Change is Hard, but Flipping is Worth the Effort

Back view of male student sitting in a college lecture hall

Flipped classrooms are all the buzz in education, but what does it mean, exactly? And why should you flip your classroom and perhaps more importantly, how does an instructor flip the classroom? There are numerous definitions of the flipped or inverted class, but typically an instructor ‘flips’ by replacing lecture with hands-on activities that enhance student engagement in the classroom. Flipping a classroom (or any change, for that matter) seems daunting to many instructors. Most of us that have been teaching for several years have found a nice, comfortable method of teaching that we worked hard to achieve. While the research is still rather sparse on the effects on students, a case study I completed for an Introduction to Business course I flipped in 2014, indicated that flipping the classroom increased my attendance in classes by 12% and increased student success by 16% (exams and final grades).

Let’s start with why. First, let me emphasize that my pedagogical preference has never been purely lecturing. I recall as a student myself how little information I retained from listening to someone in front of the classroom rewording concepts from the textbook (that I didn’t really read). The students I teach are no different. In fact, the current generation of college students desire to be engaged, see correlations of how something will affect them, and see immediate fruits of their labor for them to continue with their educational pursuits.

Why is fairly easy to determine. We know that keeping students engaged is integral to retention, persistence, and ultimately, success. How to make such a major change in the classroom can be much more challenging (and scary) for instructors. I won’t pretend that flipping the classroom is easy.  It certainly is not as easy as preparing slides and regurgitating information from a textbook. It is time consuming and my endeavor in finding just the right fit for a particular subject or topic is not always successful or perfect. Additionally, in order for a flipped classroom to be successful, students must come to class prepared, having at the very least, skimmed the chapter material. This in itself is one of the biggest challenges I face with students today. However, using a technology-based product, such as MyLab, decreased the time I spent grading assignments, allowing me the time to find new and engaging hands-on activities to use in the classroom. Additionally, requiring students to complete activities before the class meets ensures that they have at the very least been exposed to the chapter material.

Here is what a typical week looks like for my flipped classroom. At least one day prior to meeting face to face during class time, I require students to take a chapter quiz, which covers basic concepts related to the material that will be discussed. The questions that I use are easy or moderate questions. I allow students two attempts at the quizzes to help increase the score and better understand the concepts. Before I meet with students, I utilize the analytics provided by MyLab to see which concepts the class collectively struggled with. I begin the class with a short (usually less than 5 minutes) explanation of the concepts they struggled with on the quiz. The remaining time I spend with students consists of short (10 minutes) group or individual activities that applies concepts into real-world experience. These activities may include group work, finding further information on the internet or watching and discussing a short video. After the class session is finished, students must, on their own, complete a simulation that further applies concepts to a scenario-based business. Finding the perfect activity that is engaging, meaningful and rewarding to students can be a challenge. However, the internet is full of activities that relate to specific concepts or courses. I have taken ideas that I found on a subject completely unrelated to mine and making adjustments to fit the concepts I am teaching. I also utilize all of those rarely-viewed instructor manuals that I have collected in my 10+ years of teaching; they almost all have group or individual activities that can be tweaked to fit well in the flipped classroom.

Regardless of the subject you teach or how much you loathe change, flipping a classroom can be accomplished and is quite rewarding for the instructor and student alike. If you don’t like to jump into things with both feet, try changing one or two class sessions during a semester to see how your students react and gradually add more each topic presented or even each semester until you have the flipped course that is perfect for you and your students.

I know I mentioned my case study earlier, but you can see the details and statistics about how student achievement increased in the full report.


About the Author
Sarah Shepler

Sarah Shepler

Sarah Shepler is the program chair and associate professor for Business Administration, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, and Entrepreneurship at Ivy Tech Community College in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she primarily teaches marketing, introduction business, business statistics and leadership courses.  She has been with the college for close to 10 years and in addition to serving as the program chair, also serves as the service learning champion, statewide committee chairperson, and Kappa Beta Delta faculty advisor.  Prior to higher education, Sarah worked in various management positions, including a large national grocery chain and a national restaurant chain and has consulted in several new business launches.  Shepler is the 2015 recipient of the Shaffer Student Advocacy Award.

Sarah received her BS in marketing research from Indiana State University in 2002 and her MS in management from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2004.  She is currently seeking her PhD in organizational leadership and resides in Southwestern Indiana with her family.