The Flipped Classroom: Effective Approach or Short-Lived Trend?

Multiethnic group of students working together on a laptop while outside

My freshman year of college I had a wonderful history professor. You know the type – enthusiastic about the material, an immense knowledge of history, and the personality to bring the story alive. He regularly assigned pages from the course texts for us to read before lecturing on the topic. This allowed class time to be a discussion where students were not simply an audience, but participants. We asked questions and debated the what-ifs. He didn’t have to explain every detail as our base knowledge came from the text. Class time was about deepening the knowledge.

This method has risen in popularity in the past few years. It’s often described as a new method with a new name, the flipped classroom, but the core of it is the same as the method utilized by my history teacher – encourage learning outside of the classroom to give students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge in the classroom. This can be accomplished by the traditional assigned readings in the text, but with modern technology the possibilities have been greatly expanded. In my class we use a combination of short videos (many of which are available in MyMathLab) that cover basic concepts or formulas and technology, short assignments to practice mastery of basic concepts, and in-class quizzes to gauge understanding. This is all done prior to any lecture on the topic. Lecture time is kept to a minimum to provide time for students to actually work with the material in class through application-based group work problems.

This method draws a fair amount of skepticism from both teachers and students. Teachers often feel uncomfortable jumping into a topic without introducing it themselves in class, while students often feel like they’re being forced to teach themselves or that they’re being inundated with busy work. Ultimately, however, a method of teaching should be primarily judged based on how well students learn. The semester in which we began the process of flipping our first course the success rate (grades of A, B or C) was 62.3%, just a little higher than years past. The following fall semester, after fully implementing the flipped classroom, our success rate was 70.2%.

Despite the initial skepticism, students and teachers generally come around. My classes used to be filled with bored students who had little to no idea what I was talking about. Since the lectures are now 15-20 minutes instead of 50, students are more attentive and appear less bored. Having seen the basics of the topic prior to class, my students now ask more frequent and often better questions. My classes are fairly large and usually held in 100+ seat auditoriums, so many students are hesitant to ask questions in front of class, but in small groups they have no problem asking questions during group work time. They get so involved in the group work problems that often I’ll have to announce that class is over as they’ll have lost track of time. So not only do they not start packing up their bags five minutes prior to the end of class, they’re actually engaged for the entire class.

Now that we’ve been using the flipped classroom for a few years, it’s become expected. Students hear about what it’s like from friends, teachers hear about it in meetings. It’s accepted as the new normal. Comments about how much the videos and in-class group work helped are commonplace in end-of-semester reviews. So whether the flipped classroom fades out as a method or not, encouraging learning outside of the classroom to allow for deeper understanding to happen in the classroom will remain an effective and worthwhile approach to teaching mathematics.

I cover more details about flipping the classroom and using digital technology in a recent webinar I presented. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me or leave it in the comments section below.


About the Author
Dr. Brian Rickard

Dr. Brian Rickard

Dr. Brian S. Rickard is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Arkansas where he has taught for five years. In his current position, Dr. Rickard coordinates and teaches Finite Mathematics, an applied business math course. He earned a BS in Mathematics, MEd in Higher Education, and PhD in Educational Statistics at the University of Arkansas.