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Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
As higher education continues to grapple with expanding online coursework in meaningful ways, faculty must confront a perennial question: how can online coursework mirror the rigor of in-person classes while preserving the flexibility that makes online learning attractive to students? In Extending the Principles of Flipped Learning to Achieve Measurable Results: Emerging Research and Opportunities, William Swart argues that flipped learning has the potential to balance these demands by winnowing the transactional distance, a barrier to student engagement, that is common in traditional coursework.
In traditional learning, a lecture typically occurs in class and homework extends beyond the classroom; conversely, flipped learning requires students to study course material at home, including recorded lectures, before engaging in collaborative, problem-solving activities in class. By flipping the traditional model of higher education, flipped learning allows students to invest more deeply in their coursework while simultaneously receiving feedback and peer support in class.
While flipped learning may be alluring, enacting such a dramatic reordering requires resources, knowledge, and tools that most faculty do not possess. Written in a straightforward, practical style, Swart’s text provides a viable throughway for faculty members hoping to enact a flipped classroom.
Swart begins his exploration of the concept by reviewing the proliferation of online coursework and noting the near-universal agreement among university faculty regarding the disparity of quality in online learning versus face-to-face learning. As an antidote to this pattern, Swart touts the considerable benefits that flipped learning affords students, instructors, and college administrators. Following this introductory material, the text grounds the Plan-Do-Study-Act (P-D-S-A) cycle as the primary vehicle for introducing, executing, and maintaining a flipped classroom. This cycle, originating from business and management, ensures that meaningful learning occurs throughout a new intervention, rather than relying solely on outcome data to judge the effectiveness of an intervention.
The heart of the text unpacks each step of the PDSA cycle and its use in a flipped classroom, offering practical advice and data to support those wishing to use the flipped model. This occurs through direct discussion of the model and an embedded case study that illustrates core concepts. Before closing with an exploration of possible future research, Swart also includes candid discussion of the challenges—both anticipated and unanticipated—that flipped learning often produces. As Swart notes, while there is positive evidence regarding student preferences, achievement, and satisfaction concerning flipped learning, there is a paucity of research documenting its role in promoting other desirable values in students.
This text adds to a growing body of research explicating the promise of flipped learning within K-12 and higher education. Particularly for faculty members in theological education or religious studies in a liberal arts setting, this text provides short-term and lasting benefits. Swart’s thorough unpacking of flipped learning delivers a robust catalog of research-based, practical advice for enacting this model. Perhaps most valuable for these faculty is the opportunity for students to engage with weighty ideas in a collaborative manner after having initial, independent preparation.
Flipped Learning - A Guide for Higher Education Faculty
Date Reviewed: April 6, 2018
Talbert uses his initial chapter, “What Is Flipped Learning, and Why Use It,” to work through definitions and misunderstandings of flipped learning. While flipped learning is commonly believed to consist of assigning videos of lectures for students to watch before class time, Talbert explains that flipped learning is a methodology rather than a specific technique. Flipped learning, he asserts, aims to ensure that students first encounter the new material on their own, outside of class, and then work to nuance their understanding and build skills around that material in the classroom. In this way, students develop the ability to access new material independently and then do the more challenging work of integrating and developing that information in the classroom with assistance from both classmates and the professor, or “expert.” The second chapter, “The History and Theory of Flipped Learning,” traces the method’s history to establish that it is neither new nor a fly by night fad, but rather a sensible pedagogical strategy built on a solid base.
Chapter three, “Models of Flipped Learning,” offers a range of examples from math, business, and economics to demonstrate flipped learning approaches. In each example, Talbert draws from largely mathematics-based courses, suggesting that students read and watch videos about concepts before coming to class to work together on problem sets, the opposite of a traditional STEM course in which concepts are introduced in lecture and students then depart to work on problem sets on their own. (It is noteworthy that although Talbert argues in the earlier chapters that flipped learning is more than watching videos before class, this is, in fact, a primary method that he demonstrates.)
As a religious studies professor, it was hard to see how this method would change the basic format of my humanities classes, in which student read material ahead of time, usually guided by discussion questions, and then come to class for a brief lecture that fills in details and group conversations or a class discussion, informed by their reading. While I have no objection to a book providing instruction on pedagogy for the STEM/business classroom, Talbert’s apparent inability to acknowledge the different structure of the humanities is significant. In failing to recognize that his methods would not significantly change the traditional structure of humanities classes, he has failed to properly acknowledge his book’s disciplinary scope and to correctly identify the audience to whom it would be the most useful. In these fields, flipped learning makes a notable difference from traditional pedagogical methods in which students first encounter new concepts in class. In the humanities, however, students traditionally encounter new material through reading assignments before class. That material is then elaborated upon and explored in classroom lectures, discussions, small groups, and activities. It is difficult, even with one or two humanities-based examples, to see how Flipped Learning dramatically would change my humanities classroom.
Chapters four, five, and six address the nuts and bolts of how to flip a class. Here, Talbert offers both many more specific guidelines and, in a couple of instances, he draws examples from the humanities classroom. For instance, in chapter four, he suggests providing students with a list of reading questions that guide students toward increased complexity of thinking, gradually moving from reading comprehension and synthesis questions to conceptual and analytic questions. Chapter five offers insight into how to construct the activities. Throughout this chapter, Talbert offers cogent summaries of key theories on learning and course design, and while he rarely suggests a technique with which I am unfamiliar, his explanations of how and why they are effective are certainly likely to help me refine my technique.
Chapter seven provides adaptations to the flipped learning model, primarily for low technology educational environments. It also addresses a number of student objections to the flipped classroom, ranging from student complaints about having to teach themselves to gripes that flipped learning takes too much time outside of class. On a practical note, Talbert also addresses the risks of participating in a flipped-learning classroom while untenured or in a contingent position. In each of these situations, he offers concrete advice for mitigating the risk of pedagogical experimentation, particularly reactions from students who are adjusting to a new line of teaching. These chapters were, perhaps, the most useful, as they provided language for addressing student dissatisfaction with new methods and were, perhaps, the most applicable to non-mathematically oriented classrooms.
Throughout the book, I was struck by Talbert’s dry tone. Although I am accustomed to academic writing I found this to be a bit of a slog, which is a less than ideal model for a book dedicated to methods of teaching and learning. More importantly, while the author claims the book will be useful for all of the divisions of higher education, it is constrained by the author’s primary orientation and expertise, and most (though not all) of his examples are drawn from STEM, business, and mathematically oriented social sciences such as economics. Nonetheless, Talbert provides background research that will allow readers to refine and justify some of their existing techniques, helping them engage student learning both within the classroom and beyond it.