Flip That Classroom!

One of the big buzzwords in higher education these days is the idea of "flipping the classroom" — in part, the idea is to use class time for things that used to be done outside of class (what our generation called "homework assignments") and use technology to deliver traditionally in-class content like core lectures online instead.

Let's say you're already convinced this is a good idea, or (perhaps more likely in some settings) someone with limited instructional responsibilities has decided this is the wave of the future and you've been drafted to come on board. Obviously one of the big challenges associated with flipping the classroom is designing class activities that will fill the time you previously spent indoctrinating students into the joys of the Central Limit Theorem. Thankfully, colleagues at the 2012 APSA Conference on Teaching and Learning's Teaching Research Methods track advanced some suggestions; two presentations in particular suggested what we might call "project-based learning" approaches that integrated methods into substantive problems for students to solve.

  • Nina Kasniunas of Goucher College, in her presentation "Experiencing Mayoral Elections Through Exit Polling: Any Professor Can Design this Course," suggested organizing the methods course around a substantive problem: conducting an exit poll of a local election contest. By requiring the students to design, conduct, and analyze the poll themselves, the class guides students toward needing particular methodological skills (such as constructing a sampling strategy, writing reliable and valid survey questions, and engaging in basic data analysis) that the professor can teach as part of the course. One disadvantage of such an approach, however, is choosing a substantive problem that covers the gamut of issues that a typical undergraduate methods course includes could be challenging.
  • James Madison University's Andreas Broscheid discussed his efforts to incorporate a similar technique, "team-based learning," in his research methods course; you can read more about Andreas' efforts at his website, but the basic idea is to design the class to ensure students do the readings before class by using regular, targeted assessments at both the individual and small-group (team) level during class time, incorporating "mini-lectures" in class to clarify what students don't seem to have understood on the assessments. This technique seems ideal for the experienced professor who can teach any topic on the drop of a hat without a lot of pre-prepared material; I'm not sure I'd recommend it for rookies.

These examples may not be ideal for every methods class, but hopefully they will give those of you embarking on the "flipped classroom" journey some ideas. And, as I move towards "flipping" some of my courses, hopefully I'll have some more insights to share over the coming year.

Got some ideas of your own to share? Drop in the forums or leave a comment here!