18 Flipping Your Virtual Classrooms

Janette Hughes and Laura Morrison


In a flipped classroom model, students use the time before class to prepare to participate in class discussions and hands-on, interactive activities. This learning model maximizes in-class, face-to-face instructional time and is based on the socio-constructivist approach to learning which holds that knowledge is both socially negotiated and constructed (Vygotsky, 1978). Students are first provided with information on a given topic, including facts, processes, concepts and ideas (Bergman & Sams, 2012). We can provide the students with this information in the form of recordings (e.g., videos, audio, podcasts), text (e.g., readings, slides) and images (e.g., infographics, pictures; Morrison, 2021). Most often, we can present the information using a combination of all three (recordings, text, and images). Students have anywhere from a day to multiple days to go through the content provided at their own pace and begin to understand the topic and the accompanying materials. After developing this foundation, students come to class prepared to unpack and extend their knowledge and understanding through discussion and activities with their peers and instructor.

A flipped classroom prioritizes student autonomy and agency as students have more freedom and flexibility. Notably regarding when, where, and how to go through the content and build their understanding of a topic (Morrison, 2021). For example, if a class happens once per week, students have that length of time to go through the curated content at their own pace — they may go through some or all of the content multiple times, they may divide it up over several days for better absorption (Morrison, 2021).

General Guidelines

We have found eight essential guidelines for using a flipped-classroom approach for online learning.

  1. Reserve adequate time for setting up the flipped classroom environment, materials, learning goals and expectations.
  2. Community-building should be explicitly integrated into the classroom design.
  3. All students have consistent access to a device connected to the Internet at home.
  4. Ensure students have access to working tech equipment such as headphones and microphones for privacy/noise reduction during classroom discussions and activities.
  5. Diverse Content. Ensure all content is accessible to diverse students (e.g., closed-captioned videos or podcast transcriptions).
  6. Ensure all learning goals, expectations and assessment criteria are explicitly communicated to students in advance as students may move ahead or revisit material throughout the course.
  7. Provide a variety of learning materials in the preparation packages to reach diverse learners. Choosing which materials to go through and activities to complete before class are also important to foster student autonomy and agency.
  8. Embed accountability into the learning activities. A flipped classroom model makes it easy for students to rely on their peers to fill them in, so individual responsibility is essential.


Activity 1: Accountability Through Reflection Templates & Discussion Questions


This activity provides an overview of building accountability into the flipped classroom model at secondary or higher education. The technique includes using a reflection template and student-generated discussion questions that synthesize the resources curated by the teacher.


We prepare an interactive slide deck for the students as a minds-on activity. The deck includes various reflection questions and curated student resources related to the weekly thematic topic (e.g., TedTalks, websites). It also consists of a reflection template the students must complete before their weekly synchronous class or video-recorded student meeting.

Within the slides and the reflection template, the students always choose what content they want to go in-depth with and which questions they want to answer. The students’ weekly reflection templates are always required to generate three discussion prompts that synthesize the weekly readings and the content from the slide decks. In discussion groups, students use the questions, and each week a new facilitator reads through everyone’s discussion prompts and chooses the three to guide the conversation.

Teachers can ask for the student-facilitated sessions to be recorded, affording educators to gain a more in-depth understanding of what the students know. The recording also provides further insight into what clarifications or prompting questions might be required to advance student thinking and understanding. You can then share your feedback with each student group via email or the direct messaging feature embedded in the course’s LMS platform.

Possible Challenges

  • Students might not find the content engaging, resulting in limited or surface responses.
  • Students might not be prepared before the session. The process can limit their engagement or result in fragmented attention as they attempt to catch up, which can be disruptive for the other students.
  • While a recording can be advantageous for reflection, students might not want their answers recorded. Establishing comfort for these types of sessions is critical for student success (Van Wart et al., 2020).

Activity 2: Online Discussion Circles to Promote Deeper Engagement


This activity promotes deeper engagement with curated content and builds on Activity 1 by facilitating student interaction with peers in preparation for in-class activities. This model encourages students to discuss the content ahead of class time in a social way that moves them beyond the traditional expectation that they post a written response to an article or video on an LMS, resulting in little discussion among students in the class.


Rather than using the in-class time to have students discuss the articles, videos or other curated content, students can engage in online discussion circles that can be recorded or summarized for the instructor. Discussion circles are small groups of 4-6 students who meet outside of class time, using Zoom, Google Meet, Discord or another platform of their choice. Before the meeting, each group member takes on an assigned role for the discussion. These roles can vary depending on the content they are reading/viewing. Some examples of roles include, but are not limited to, discussion facilitator, connector/reflector, summarizer, vocabulary enricher, synthesizer, illustrator (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Role Chart for Online Discussions




Discussion Facilitator
  • Develop a list of questions to discuss
  • Keep discussion on point
  • Ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate
  • Focus on big ideas
  • Isolate confusing parts of the article/video
  • Begin with your thoughts, concerns, responses to the content
  • Find connections between the reading/video and other course concepts and to the broader world.
  • Consider stories in the news, similar events or ideas, other issues/situations you are reminded of, your own experiences.
  • Prepare a summary of the curated content.
  • Cover the key points, main idea, highlights, and general idea of the content
Vocabulary Enricher
  • Record words and phrases that have significant meaning in the content
  • Record words that you had to look up to enhance your meaning-making
  • Jot down puzzling or unfamiliar words or phrases while reading/viewing
  • Look up definitions and share them with your group
  • Highlight words that are crucial to the meaning of the text
  • Creation of images (e.g., diagrams, a mindmap, flowcharts, or doodles) related to the content.
  • Don’t explain your drawing/graphic right away — let your group members speculate about what it means.
  • Convey what it represents to you afterwards

Student roles should rotate from week to week to encourage reading/viewing the material from different perspectives. They come to the scheduled meeting prepared to share with their group.

Not only does this approach build in accountability, but it also promotes purposeful talk and helps students to engage with the ideas, concepts and information, clarify and deepen their understanding, extend their learning, and interact with their peers. It promotes social presence (Garrison, 2011) and a better sense of community in the classroom and helps students who might be struggling with the content gain a better understanding before class. This approach is also beneficial for English language learners as it allows them to speak about the content and listen to peers do the same in a smaller group setting. This activity can also raise students’ interest in the course content and motivate them to engage more deeply during class, as it provides them with better confidence in their understanding.

In addition to encouraging cognitive engagement with the course material, this approach can promote a variety of social and emotional learning, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship and communication skills and responsible decision-making (Venegas, 2019).

Possible Challenges

While the flipped classroom model can make the online learning experience much more student-centred, inquiry-based, interactive, and engaging, some challenges are associated with its implementation. Below, we outline some of the potential challenges we have encountered in using the flipped classroom model in the online learning context.

  • Increased workload. One challenge in using the flipped classroom model can be the increased educator workload at the beginning of a course. Where more traditional courses can accommodate course development on a week-by-week basis, the flipped classroom model requires teachers to spend more time before a course begins developing the course’s asynchronous resources (slides, activities, videos). As one of the goals of the flipped classroom model is the development of student autonomy and self-paced learning, students need to be able to access most, if not all, of a course’s resources and to move forward and backward with these resources as needed, throughout a course.
  • Communication of expectations. Another challenge connected to the initial increase in workload is the need for the teacher to clearly communicate the expectations of the new model — what is considered “prep” work and what is considered “homework.” If other classes do not follow a similar model, it can become difficult for students to track the weekly preparation and follow-up work. Also, if students tend to want or need to work ahead with content, they need to trust that the content will not suddenly change and that the instructions and expectations are clear enough to complete the activities at their own pace.
  • Reviewing progress. Given the frequency, it can also be difficult for teachers to monitor students’ weekly progress. On the one hand, the frequent submissions keep students accountable, and the regular teacher feedback helps students learn and develop. On the other hand, providing weekly feedback can be overwhelming for one teacher to complete independently. Finding a dynamic balance that works for you is critical and may shift depending on each group of students.
  • Digital divide. Finally, consider the digital divide when deciding whether or not to adopt this model into one’s pedagogy. Suppose students in one’s classroom do not have regular access to an appropriate device (desktop, laptop, iPad) or the Internet. In that case, these students could be disadvantaged in the learning process. It is essential to know one’s students and whether this model might be possible for them and beneficial.

General Resources


Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. International Society for Technology in Education.

Morrison, L., (2021). Online teacher education during COVID: Emerging futures for pre-service teacher education [Doctoral dissertation, University of Calgary]. Prism. http://dx.doi.org/10.11575/PRISM/39322

Venegas, E. M. (2019). “We listened to each other”: Socioemotional growth in literature circles. The Reading Teacher, 73(2), 149-159. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1822

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Harvard University Press.

Van Wart, M., Ni, A., Medina, P., Canelon, J., Kordrostami, M., Zhang, J., & Liu, Y. (2020). Integrating students’ perspectives about online learning: A hierarchy of factors. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 17(1), 1-22. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-020-00229-8

About the authors

Dr. Janette Hughes is Professor and Canada Research Chair, Technology and Pedagogy, in the Faculty of Education at Ontario Tech U. Dr. Hughes specializes in transforming literacy practices through making and new digital media. Her research and teaching interests include critical making, critical digital literacies, digital making, adolescent literacies and identity, writing and digital media, new literacies and conceptualizations of learning, and digital citizenship. She is particularly interested in how critical making and digital media enable users to teach, learn, connect, collaborate, communicate, critique, create, and promote social change. She is the recipient of the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Early Researcher Award and the Ontario Research Fund—Research Excellence Award.

Dr. Laura Morrison is a sessional instructor in the Faculty of Education at the Ontario Tech University (formerly known as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology). She currently teaches the online course Learning in Digital Contexts to teacher candidates. Laura is also the project manager of research in Canada Research Chair, Dr. Janette Hughes’ STEAM3D Maker Lab, located within the Faculty of Education. Laura completed her Master of Arts at UOIT with a focus on the impact of digital literacies skills development in the language learning process. Laura completed her Education Doctorate at the University of Calgary with a focus on promising practices associated with online pre-service teacher education. Her favourite ways to communicate are through poetry, narrative and image.


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Thriving Online: A Guide for Busy Educators Copyright © 2022 by Janette Hughes and Laura Morrison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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