4 Designing Activities and Assessing Student Learning in the Flipped Classroom – by Chaya Gopalan

Chaya Gopalan

My teaching career started with the traditional podium-style lecture, using chalk and a blackboard, just like I was taught. I soon realized that my approach had to change, as I was influenced by the body of evidence suggesting that lecture alone is not an effective way to promote deep and lasting student learning (Haxhiymeri & Kristo, 2014; Johnson, 2011; Lang, 2014). The lecture-based method of teaching has proven to be less engaging than inquiry-based education (Butzler, 2014; Larsen et al., 2019; Persky & Pollack, 2011; Rawekar et al., 2013; Simonson, 2014). Studies suggest that the lack of mechanisms to ensure intellectual engagement with the lecture results in a decline of student concentration after 10 to 15 minutes (Haxhiymeri & Kristo, 2014). Moreover, traditional lectures are not well-suited for teaching higher-order skills, such as application, analysis, and synthesis (Huxham, 2005; Young, Robinson & Alberts, 2009). An evidence-based, student-centred classroom that is rich in opportunities for collaboration and active learning contributes to student success (Freeman et al., 2014; Johnson, 2011; Kuh, 2007). Influenced by the literature, my peers, and educational conferences, I soon incorporated informal group activities and formative assessments into my teaching.

Recent advancements in educational technology, access to an increasing volume of scientific information, and a shift in expectations among millennial learners call for an alternative instructional approach (Johnson & Romanello, 2005; Mangold, 2007; Smith, 2014). As educational technology was transforming, I embraced the opportunity and became an early adopter of learning management systems, computerized exams, and lecture capture devices, among others.

Student-centred learning strategies have been shown to mitigate the limitations of the standard transmittal model of education by promoting student engagement and improving knowledge retention (Clark et al., 2011). Thus, the informal group activities that I once used as active learning techniques were replaced by formal, team-based learning activities. The use of team-based learning in the classroom was clearly engaging to the students. However, it also posed a new problem—not having enough time to cover the content, especially in my content-heavy health sciences courses. As I searched for a way to alleviate the constraint of time, a solution surfaced: the flipped classroom.

The flipped classroom revolves around assigning content in the form of readings, recorded lectures, and practice questions prior to class sessions. Students have their first exposure to content on their own, and class time is spent applying their new knowledge to real world situations. The in-class portion of flipped teaching (FT) offers an opportunity to work closely with students and explain particular questions in different forms to provide students with a multi-faceted approach to learning. The FT method also offers peer teaching, which is yet another opportunity for students to learn the content. FT is a hybrid educational format that shifts traditional lectures out of class, freeing up class time for student-centred learning. In this model, the students are first exposed to lecture content in their individual space (outside of class) using instructor-provided study materials such as guided readings and lecture videos. Later, under the guidance of the instructor, clarification, review, and problem-solving occurs in the group space (the classroom). According to the underlying theory and empirical studies, the FT model helps to overcome several challenges related to traditional lecture-based teaching. In a didactic lecture setting, students may be hesitant to ask questions, they may be multitasking, or they may not capture all of the key details because of the lack of repetition or the inability to type/write at speed while processing the information. In the FT mode, on the other hand, students may access content anytime from anywhere, and they can pace themselves by re-watching a video or revisiting the content. Thus, by allowing students to learn challenging material at their own pace, FT prevents cognitive overload of new information (Clark et al., 2011). Furthermore, FT provides a great opportunity to engage students in critical thinking through application, analysis, and synthesis, especially because the pressure of content coverage is now shifted to outside of class (Krathwohl, 2002; McLaughlin et al., 2014; O’Flaherty & Phillips, 2015). Furthermore, FT repetitively introduces concepts, thus bolstering student preparedness and student engagement in learning (Estes et al., 2014). The FT model is particularly helpful for students who are struggling to learn difficult topics (University of the Pacific, 2019). Overall, the FT method expects the students to be active participants in the course.

The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education edition selected FT as one of their near‑term technologies that are expected to achieve widespread adoption in one year or less (Johnson et al., 2014). Team-based learning and case-based learning, when combined with FT, are among other approaches that not only maximize student learning but also to help students develop positive interdependence, accountability, and skills in communication and collaboration.

Retrieval is the reclamation of information that improves knowledge and strengthens skills through long-term meaningful learning (Karpicke, 2012). Repeated retrieval through exercises involving inquiry of information in a variety of settings and contexts is known to improve learning, and the FT model allows an abundance of repetition (Balota et al., 2006; Fritz et al., 2007). One crucial part of the FT model is in the design of class activities to engage students in learning and critical thinking (McLaughlin et al., 2014; O’Flaherty & Phillips, 2015). Another key factor that determines the success of FT is whether students complete pre-class assignments to immerse themselves in their in-class activities.

Pre-Class Activities

The utilization of resources by students typically meets significant resistance (Hessler, 2017). Students have a tendency, in general, to not complete pre-class assignments. Many factors can contribute to why students avoid taking advantage of their pre-class resources. Students may lack interest, motivation, or time to fulfill pre-class requirements, especially if the content is too challenging or not appealing. In addition, spending several hours outside of class towards pre-class resources requires self-discipline, good time management skills, and time commitment. The lack of time commitment from students results from being accustomed to the traditional lecture-based approach (Saumier, 2016). Even when the amount of work expected of them does not vary between teaching methods, students may perceive an increase in their workload with FT (Kember, 2004). Thus, the amount of work that students feel they must put into a FT course to succeed might be higher than the amount of work that they believe is necessary to keep up and to achieve the same outcome in a regular course (Deslauriers et al., 2019). The barriers to student preparedness could be overcome by designing activities that are challenging but achievable, including course content that is relevant and linked to their success, a positive atmosphere, and clear communication of student expectations (O’ Flaherty & Phillips, 2015). Assuming that students are successfully utilizing resources before their in-class session, the carefully designed active learning strategies in the classroom create opportunities for deeper understanding through application and analysis of the content.

A low-stake assessment helps instill a sense of accountability and encourages students to complete pre-class assignments. Primary factors to focus on for the pre-class content’s assessment is to test factual details and to remain on a knowledge level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002). Assessments of pre-class content could come in a variety of formats but are commonly quizzes, worksheets, or questions embedded into the lecture video that the students are expected to utilize in their preparation for in-class work.

In-Class Activities

The assessment of pre-class content not only provides a glimpse of student preparation but also reveals the topics with which the students typically struggle. Instructors must review students’ pre-class performance prior to scheduled class time to discuss those topics with which the students struggled. In addition, instructors should open the floor by providing an opportunity for students to identify topics that were not clear to them. Discussing those topics will allow more time to explain difficult topics in-depth. This review activity during face-to-face meetings also provides the chance for the instructor to reach out to students if they are not participating in the pre-class assignments.

The primary focus of FT is not only on pre-class assignments and assessments, but also on the in-class activities and assessments in which students will partake. Using this approach, instructors can guide students into a deeper understanding and comprehension of the material. Whereas pre-class assessments are meant to facilitate lower-order learning, in-class assessments and discussions focus on higher-order learning. Teachers who have had experience with FT recommend to not add more lecture material than originally planned during the scheduled in-class time (Hessler, 2017). With students coming prepared using pre-class content, it may seem like there is more time and that class can move along more quickly. Instead of adding extra content, however, one now has time for interactive in-class activities, discussion, and assessments at a more in-depth level.

In-class activities and assessments can take a variety of forms, such as discussing a case study, using clicker questions, problem sets, building a model, and many more. In addition to the delivery of course content, the active learning that takes place in the classroom shifts the focus from the teacher to the student and to student engagement with the material. Through active learning techniques and modeling by the teacher, students shed their traditional role as passive receptors by actively participating while attaining knowledge and skills; as a result, they are able to apply their knowledge and skills more meaningfully (Haxhiymeri & Kristo, 2014). Many studies have used group exercises in class (Gopalan, 2019; Gopalan & Klann, 2017; Hessler, 2017). Group work provides opportunities for students to meaningfully discuss, listen, write, read, and collaborate on the content, ideas, and issues of a specific topic.

Evaluation of Flipped Teaching

It is recommended that teachers collect students’ feedback on how students felt during the new process of learning in the FT method. A qualitative student survey early in the semester allows students to voice their concerns. It is not uncommon for faculty to become discouraged when asking students for their opinion early in their experience of an FT course, but this feedback is valuable because of its ability to provide information that can help improve the process. It can also offer new information that was not originally anticipated. Indeed, the topic of evaluations often brings more questions than answers. Finding valid and reliable evaluation tools to measure the effectiveness of FT may be a challenge. The use of standardized exams, such as unit exams, midterms, finals, and board exams, will most likely continue to be the mainstream evaluation method for student knowledge outcomes (Kuh et al., 2005).

With the appropriate design of pre-class and in-class assessments, instructors will have a greater chance of conducting a successful flipped classroom. Dedication, being open to feedback, and allowing enough time to prepare materials appropriately is crucial to success. With continued research on how to properly implement successful FT, this approach could soon become the norm for all students and faculty, just as it is for me.



Anna Rever’s assistance with literature and editing is sincerely appreciated.



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