Will Flipped Classes Become Widespread In Colleges?

Recently I went to a conference that explored new ideas in teaching.  A very interesting seminar discussed “Flipped Classrooms.”  In a traditional classroom the teacher first presents the material in class.  Then students go home, review the material, and do problems and other homework that reinforce the concepts.  A flipped classrooms is the exact opposite.  Students first learn the material at home before coming to the class that present the materials.  In class the students do problems to reinforce what was learned before class time. 

Flipped classrooms are theoretically better because most students think they understand material after listening to lectures or discussions.  However, when they go home and start working on problems they often discover they did not understand all parts of the lesson.  At the very moment when the student is experiencing difficulty there is no teacher to provide support or to explain the concepts in a different manner.  In the flipped classroom scenario, students discover their problems in the classroom where the teacher is available to provide help and support at the moment students need it most.  Flipping moves the passive learning to the home or dorm room and the active portion of learning to classroom.

Adults with children in grades K to 12 like the idea of the flipped classroom because it results in fewer moments when both the child and parents are stumped by a homework problem.  For example, in one of my courses I teach MBA students how to use calculus.  Not long ago one of my children came home from high school and had trouble finishing a calculus homework problem.  They turned to me for help since dad teaching calculus.  The homework problem unfortunately used the derivatives of trigonometric functions which I haven’t used in decades and after twenty minutes of fumbling, I gave up in frustration.

While flipped classrooms clearly work for K to 12, will they work at the college level?  The presentation suggesting that many college teachers should use flipped classrooms was very persuasive.  However, I walked out convinced flipped classrooms are not going to gain widespread acceptance in USA universities because of some simple economic reasons.

Over time more US colleges and university instructors are using adjuncts, not full-time faculty, to teach their students.  The decreasing number of full time professors and increasing number of adjuncts will prevent the flipped classroom from being used widely because of the timing and effort needed to create flipped classrooms.

The panelists who created flipped classroom all said that they had to spend a lot of time creating videos and doing other extensive set up work before being able to flip their class.  In the standard model when the lecture comes first, students are assigned textbook chapters to read and review.  Simply assigning textbook chapters to be read first is not effective in a flipped classroom since fewer students over time are interested in reading.  However, it is possible to get many students to watch videos before coming to class.

This means the flipped classroom takes an extensive amount of setup time.  All of the professors reported that subsequent semester of teaching flipped classrooms took very little time because all of the videos the students needed to watch were already created.

This model where a faculty member spends a lot of upfront effort and then does very little effort in subsequent semesters works very well if you are a fulltime faculty member who expects to teach a course for a very long time.  The longer you expect to teach a course, the more preparation you are willing to do because the pay offs come over the long term.

However, adjuncts have no knowledge of how long they will teach a course at any university.  Many adjuncts don’t know if they are teaching even the next semester.  When you have no ability to determine if you are going to be around long term, then you are likely not willing to incur a large up-front cost, such as creating videos for a flipped class.  Instead you want to spend as little time up front as possible until you are assured that you have a short term teaching job.  In general, unless adjuncts are given longer term contracts, which runs counter to the reason why US Universities are embracing the adjunct model, flipped classrooms are not going to make it in USA universities.

Flipped classrooms will become widespread in grades K to 12 because most teachers are unionized and expect to teach the same course for years.  Flipped classrooms will not become widespread in US universities and colleges because more teachers are being hired on a temporary and part-time basis.

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