It’s controversial, counter-intuitive and research on its effectiveness is thin on the ground, yet increasingly, educators are getting excited about flipping the classroom. Why? Perhaps because the basic tenet of the flipped classroom – ‘lectures’ at home and homework in class – opens up opportunities to engage students in new and interesting ways.
As someone who has worked in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education space for almost two decades, I meet many innovative teachers. Teachers who rarely give homework, blend science with arts, design and philosophy, and share how they teach with other educators. It’s an incredibly inspiring group of people.
I’m yet to meet a ‘flipped’ teacher, and to date, the flipped class has made small and niche in-roads into STEM education. Anecdotal evidence from the ice-breakers, which include flipped classroom teacher and author Jon Bergmann, originally a chemistry teacher from the suburbs of Chigaco, suggests that flipping the classroom helps kids to learn, increases student-teacher interaction, decreases homework anxiety and deepens the learning experience.
How do flipped classrooms work?
So, how does it work? At the most basic, flipping the classroom means students watch video lectures to learn new concepts, and then reinforce those concepts through practical work and revision – homework – in class. But it can be much more and involve virtual learning environments, rich technological engagement, and increased peer collaboration. Flipping teaching like this is a well-tried concept in areas such as English, where reading is done outside of school and discussion in class. But what place does the flipped classroom have in STEM education?
In Australia, some of the universities flipping STEM classrooms include Engineering, Medical Science, Vet Science and general Science at UQ; and Maths & Stats and Electrical Engineering at UNSW Australia. The benefits include time for reflection, checking and clearing up misconceptions, teaching students to take responsibility for their own learning, and assistance for students with English as a second language or with accessibility issues. Challenges include confusion and a lack of preparedness among students and time and expertise for the educators to create resources.
Many teachers who have flipped their classes have noted that preparing students for change is key. “First and foremost, assume resistance and disorientation,” writes Jennifer Ebbeler, an associate professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin, who flipped her Introduction to Ancient Rome course. Ebbeler went on to note that her course was a “pretty clear success” and that her students’ grades improved.
The second challenge, a lack of resources, is an area of particular passion for me. I create interactive learning tools for students in STEM, which have included MOOC-style course content in engineering for first-year university students; a virtual ‘visit’ to a nuclear reactor matched with physics content aimed at Stage 5 and 6 students; and a driver safety resource for teens linked to the Australian Curriculum: Science.
Flipped classrooms would enable tools like these to become a natural part of the learning process in class, as they are already developed to allow students to learn at their own pace outside the classroom. Teachers can then build on the concepts in classroom time to check where and why students are having issues with their learning, and what’s working best.
There’s no doubt that science, technology, engineering and maths – STEM – benefits society. Just as STEM has revolutionized society, technology, new learning strategies and philosophy can and should revolutionise the way we teach STEM.
The ability to learn independently in rapidly changing fields is crucial in a society where career pathways are in rapid transition. Students today need to equip themselves with skills for careers that don’t yet exist. A report by global company PwC Australia estimates around 44% of current Australian jobs are at risk from being made obsolete by technological advances over the next 20 years.
We need to equip students with the skills and problem-solving abilities to help them to understand issues that don’t exist yet, and to work with technology that hasn’t been invented. So that tomorrow, they will be the ones transforming the way the next generation learn, work and play.
Can the flipped class help achieve this? I think it’s an exciting step in the right direction.