The underlying question is: should your first flipped class be a class you have taught before, or should it be a new class?

The argument for the former seems clear to me: it is smart to reduce the number of moving parts. If you have the content and assessments down, you can focus more on the pedagogy.

But I probably lean the other way: I think that it might be better to first flip a class you have not taught before. The reason: you don’t have the safety net of a pre-prepared lecture to fall back on, so you are forced to solely think about the class from a flipped perspective.

Of course, this might just be because of my personal experience. My first attempt at flipping a class was in linear algebra, which I had taught twice before. I had the students watch some Khan Academy videos and do problems out of the textbook before class, and we worked on problems during class.

The problem was that students would ask me questions in class, and I could immediately turn to all of my pet examples (which I had not reviewed beforehand) that I developed the two previous semesters. So the first third of the semester was as much a straight lecture as a flipped classroom. Once I realized this was happening, I rebooted the class to be a better version of a flipped classroom (but you never want to be forced to reboot anything).

Other people may not have this trouble, but I did. But it worked out: I taught real analysis—which I had not taught before—and the flipped classroom went well. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it helped that I did not already have a lecture-mindset for that class.

Anyway, here is my advice for anyone considering flipping a classroom:

  1. Start with a class you haven’t taught before.
  2. Use Peer Instruction (PI). Not only will it provide you with a great framework for your in-class work, but many people do it so you can borrow/steal a lot material. Best yet: even if you completely screw up the class, you will still be no worse off than a brilliantly-done lecture.
  3. Choose a class textbook that is readable for the students. Have the students read it before each class.
  4. Have some sort of mechanism for collecting the students’ questions prior to each class. Classroom management systems like Moodle/Blackboard/etc work, you could set up a class blog on and have them use the “comments” for their questions, or you could just use email.
  5. Get someone else’s PI “clicker questions” to use a foundation for your course.
  6. To prepare for a class, read through the section and create several clicker questions of your own before reading the clicker questions you stole from someone else (this is to get practice, but also to focus on what you think is important about the section). After you have written some of your own, merge them with the reference questions you got from someone else. This can be done well before the class actually meets.
  7. The morning before the class, look through your students’ questions. Pick the appropriate clicker questions from your reserve that will best answer their questions, writing new ones if needed (this is optional, especially if you have an 8 am class). Be sure to keep some questions on the most important topics, though, since students sometimes do not ask questions on this.
  8. Go to class, ask the questions, and have fun.

Notice that I did NOT recommend “creating videos.” I think that this is a nice thing to do for the students, but it is a lot of work. Students can definitely learn from a reasonable textbook.

As for “clickers,” I use TurningPoint, but only because that is what my campus decided on. Several people use iClicker, and Learning Catalytics is supposed to be awesome if you are sure that everyone has a device (and you have some money to spend). But do not discount low-tech solutions, either: I believe Andy Rundquist prefers colored notecards to electronic clickers (students raise a red notecard for option a, green for b, etc).

I am a big fan of the flipped classroom for most college-level classrooms. Please contact me if you are interested in getting started.

As always, please feel free to critique anything that I have said in the comments.

(photo “Flip” by flickr user SierraBlair, Creative Commons License)