Frequently asked questions about the flipped classroom model

Resources to support your flipped course

Tips for Flips

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Frequently Asked Questions about the Flipped Classroom Model

What is a flipped classroom?

Think of the flipped classroom as on a continuum. If you have replaced any of your lecture time with an in-class activity, then you have begun the process of flipping your classroom. In most courses that we refer to as flipped, instructors have replaced a significant portion of their lecture time with in-class activities.

The rationale behind this model, also known as the “inverted” classroom, is based on cognitive and educational research demonstrating that students learn and retain more when faculty ask them to use the knowledge they learn in different ways. Advocates of the flipped classroom cite the benefits of having students do hands-on activities in the classroom where the instructor can provide a structured context, and students can get real-time feedback or assistance working with peers and instructional staff.

Learn more about the learning principles behind the flipped classroom:

If I do not lecture, how will I cover the course content?

When faculty lecture less, both students and the faculty member experience a profound change. Many faculty members worry that when they stop lecturing, students will not learn the course material. There is also a shift in who performs in class, from the faculty member, who lectures less, to students, who perform in class by solving problems, debating, answering questions, interpreting situations or objects, or simply sharing their point of view. What you want students to learn and demonstrate becomes the basis of your class revision.

Consider the work you typically assign students, first in terms of routine homework assignments. What would it look like to have students work on some problem sets in class? Discuss questions and brief case studies with other students in pairs or small groups? Brainstorm and write brief summaries or analyses of assigned readings? The longer-term work of completing projects and papers can also be segmented into a variety of planning, developing, and revising activities between pairs and among small groups of students. One question many faculty members pose is how to assess these activities in ways that are effective and manageable.

What are some alternatives to giving students the material that I present in my lectures?

One short answer is to keep lecturing, but not in class. Many faculty members who flip their courses opt to record their lecture content and make it available to students online. These videos are usually chunked into shorter segments by topic. Students may watch the same video multiple times to reinforce their understanding. For example, watch the short lecture video that Viji Sathy (Psychology) uses to introduce the topic of standard deviation in her statistics course. She uses slides and software that allows her to annotate the slides. Others may choose not to record their own videos and instead use a collection of curated third-party videos. Some lectures can be redone as VoiceThread or PowerPoint presentations, or as documents. Some instructors simply make greater use of assigned readings.

How do I know students are learning from in-class activities and group work?

To stay apprised of what students are learning, some faculty use lots of low-stakes assessments, such as quick quizzes during class or for homework. These can be designed to indicate whether students stay on track. Possibilities may include creating automated quizzes in Sakai or using an in-class polling system such as Poll Everywhere at the beginning of each class.

Does it work? 

Faculty members in a variety of disciplines at UNC-CH are experimenting with the flipped classroom. Several have evaluated the effectiveness of the model, and the results to date have been promising. Read more about how these faculty members have flipped their courses and what they have learned in the process:

Viji Sathy, Psychology Department     CFE 100+ grant project report

Russ Mumper, School of Pharmacy     Summary article in The Atlantic, 2013

Carribeth Bliem and Jen Krumper, Chemistry Department      Departmental newsletter, 2013

Kelly Hogan, Biology Department    Peer-reviewed article in Life Science Education

Learn more about the efficacy of the flipped classroom model:

Do I want to flip my course?

Although faculty from many disciplines have flipped their courses, faculty who were early adopters often taught courses with the following features:

  • There is course material usually covered in lecture that students can learn outside of class, whether through watching a recorded lecture or an assigned reading.
  • Students might benefit from being able to watch a video recording of a mini-lecture more than once. Such a mini-lecture might consist of course materials that are now exclusively part of an in-class lecture. Mini-lectures may also be appropriate to provide a brief review or to address gaps in students’ understanding that are brought to light through formative assessment activities and assignments.

Most flipped classrooms continue to incorporate some lecture. You may decide that some topics are easier for you to explain in class.

 If you would like to experiment with flipping a course, here are some questions to consider:

  • Do I spend most class time lecturing? If so, am I comfortable lecturing less?
  • Is there some lecture content that could be explained outside of class, either through reading assignment or recorded mini-lectures?
  • Would my students benefit from multiple opportunities for reviewing my explanations of complex concepts or procedures outside of class?
  • Would my students benefit from more direct interaction with me and TAs or peer mentors during class?
  • Do I want my students to have opportunities to engage with each other by, for example, answering questions, solving problems individually or in groups, or debating with each other?
  • Can I structure a homework assignment to provide students with feedback on what they are learning and give them incentive to come to class prepared (e.g., a low-stakes online quiz related to a reading assignment)?
  • To what extent am I willing to hold students accountable for coming prepared for class?
  • Do I want to begin by experimenting with flipping a few selected class meetings, or do I want to revamp the whole course?

Resources to support your flipped course

Course planning and in-class activity development: CFE staff members are available any time to discuss your course goals and your options for meeting them.

Video recording: The CFE is here to help you navigate the many options for designing, recording, and delivering course videos. Working in conjunction with ITS, OASIS, and the University Library’s Media Resource Center, we can help you decide the best software and hardware choices for your project. We can help make sure that your videos are meeting the required curricular needs while showing you techniques to motivate your students to incorporate the videos into their study habits.

Here are a few resources to get you started:

Information-sharing: The CFE has created a new email list for faculty members to share resources, questions, and solutions related to the flipped classroom. Sign up for the flipped_classroom mailing list.

Financial support: The CFE 100+ grants program provides competitive small grants to faculty members who are undertaking significant redesigns for large courses of 100 or more students. The program has funded several flipped course projects. The call for proposals is usually announced in November.  

Tips for flips

These recommendations are drawn from the literature on teaching and learning as well as from our support of faculty who have flipped their courses at UNC-CH. Keep in mind that the flipped classroom is a continuum. You might choose to flip a few class meetings or you might decide to flip every course meeting.

  • Faculty members who have flipped courses agree that the process can require a substantial investment of time, starting with the time it will take to produce lecture material as videos or recordings. It will also take considerable time to develop new learning activities. We strongly suggest you complete most, if not all, of the work before you begin teaching the course.
  • Take the time to explain your methods, and how they will benefit students over time. We have heard from faculty members who have flipped their courses that students are puzzled if you refer to what you are doing as an “experiment.” Communicate regularly with students about the rationale behind the flipped model. No matter how well you make your case, some of your students will prefer the traditional lecture model to a more interactive classroom. Others will just need to understand why it is you are doing what you are doing. Students accustomed to excelling in traditional formats will be concerned about how the flipped course model will impact their grade in the course, simply because it’s an unknown for them.
  • Be explicit about what students need to do to be successful in your course. Most flipped classrooms require students to take more responsibility for their learning. Talk to them about the importance of time management and give them some idea about how much time you expect them to spend on various assignments.
  • Solicit feedback from your students about how things are going once or twice during the semester. It will make them feel they have some voice and will provide you with useful feedback that you may be able to put to use immediately.
  • Faculty who devote much of class time to learning activities find they need to strike a balance between the expected and unexpected in class. A mix of the expected and unexpected can be an effective way to help keep students engaged. However, most students also benefit from some consistency in class and knowing what to expect. In striking the right balance, you may end up using a few techniques on a regular basis and supplementing those with one-off activities where appropriate. The introduction of new activities to students always takes time.
  • Provide students with incentives to come to class prepared. In most flipped classrooms, the effectiveness of the in-class activities depends heavily on the extent to which students come to class having completed the out-of-class assignments. In most cases, you will need to offer students some incentives if you want them to put in that time on a regular basis. Many instructors use low-stakes assessments such as online quizzes or poll questions to help hold students accountable. The stigma of not being able to contribute to a small group discussion in class will work for some students.
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Matt Osment, OASIS Liaison to the Center for Faculty Excellence
Phone: 919-962-9971

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