We are interested in whether an inverted classroom design will improve student performance and study behavior in introductory biology, particularly among underprepared students. In Fall 2012, a small experimental section of Bio 93 was run and a set of resources prepared for each of the 25 lectures taught during the quarter.
Several questions on the Week 5 and Week 11 exams were matched to the exams in a large lecture taught in an active learning style. We also surveyed students online about their study habits after the course had ended.
We found a small but significant improvement in exam performance between students in the small, flipped course and a subset of the large, active learning class that was matched for SAT score, AP Biology score, % female and % STEM major. Students in the experimental class performed about 8% higher on the midterm and final than the active learning students. When each class was divided into half by SAT score, the lower-SAT group in the flipped group improved 13.5% from midterm to final, and the lower-SAT group in the active learning lecture improved only 6.1%.
Because administrative limitations caused the flipped class to also be small, we cannot separate out whether the improvement was due to the inverted nature of the course or to the smaller size (73 students vs 440). We are attempting to separate these effects in future quarters. But for instructors who may be interested in flipping their own introductory biology course, we provide these resources.
Summary of the Course Format
The basic format of the course was as follows. Click on the links to see more information. For each of the 25 classes, students did the following:
Watched an online “basics video”
Printed and filled out video “outline”, studied
Took 5-minute online “basics quiz”
Printed and brought class outline to lecture
Participated in several “in-class learning activities” as directed by the instructor
Additional Hints for Instructors
Remove unnecessary content. We were able to easily convert our lectures to video because we had already written our learning goals, and had previously trimmed extraneous content from our lectures to make space for clicker questions and group activities. If you are converting a dense, traditional lecture to a flipped class, take this opportunity to remove content that only tests student recall and does not further your learning goals. This essay by G. Bergrom at Univ. Wisconsin is an excellent example of how to modify a course.
Sell the class. Many students are concerned that the flipped format will force them to “learn on their own” and increase their study load. Take time to explain the research supporting it. Here is a sample of our “Introduction to the class” video students watched before the first day in order to understand the format, and a copy of the first day’s in-class presentation slides that explain why we are flipping.
A gently-maintained list of resources for flipping higher education courses is here.
While a flipped course does not require videos, there must be some sort of pre-class presentation of the content. It has been our experience that merely assigning reading is not enough direction. Textbooks are very dense and students quickly feel overwhelmed. We have had success using both worksheets that direct students to find information in the book, and with video presentations of PowerPoint slides plus audio. For the flipped class, we decided that videos would allow us to do several things that would help our introductory students:
- We could generate both text and auditory output so students see and hear biology vocabulary
- We could draw and write on the slides for emphasis and to improve attention while watching
- Create “instruction” slides in the video that tell students to stop the video and retrieve information from their book (vocabulary word definitions, label a blank diagram, etc).
Our videos were 8-10 minutes long and covered all the content that was covered in the large lecture. A video can present information briskly, since students can stop and repeat the information as often as they want. The content in both classes was selected to match our learning goals. Below are two samples of the complete videos, and two samples of the powerpoints made for recording the videos (which show the transcript for each slide):
Sample video on cell membranes
Sample video on biological molecules
Sample video PowerPoint for cellular respiration
Sample video PowerPoint for neurons and action potentials (shows pen marks from video)
We also created other videos for students. Here is a video explaining a highly-missed quiz question on osmosis. We made short extra videos for students who needed a refresher on polarity or enzymes. We even released the midterm answer key as a video, showing students how to work through the difficult problems.
Supplies and time:
The videos were presented via PowerPoint on a tablet laptop, and recorded via Camtasia Studio ($179 academic price), and the onboard mic. An external Wacom-type tablet, webcam, or external mic can also be used.
The time required to create a 10-minute powerpoint to videotape is roughly equivalent to the time needed to create a full 50-minute lecture. Recording and editing a 10 minute video requires about 30 minutes. The software allows you to edit out mistakes, so there is no need to start over every time you mis-speak or sneeze. Our videos are posted via our course management system or to YouTube.
Video best practices:
- Keep it short. If you require more than 12 minutes of brisk speaking in order to cover the content, consider reducing content in order to free up time for connections and applications.
- Plan your class activities in conjunction with developing the pre-class video. The class activities should reinforce the video material, not repeat it or present new information to memorize.
- Students like to see at least some “face time” during the video. Incorporate video of you talking if you are comfortable doing so.
We have noticed that students take very text-based notes when in lecture, even though biology is full of figures. In order to encourage students to interact with the figures and process the video material, we created outlines for students to download and write on while watching the videos. Here are samples:
Sample video notetaking outline for cell membranes
Sample video notetaking outline for cellular respiration
The goal of the online quiz was to motivate students to watch the video, take notes, and learn at least the basics of the material. We also wanted to emphasize that there is a difference between “the basics” and the higher level of understanding that would be required on the exam.
A basics quiz was written for each of the 25 lectures and delivered using UCI’s own course management system. In order to reduce the temptation to cheat, We wrote 15- 20 questions and then randomly assigned a subset to each student. Here is a short sampling of question screenshots from multiple quizzes to give you an idea of format and difficulty:
We found that one of the most difficult aspects of flipping a class was determining how to utilize all the space that we created during the classtime. Lecturing was much easier. But having developed 25 lectures, we would give this advice to instructors:
1. Flip a class you have taught before.
Because we had taught this course several times, along with many many discussion sections, we have a good idea about what concepts students find difficult. We know what elements will be introduced in early lectures and reappear in later lectures. We know what the common misconceptions are. Plus, we have several years’ worth of old exams and information on which questions were easy and which were hard. All of this information formed the basis of the in-class activities.
2. Create a structure for class-time.
Our first class periods were a collection of activities and old exam questions. They were grouped by topic, but we tended to just go from activity to activity, boom boom boom. After the mid-quarter feedback evaluations, we realized that even though students had done the notetaking and quizzes, they still found it difficult to just leap into the first hard exam question.
Our new structure is instead to think about Bloom’s Levels as we work through the material. We start with more mid-level activities – filling in tables, comparing two different elements of the cell. Students use their notes and get re-familiarized with all the material. We do not re-teach the material, but we are more careful to ramp up out of knowledge and do some comprehension before the more difficult analysis and evaluation work.
So, what activities work well in a flipped class? Here is our list, in order of frequency of use in a 50-min class.
4 per class: Old exam questions as clicker questions
Old exam questions are great. Students are motivated to work on the right answer, plus instructors likely have a drawer-full of them. We have found that a single question can generate several minutes of discussion. Consider the following techniques after you show the question:
Watch the clicker receiver to get an idea of student accuracy and common wrong answers. If students have high accuracy, move on.
If accuracy is low, model good test-taking. Point out key words in the stem.
Invite a few two-student teams to go to the whiteboard and diagram the problem while the rest of the class works on it as well.
Newer clickers allow multiple right answers. Modify old single-answer questions so that two or more are correct. Have students respond with all right answers.
2 per class: Group activities
Students find it more comfortable to sit quietly and take notes during lecture, so the first few days require some “selling” of group work. But we find once students realize you will continue to require it and that the activities do in fact make them think more deeply about the material, they will go along with it.
Group activities are particularly good to do early in the class period. We might have students:
Fill out a table:
Some flipped classrooms spend the entire class time in group work. We kept our format more instructor-led, but recommend the technique particularly if the class lends itself to problem-solving, like in math or physics.
1 per class: Index card writing assignment
Students are instructed to always have some 3×5 cards in their binder, and most days they answered a “class card” question directly after working on a related problem, like this:
Students were assigned a class code for these cards instead of writing their name to protect their privacy. They were graded for completion rather than accuracy by undergraduate tutors.
Resources related to “flipped” courses and their variants are found here.
Eric Mazur developed the “peer instruction” interactive teaching method in the 1990s in his physics courses at Harvard. An excellent resource for in-class activities once content has been moved out of the lecture. Includes his papers and talks, a blog, and a new network to share questions and resources.
Just in Time Teaching
The acronym “JiTT” is well-known in active learning as a mechanism of formative feedback – asking students to look at material before class, and respond back with a quiz or comment to help the instructor know what to focus on in class. While the main website is older and does not discuss video, the resources on encouraging student learning before class and determining student weakness is very helpful.
Educause White Paper on Flipping
Educause is a nonprofit group of information technologists in higher education. This is a nice summary paper from February 2012. As a 2-page pdf, it serves as a good introduction to send to curious colleagues.
Derek Bruff’s Agile Learning
Derek has written a full book on applying clickers to the classroom with multiple examples. He maintains a blog and current resources at the Vanderbilt Teaching and Learning Center.
Carl Weiman Science Education Initiative
A large program at the University of British Columbia is working to update the curriculum and assessments in many different science departments. They maintain a list of instructor resources on active learning, including the use of clickers and pre-class reading assignments.