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Find insights to improve teaching and learning across your campus. Delivered on Thursdays.

From: Beth McMurtrie

Subject: Teaching: Professors Weigh In on the Challenges of Flipped Classrooms

This week:

  • I share some insights into making flipped classrooms work.
  • I ask how the movement against critical race theory may affect your teaching.
  • I point you to articles and a webinar about teaching you may have missed.
  • I share a new report on building a diverse campus.

Work Outside of Class

Last month I asked readers to share stories of their struggles with flipped learning. Specifically, I wanted to know whether professors struggled with keeping students who are consumed with other activities on track. I received good insights from several of you about flipped learning, but also about the general challenge of doing work outside of class.

Sharon Sassler, a professor in the department of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, wrote in to say that her students struggle to complete coursework in part because they are busier than ever.

“They want multiple minors in addition to their majors, they want all these leadership opportunities, they spend inordinate amounts of time with pre-professional organizations. Then there are the fraternities or sororities,” she writes.

But Sassler thinks something else is going on as well. Students today seem more hesitant about tackling projects outside of class. The assignments she gives, for example, focus on tracking down publicly available data, analyzing it, writing a short paper, and then submitting it for review. In years past, she would provide step-by-step instructions, then expect students to take it from there. Students today “seem increasingly stressed out when asked to do this. And having to write up these measures, coherently (thesis and topic sentences), is a challenge,” she writes. “Between being asked constantly for rubrics, or checklists, or how-to’s, I just feel that students want to know exactly what they have to do, and then will do it. But that generally is not how I think the best learning happens.”

Because multilayered assignments have proved challenging for many students, Sassler is creating a section this fall in which a lot of the work will be done within class. That will allow her, she says, to teach basic Excel skills, walk students through pulling data, describe what to do when they encounter challenges, and teach them basic graphing and labeling skills. “While I feel like this is rather elementary,” she says, “my goal is to have them be less stressed, learn to work together, and review each other’s work.”

Autar Kaw, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of South Florida, wrote in to say that he’s been teaching flipped classes since 2013, which has functioned well even though more than half of his students work about 20 hours a week.

Part of what makes his setup function effectively is that he uses adaptive courseware for pre-class work, which adjusts lessons based on what students know. The system is also set up so that students are essentially forced to distribute their work over the week. Students have to score a certain number of points to move from lesson to lesson, he says. “However, we do not make weekly assignment completion dependent on the previous week’s ones,” he writes. “That would be harder to manage, too much to expect, and create demotivation.”

Finally, Kaw says, the amount of time students put into a flipped class is about two to three hours per week before each class, which should be true of any course, flipped or traditional. Yet he has noticed that students often exaggerate the number of hours they report putting into a flipped class. Because the adaptive courseware tracks such things, he can see how much time they actually spend.

“I had a student who claimed that he was frustrated as he spent 6 hours on the weekly assignments,” he writes. “The platform gave me a number that was much less than the expected two or three. Also, he was skipping learning material and trying to do the assessments of a lesson.”

Laura Le, a lecturer in biostatistics in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, wrote in to say that she teaches many of her classes using the flipped model, and that some of her students work full time while pursuing their graduate degrees.

The course is time-intensive, she says, but the program is designed to help students along. First, she makes sure that they are aware upfront of the amount of time they need to put into the course. Advisers also make sure that students aren’t taking too heavy of a course load. For example, students are discouraged from taking biostatistics and epidemiology in the same semester. She also provides students with a suggested daily schedule to help them plan their time, from working through the lectures and reading to taking their end-of-unit quiz.

Her advice to others considered a flipped classroom is twofold. One, learn to be comfortable moving away from the sage-on-the-stage model toward becoming a facilitator. That is hard for a lot of professors, she notes, because you must relinquish some control. You also have to be good at keeping conversation going and asking good questions.

Second, don’t be afraid to experiment and adjust as needed. “In my experience, if you let students know that you are making changes to make their experiences better, they usually don’t complain (we were making changes for four weeks in a row one term when we were trying something for the first time),” she writes. “It saddens me when I hear someone tried something and then just totally ditched it because it didn’t work once.”

The Controversy over Critical Race Theory

In recent months, more than half of all states have taken steps to restrict the teaching of critical race theory or otherwise limit how race and racism are taught. How might these efforts — and the broader public debate — affect professors who address issues of race in their teaching? Will they be altering their syllabi or changing how they teach? Will they address the controversy directly in their classes? Are departments strategizing over how best to respond?

If you’d be interested in talking to me about how this controversy may affect your teaching or about strategies your department or campus are discussing, please write to me at beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com. You can also fill out this Google form.

ICYMI

  • What will faculty members need if they want to continue teaching online or in a hybrid format? Jenae Cohn explores the issue in this Chronicle advice piece.
  • A number of colleges have brought professors together to talk about the pandemic-driven teaching changes they want to keep. Here is Dartmouth’s take.
  • How will AI transform teaching and learning? Professors and researchers who use tech in the classroom talk about their work in this Chronicle webinar, which can be watched on demand.

Building a Diverse Campus

Check out The Chronicle’s latest free report, which describes how particular institutions have reimagined faculty searches and increased faculty diversity. The report also examines when it is legal to use race in hiring and promotion and cites research on key questions like: Is the pipeline problem real, and does diversity training help?

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

— Beth

Learn more about our Teaching newsletter, including how to contact us, at the Teaching newsletter archive page.

Beth McMurtrie is a senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, where she writes about the future of learning and technology’s influence on teaching. In addition to her reported stories, she helps write the weekly Teaching newsletter about what works in and around the classroom. Email her at beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com, and follow her on Twitter @bethmcmurtrie.