Feeling flip? Flipping out? Maybe flip-flopping after flipping the classroom?

11 Mar

You’ve “flipped” your classroom, the semester is half over and so now you’re thinking…

A.  Things are going great—honest!
B.  What is going on with my students?
C.  Is it Spring Break yet?
D.  All of the above.

Or, maybe you haven’t flipped your classroom and you’re thinking…

A.  Things are going great—honest!
B.  What is going on with my students?
C.  Is it Spring Break yet?
D.  All of the above.

By rob surreal

Photo by Rob Surreal at flickr.com.

Much has been written about “flipping” or “inverting” the classroom, the practice of requiring students to review content (typically through videos or podcasts) outside of the classroom so that instead of covering content through lecture, instructors plan ways for student to apply course content and concepts through focused discussion, group work, case studies (and so on) during classtime.

This practice might not sound very new – after all, some may think, my students read BEFORE they come to class so we are already flipped and ready for discussion.  And flipping the classroom is not an all-or-nothing proposition – one can still lecture in class AND engage students learning in the midst of a lecture by using active learning strategies.

Whatever classroom interaction you build into courses you teach, gathering student feedback is always important. And, as courses move into mid-semester, NOW is precisely the time to gather feedback from students – as our colleagues at the UMinn Writing Center noted in this month’s “Teaching with Writing Tip”:

Mid-semester feedback lets you address student concerns while classes are still in session…and reinforce or adjust your approach during (rather than after) the course.

DSCN0271And the mid-semester query is another sort of flip: Gathering student feedback on what works for their learning and what could work better flips semester-ending questions into the midst of the learning that is – or is not – going on for the students in our courses right now.  

Interestingly, a 2012 physics education research article about physics instructors who use active learning strategies highlights the importance of midterm feedback.  The article observed that of the surveyed faculty members who had tried Research Based Instructional Strategies (RBIS) – teaching methods that are student-centered, interactive and empirically proven to improve learning – approximately 1/3 of faculty discontinue RBIS after trying them.  The article goes on to observe that factors commonly assumed to be barriers to using RBIS (age of the faculty member, the amount of job responsibilities related to teaching, institutional type, class size and research productivity) were NOT barriers to using RBIS.   What then are possible barriers?

While the article speculates on a number of reasons for discontinuing RBIS (teaching workshops that over-promise how well RBIS would work; difficulty implementing RBIS; student complaints; an inability to cover the same amount of content; weaker than promised student outcomes; neglecting to follow the details or instructions of the RBIS), it underscores, primarily, the need “to support faculty during implementation and continued use of RBIS.”  So what form of support has the biggest impact?

An article by Cynthia Finelli, et al, drawing on University of Michigan STEM classrooms, contends that incorporating midterm feedback gathered through student focus groups and then discussed with an instructional consultant leads to bigger gains in student ratings of teaching and more instructor satisfaction than other types of consultations.  By interacting with student focus groups, the instructional consultant plays a key role in collecting data, “interpret(ing) the available data and identifying strategies for improvement.”  What does this instructional support process look like?

7043531491_ba629cfb75These focus groups, called Small Group Instructional Diagnoses (SGIDs), involve a classroom observation and then, in the instructor’s absence, feedback gathered from small groups of students answering two questions: “What is helping you learn?” and “What changes could be made in this class to improve your learning?” The instructional consultant then facilitates a discussion with the student groups to determine how widely shared the small group answers may be.  The consultant meets with the instructor to discuss the student feedback and ways to address the issues, as well as a plan to implement the improvements.

Finelli et al believe that there are a number of reasons SGIDs are more helpful than other types of consultations.  For one, the SGID requires the instructor to reflect on data gathered from students and choose among a range of alternatives with a consultant to implement a plan for adjustments to learning and teaching plans for the second phase of a semester.  With the interactive discussion between an instructor and a consultant, the instructor is less likely to be overwhelmed by the data and more likely to be focused on specific strategies to improve the class.

In addition, Finelli, et al, suggest that the source of the feedback is key:  because students define the key issues (as opposed to choosing from pre-selected topics), they have more of a stake in the outcome.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, because the consultant can follow up and clarify issues by talking directly to the students, the feedback gathered is more targeted and specific, instead of the sometimes confusing bimodal distributions in student ratings of teaching or the written student comments that contradict one another.

6897434610_8a48b70ed9Thinking you might want to flip your own practices for gathering feedback on learning and teaching so that you can benefit from student feedback and consultation with a practiced teaching consultant to guide the process, data analysis, and planning for implementation?

Take a look at our trailer to learn the what and why and how of setting up your own Center for Teaching and Learning midterm feedback consultation.  Whether you’re feeling flip or doing a bit of flipping out at this mid-semester time, the SGID process can be a fast, easy, and effective way to make a big impact on student learning.

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One Response to “Feeling flip? Flipping out? Maybe flip-flopping after flipping the classroom?”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Feeling flip? Flipping out? Maybe flip-flopping after flipping the classroom? | Teaching Politics and International Relations | Scoop.it - 13 March 2013

    […] You’ve “flipped” your classroom, the semester is half over and so now you’re thinking… A. Things are going great—honest! B. What is going on with my students? C. Is it Spring Break yet? D. Al…  […]

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