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New Technology Facilitates the "Flipped" Classroom

Barbara Lom
Professor of Biology Barbara Lom asks students in her Developmental Biology course to act out the early stages of embryonic development.

The Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) and Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) have made new resources available for faculty interested in teaching styles referred to as "blended" and "flipped." Blended learning courses contain online elements and traditional in-class components, while the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning in which the formal lecture is moved outside of the classroom and class time is devoted to deeper student engagement with the material.

Director of ITS Mur Muchane said, "In ITS we have a three-pronged strategy to support and encourage faculty who are interested in flipping their classrooms: tools, expertise and infrastructure."

The primary tools ITS provides are available through Echo360 technology, which allows faculty to record lectures and post them online. The recordings can include narrated Keynote or PowerPoint slideshows and/or video of the instructor in a side-by-side layout.

Associate Professor of Russian Studies Amanda Ewington worked with the CTL to flip the course "Elementary Russian I," and has found the Echo Smart pen to be an effective teaching tool.

"I needed something flexible so that I could complete one- to three-minute grammar lectures quickly after class and maintain an authentic voice in a pre-recorded lecture," she explained. "The Echo pen allows me to talk as I write, save the audio and visual recording, and upload the file as a PDF for students to watch as many times as they need."

Because the students come to class having listened to the grammar lectures, they're prepared to implement what they have learned and have more time to do so. Ewington has been able to add activities such as cognate bingo games. She added, "Whereas they previously came at the new material cold and we would review and practice it in the classroom, now they come into class ready to go."

Professor of Biology Barbara Lom noted that flipping "Developmental Biology" has created time in class for reviewing essential concepts to prepare students for exams.

"One day I told the students that we would be doing interpretive dance," she said. "I asked them to get into teams and challenged them to illustrate physically the different ways cells move in the early embryo. The exercise clarified and reinforced what they had viewed in the flipped lecture prior to class."

Lom narrates slide shows for her pre-class lectures and gives the students a prompt so they come to class prepared. "Recording and class preparation takes considerably longer than for a traditional lecture, but the investment is worthwhile because our classes are far more active, with richer discussions," she said.

In an end-of-semester survey on the flipped lectures, one student responded, "They often made the reading less daunting and directed us to the important messages of the reading, kept the class lectures a little bit shorter and forced me to be actively thinking about developmental biology outside of class."

Convenience is another advantage of the flipped lectures, Lom said. Students are able to review the material at their convenience. With the Echo360 technology, faculty members also can track the number of times students watch each lecture, as well as note the parts they skip and re-watch.

Muchane said, "The Echo360 heat maps provide faculty with a better view of the learning process."

Furniture Follows Function

Amanda Ewington
Professor of Russian Studies Amanda Ewington creates a flipped grammar lecture using an Echo Smart pen.

In addition to tools, classroom infrastructure facilitates learning processes. "The classroom technology task force, comprising faculty and ITS staff, has been rethinking and redesigning classroom spaces with the goal to enable classrooms to function in modes beyond lecture style teaching," said Muchane.

One of the new classroom spaces is Studio D, where Lom teaches her developmental biology course. All of the classroom's chairs and desks are mobile, and monitors and white boards don each wall. The monitors give professors mobility within the classroom, allowing them to control the content from an ipad as they teach.

"Because of the architecture of the room, students come in and feel ready to work," Lom said. "The furniture makes a significant difference because students can easily engage in group discussions and collaborative work."

Muchane added that Davidson is beginning to view furniture as part of the learning ecosystem at Davidson, and that it is ITS's role to keep up with the changing landscape of classroom infrastructure and technology.

Once ITS obtained the Echo360 technology, faculty seized the opportunity to pilot it.

New Name, Old Concept

"The concept of flipping is not necessarily new," said Muchane. "What's new is how we describe it and the technology that facilitates it, which both bring about more awareness of the teaching style."

Professor of Art History Shaw Smith, who teaches courses in Davidson's humanities program, has been "flipping" his courses for years by involving students in the teaching process. In his humanities class, the students come prepared with discussion questions. Two students are chosen to serve as discussion leaders and one as a scribe.

"That way everyone comes to class prepared in case they have to lead," Smith said. "I might give a small lecture at the beginning of class for contextual purposes, but sometimes the best classes are the ones where I don't say a word."

Smith considers the art history senior capstone seminar to be one of the best examples of a flipped course. Majors spend the majority of the semester teaching one another about specific topics within the course subject area and then travel to a relevant (and often international) city to teach their classmates on site.

In Ewington's experience, the flipped lectures provide students with a stronger sense of ownership. She said, "Pedagogically, I'm hoping that the flipped lectures empower the students because, as I heard at the workshops, the ability to control how and how many times they view the lectures gives them a sense of autonomy."