Online educational tools + a flipped classroom = a winning combination for students
Gone are the days when students sit in class after class taking notes, quizzes, and exams. Students today want to actively learn in the classroom and on their own. Digital technology and new classroom models are providing the environment today’s students prefer. Understanding the desires of today’s students, Instructor Ruth White implemented not only online digital technology in her Business Communications course, but also created a flipped classroom. Her journey to improving her course by observing her students and participating in a structured educator study is quite insightful. She took some time to share her perspective in this interview.
Q. Why did you decide to implement digital technology (MyBusCommLab) into your business communications course?
Ruth: My original goal was twofold: Start introducing students at BGSU to “online/digital technologies” because I know every graduating student needs to be proficient with online/digital technologies of all kinds, for today’s workplaces. Also, I was hoping to enhance what the students learned and allow for more active learning in the classroom and less lecture.
Q. With the digital implementation you also changed the structure to a flipped classroom model. Why?
Ruth: All the information I’m reading states the students of today are technology savvy and don’t want to just sit and listen to lecture. By using the technology to teach definitions and content, I then had more time to flip the classroom and use active learning to teach applications of the content.
Q. Due to this change, what changes have you seen in your students, especially how they engage with you and the course content?
Ruth: Self-efficacy is a part of higher ed learning that I believe helps a student become a better critical thinker (supposedly our goal). Through my case study and surveys we gave the students, we found that their self efficacy went up, which was a goal of mine. I had to learn over time which online content made the students engage better with the content, but through trial and error, I found a grouping of assignments/methods that worked well for the students. The students always mentioned in end of year surveys how much they learned from the active learning in class versus lecture, which was also my goal.
Q. What other ways have you refined your course to improve it?
Ruth: As I alluded earlier, too much is too much and you can’t use everything offered in the cafeteria of online technology. I was able to narrow the “study assignments” down to one major set per chapter, and then was able to use certain technologies to enhance my in-class lectures as well as used end of chapter questions and cases for the active learning portion of class.
Q. What insights can you share about flipping your classroom?
This could be “instructor error”, but I found I couldn’t completely flip the classroom. Many students were too uncomfortable with having to learn all of the content from their reading and homework online. I found I was however able to cut my lecture at least by 50% and only focus on the content that needed more definition/examples/lecture for the students. I was able to do this by looking at the student results with the online assignments and was then able to tailor my lecture around areas with poor results.
Q. What changes have you seen in your students now that the format is more interactive?
Ruth: Based on the surveys given, self-efficacy has increased. Students are enjoying the in class active learning and end of semester survey results are positive. Even though my classes offer the student more homework and more testing – my classes still fill up.
Q. How are they able to learn within the flipped classroom?
Ruth: Getting this right is still a work in progress, but the active learning assignments completed in class, when I use the right ones, allow for the students to apply the content described in their readings to a real life scenario. I try to assign items that not only ask a question to answer but also require some online research to verify the answer given.
Q. Are there any other tips within your area of expertise that you would like to share?
Ruth: Partially flipping and/or flipping your classroom takes a lot of “up front” work. You have to stay ahead of the student results with assigned homework,etc. It isn’t less work than lecturing, in fact it is more work. But I feel I’m offering a more quality educational experience for the students.
Q. How are you assigning writing assignments (Writing Space) through the digital platform?
Ruth: I usually assign 2 or 3 auto-graded writing assignments each semester.
Q. What has been student response to the autograding?
Ruth: I’ve learned that the professor needs to “sell” the students on the benefits of using this technology up front, or student will not trust in the in the integrity of the assignment. I assure all students that at least one student in a class of 50 students will receive a 100%. So far that has always been achieved.
Q. Does the autograding hold up against your grading standards?
Ruth: To continue clarifying, I believe an assignment should be achievable, meaning at least one student should be able to achieve 100%. The results on these assignments follow closely to my expected bell curve of grading standards. Approximately 10% achieving A’s, 35% achieving B’s, 50% achieving C’s and only 5% achieving below C. In fact, if anything, I believe this technology helps my C students become better writers. It moves a significant portion of my students from achieving C’s to B’s.
Q. What impact or benefits have you observed on your teaching (lecture changes, time spent grading, intervention opportunities, etc) since implementing a digital course component?
Ruth: My grading time has gone down, but my time spent looking at results with the technology has replaced my grading time. So once again, it isn’t necessarily a timesaver, but allows me to offer a more quality education to my students. It is definitely a timesaver on routine assignments and tests. Your work is spent up front getting it all set up, then you spend less time moving through the rest of the semester, except for looking at student results.
Q. What roadblocks or challenges did you face and how did you handle them using the digital program?
Ruth: As with any online technology there will always be glitches and issues that come up that are out of my control. I had to get past the learning curve with the technology. Now as a “pro” I again spend the time at the beginning educating the students on how to use the technology, its interactiveness with different online servers and softwares, and explaining how to utilize tech support to their advantage. By doing this up front, I save myself a lot of time and emails as the semester unfolds.
Q. Do you think the formative homework in MBCL had an impact on the summative assessments in the course? How?
Ruth: Yes. Students who achieved higher scores on MyBCommLab homework assignments also earned higher final course grades. In addition, Writing Space’s automatic grading saved the instructor time and provided students with consistent, objective evaluations of their written work. The technology does a good job of offering enough content related homework assignments that the student can learn the content outside of class, which allows for application learning within the flipped classroom. The writing space assignments pull from all of the content and require the students to apply many parts of the content in their writing.
Q. Do you plan to make changes or additions to your current format?
Ruth: I believe the chapter quizzes in MyLabs are too specific. This is across the board with different books as well as different labs. The chapter quizzes require too much application from a beginner on the content usage. What I mean is, there are some answers/applications that only come through experience and continued use of content. I don’t think chapter quizzes should be testing on that type of application. My experience has shown me that the chapter quizzes should only be beginner application questions of the content described in each chapter. If the test bank or graduate labs want to add these type of questions, that is fine, but I believe they should be in an undergraduate course as a chapter quiz.
Professor White studied the use of MyBusinessCommunicationsLab and participated in a educator study to quantitatively determine the efficacy of the program and the benefits to students. You can read the full educator study to see the results.
About Ruth White
Ruth White is an instructor of at Bowling Green State University teaching both in the classroom and online. She completed an MBA in 2009 at Bowling Green State University and a Bachelor’s of Science degree in business management at the University of Wyoming. Prior to teaching, Ruth worked in business management positions with corporate America for approximately 15 years. Ruth co-wrote an Applied Business Experience curriculum for the College of Business, and has developed three successive labs required for all business students. Currently she holds the position of Introduction to Business & Applied Business Experience Coordinator for the College of Business where she is restructuring the curriculum and adding the use of online technologies to enhance the content learning experience for students. Ruth is also a higher education faculty advisor for Pearson.