During my years at the university in the early 90s, the overhead projector displayed transparencies of subject content notes prepared beforehand by the lecturers. When computers took a more prominent place in lecture halls, PowerPoint presentations became the main tool in the teaching-learning process.
Students were passive during lectures — either listening or taking notes or both, transcribing the lecture and demonstrations into notes.
This traditional mode of stand-and-lecture is a predominant form of teaching at the tertiary level.
In flipped classrooms, students — individually or in groups — take responsibility for their own learning before classes.
Enter flipped learning, a more stimulating and active learning method that transforms students into active participants rather than passive listeners.
While studies have found that lectures are not only boring but also less effective at promoting student learning (a student is 1.5 times more likely to fail), a flipped classroom (FC) claims to reduce failure rates and boost exam scores. FCs are becoming increasingly popular as universities attempt new ways to get students more involved in classroom learning activities.
“In a flipped learning environment, students apply knowledge to a range of activities that encourages using higher order thinking skills.” Malini Eliatamby, INTI International University & Colleges vice president of teaching learning innovation.
Dr Malini Eliatamby, vice-president of teaching learning innovation, INTI International University & Colleges and deputy vice chancellor, academic innovation, INTI International University, describes FCs as a reversal of traditional teaching where the roles and expectations of students and teachers change accordingly.
She said: “In a flipped learning environment, students take responsibility for their own learning, studying core content either individually or in groups before class and then applying the knowledge and skills to a range of activities that encourages using higher order thinking skills.
“It is also another form of blended learning where a student is first exposed to new material — usually in the form of online content and activities — outside of the classroom.”
Lectures are delivered via video using various online resources and other teaching material as background knowledge while classroom time is used for reinforcement activities.
Malini, a National Outstanding Educator Award recipient at the Private Education Excellence Awards 2015, added: “One benefit of FCs is more class time for differentiated student-centred learning. FCs also allow students to work collaboratively, acquiring interpersonal skills along the way when they think critically and creatively to communicate with their peers and instructors.”
Malini is also responsible for developing INTI’s e-learning strategy — from an active role in course design to planning the competency and skill development of teaching members’ e-learning skills. Many learning institutions in the country have adopted FCs at varying degrees.
Dr Adeline Chia Yoke Yin, a senior lecturer at the School of Biosciences, Taylor’s University, has been adopting FC for three years.
She said: “The concept of blended learning has widely diverged to include a variety of learning methods over the last few years. The Malaysian Public Higher Education Institutions e-Learning Council has provided a platform to assist educators in enhancing their delivery and engaging learners with the implementation of Blended Learning and Flipped Learning in Malaysian Higher Education Institutions.”
A recipient of the best e-Learning Facilitator award at the recent National University Carnival on E-Learning 2015, Chia, who used FCs for the Principles of Life Sciences subject, said: “My core concept of flipped teaching is F.U.S.E — Find, Use, Share, Educate. With the flipped classroom model, students are more excited at attending classes. They have more control over the knowledge gained through their own initiative and there are opportunities for them to engage in constructive discussions on a topic.”
Nurhanim Hassan, a lead e-specialist at e-Learning Academy, Taylor’s University, said FCs empower students to be responsible for managing their own learning.
“Students must prepare for a lecture by going through the material prepared by the lecturer and attempting the questions given prior to the class.
“They also need adequate digital skills that will enable them to complete the required tasks prior to the class. As some of the activities require collaborative work, they may need to work on their social skills such as learning to share and receive information, and accept criticisms,” she said.
FCs are designed with adult learning in mind where students have the autonomy to learn at their own pace and time anywhere.
Based on these requirements, FCs are more suitable for higher learning education settings. But this does not mean that students are not monitored by lecturers.
“The lecturer will be able to identify those who are prepared and those who are not. Sharing material online via the Learning Management System allows the lecturer to track a student’s learning details such as access time and the questions that he has attempted.
“Creating additional learning activities such as an online forum allows students to discuss the questions and learn from each other prior to the class. The students’ discussion online enables the lecturer to gauge their understanding of the topic as well as identify those who may need extra attention in class.”
Flipped classrooms require proper planning from preparing comprehensive material that cater for different abilities in the classroom to creating follow-up activities to check students’ understanding. These steps ensure that the students have covered all the essential points for a topic and they have the necessary knowledge and skills to attempt questions in class.
Nurhanim added that lecturers are normally exposed to new skills during the continuous development programme organised by the university. However, in most cases, there is no proper training programme to expose students to new skills.
School of Biosciences, Taylor’s University senior lecturer Dr Yeo Siok Koon, who is also actively implementing FCs, said: “When I first started using this pedagogy, students — who were new to this learning approach — were initially resistant since it requires them to prepare beforehand.”
Consequently, some students attended the class unprepared and were unable to take part in the active learning phase. “I believe this was mainly due to their past experience which did not require active participation in the learning process.
“Usually I address this problem by providing either a short online quiz, recap activities in class or ask students to watch the video lecture before coming to class. Continuous use of such an approach allows students to accustom to such pedagogy and commit to it.
“Pressure from peers will also urge students to overcome their reluctance. Over time, they will realise that they have to play their roles in preparing for class in order to be active participants.”
Nurhanim added that the adoption of FCs varies according to institutions as one challenge is that some academicians are sceptical of the efficiency of the approach. Changes such as this require time for the transformation to take place. Yeo added: “One of the biggest challenges to implementing FCs is the time spent on preparing video lectures and developing activities that suit the students.
“Most of the lecturers previously studied and trained in the conventional classroom setting which was instructor-centred and required little active student participation.
“Letting go of their reliance on the lecture is more challenging. Some may be confused about their role as lecturers/teachers as they are no longer the sage of the stage in FCs.”
Nevertheless, Yeo said a FC will not be another fad that will eventually runs its course. “I believe more lecturers will adopt this pedagogy. When improved learning in students is the teacher’s ultimate goal, he will realise that he needs to transform and adopt this innovative pedagogy.”
Malini said while it may be viewed as difficult and time consuming to prepare for FCs, with proper execution that includes training and support, institutions will benefit from them as a part of their teaching philosophy.
Students’ resistance to FCs stems from not taking responsibility for their own learning such as knowledge transfer, experimentation/creative problem-solving and ability to search and apply the relevant knowledge.
“In my experience, students will only realise their academic growth at the end of a semester through this approach,” she added.
INTI implemented FCs last year using Blackboard as a learning management system whereas at Taylor’s University, various facilities have been set up as part of the e-Learning infrastructure which includes Taylor’s Integrated Moodle e-Learning System, ReWIND lecture capture as well as transforming classrooms into collaborative learning spaces and the introduction of e-Quarium, a social learning pod for students.
With the flipped classroom model, students are more excited at attending classes.