Friday, 15 July 2016

Flipping Alone isn’t the Answer

This is a piece of research that appeared in CBE—Life Sciences Education in July 2015 (available here). The study looked at the performance of students studying for a Biochemistry Major at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Over a five year period the researchers captured student performance in online homework activities as well as end of semester tests. The study looked at the performance of 489 students over the whole period. Of these 244 engaged in active learning in the face-to-face sessions, this meant using “personal-response hardware in class” or “student–student interactions facilitated by instructor” and “team-based, collaborative student interactions in class”. The chief conclusion of the paper is that a combination of flipped learning alongside active learning in class made a significant difference to outcomes in end of semester tests. As they say this approach “encourages students to become more engaged with course material, persist in their learning through more timely and accurate preparation, and, ultimately, perform better”. The effect is greater “for lower-GPA students and female students”.

Another interesting corollary to the research is the context of the study. “The initial impetus to convert the course described here from a standard lecture format to the flipped format was to keep class sizes from growing (due to increasing numbers of student majors) without substantially increasing the in-class time commitment of the instructor.” In other words as well as improving outcomes the approach reduced the face-to-face commitments of instructors. But this “increase in instructor efficiency is counterbalanced by the need for extensive development of online material on the part of the instructor, although that effort rapidly diminishes after the first offerings of the flipped course”. After a substantial initial investment in instructor time (and presumably some training for these staff) to create the online resources, less resources were then required to achieve better results. This study was in the United States and took place within a STEM course at HE and the numbers involved are relatively small. Allowing for these provisos this research should be prompting other HE providers to look at investigating the benefits of such an approach.

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