Flipped classes

(Read on, or go back to Active Learning.)


Much of the literature in active learning was developed in teaching physics. Eric Mazur was an innovator in this area and his research showed that learning gains nearly triple when content is transferred from a traditional lecture approach to student-based interactive learning (Science 2, January 2009: Vol. 323 no. 5910, pp. 50-51 [1]). For an inspirational introduction to this area, see his video. These early results have since been confirmed in medicine, pharmacology and science. A nice summary of the literature can be found at the Vanderbilt University’s Center of Teaching [2] and through the web site on Team Based Learning [3] Evidence from introductory physics courses shows that interactive engagement helps reduce the gender gap (M. Lorenzo, C. H. Crouch, E. Mazur, Am. J. Phys. 74, 118 (2006)).

How to Flip a Classroom

Typically, flipping involves three critical steps:

  1. Students learn basic concepts before the class meeting that will be using those concepts.
    • The first step can be satisfied by encouraging old style use of the textbook. Consider assigning a chapter to be read ahead of class and starting off each class meeting with a short fact or definition based quiz that checks whether students have read the assigned material; mastery is not required or expected at this stage.
    • Another option is to record short lecture segments and make them available to the students to use ahead of lecture. The advantage of this strategy is that you can tailor the contents and level to your specific audience, meaning different types of lectures for different styles of learners. Design these segments to be stand alone and short (the suggestion is about 5-8 minutes per segment), so that students can watch them one by one and use them to review as needed. The disadvantage is that this is the most demanding preparation, though of course you need only develop this resource once and can reuse it over many semesters. Some lecturers record their in-class lecture one semester and then use these recordings in a flipped classroom the following semester . Note that in this case the recordings will not be the suggested stand alone short format and their length and quality may reduce students’ attentiveness at this stage of learning.
    • Alternatively, you can use lectures that others have recorded, which are increasingly available online. Many of the new iterations of textbooks include video supplements. You can also look at the resources listed below. These videos are often high quality segments formulated to be watched online and have the right mix of clarity, brevity and entertainment. On the other hand, the videos may not contain the precise level, terminology, examples, or inclusiveness you desire. Watch a lot of videos to find the best ones for your students. You can mix and match across lecturers and sources to introduce students to multiple points of view and to facilitate in-class debate.
    • Remember, though, that the pre-classroom lecture is just the first step in the learning process and should only be an introduction. Your in-class activities will complement, enhance, and fill in gaps in these recordings. You may prefer to assign non-encyclopedic coverage so that class activities can easily build on them and provide the opportunities for reflection, application, and analysis.
  2. Instructors quiz students on these concepts right before class.
    • This step is necessary both to motivate the students to prepare for class and to assess their level of understanding before the active learning is initiated. You could also play a Jeopardy game or ask students to explain concepts to the class to gauge students’ understanding.
  3. Instructors and students spend class time using the concepts in problems and analyses.
    • The last step is the most important phase of this pedagogical approach. There are many ways of structuring class time for problem-solving, analysis, and exploration. The first three suggestions in the following list are closest to a standard flipped classroom model in that traditional homework is brought into the classroom, thereby achieving a flipping of in and out of classroom time. The latter examples use larger projects to enhance student engagement and learning and encourage students to reach the cognitive level of creating new knowledge. Of course, you may choose to combine a few of these techniques described here on Div.E.Q., such as small group activities, think-pair-share, in-class experiments and simulations, service learning, and research projects.

Your assigned videos should include ADA compliant captions. Captions ensure equal access to opportunities and benefits for students with disabilities. Videos should also be able to play at a slower speed if your student needs that. Check with your institution for resources and legal guidance.

Video sources
  • Here are a few easy to use apps for recording, annotating and editing material that you can then post for your students:
    • Educreations [4] is an easy-to-use iPad app that allows you to do a whiteboard solution to a problem as you narrate it. It has a built-in voice recorder.
    • Explain Everything [5] is not free, but can be more flexibly used in terms of the different types of media and files to import into it and export out of it. It also has good video and audio editing capabilities.
    • Panopto [6] is a first time user friendly option. With a paid subscription you can access their flipped classroom software which allows you to record and post video using a laptop, tablet, or phone, as well as creating and administering quizzes.
    • Another very simple screen capture utility is screencast-o-matic [6]
  • Here are three popular YouTube channels offering short video explanations of economic concepts. Instructors report using them successfully in their courses. (Note, we have not reviewed these videos and cannot vouch for their accuracy or effectiveness.)

Thanks to Dr. Rebecca M. Stein, Executive Director of the Online Learning   Initiative and former member of the Economics department at the University of Pennsylvania, for her major contributions to this page.