The 1st Coursera Partners’ Conference that took place at UPenn on April 5th-6th, included panel sessions on a variety of interesting topics. One of the sessions was on the concept of the flipped classroom and how MOOCs might improve on-campus teaching. The panelists of this session were Kathy Takayama from Brown University, Akiba Covitz from edX (another MOOC platform), Jeffrey Himpele from Princeton, and Adrienne Williams from the University of California, Irvine.
The concept of flipping the classroom started well before the advent of MOOCs. The core idea in the “flipping” is that course content, traditionally presented by instructors in the form of class lectures, can be recorded and made available online for students to access and review at home. So, the “homework” for the students is to do what they would normally do in the classroom, i.e., attend the lectures. Having attended the lectures online, students can spend classroom time doing “homework” activities in the classroom or otherwise interacting with the instructor and their peers.
Several universities that are now offering courses on Coursera have explored how the availability of this online content might affect the quality of instruction in campus. Overall, the results of the reported studies were positive. In some cases, instructors experimented with courses that may not have been on Coursera, i.e., they were not designed for “massive” consumption, but which made available video lectures online. An important advantage noted for video lectures is that students can pause and review the video material as many times as they like until they have grasped the content. I would have liked to hear how the instructor would handle classroom time if some students did not do their “homework” but this case didn’t come up in the discussion.
In a different session, “Learning from data: assessing outcomes and measuring success”, panelist Pierre Dillenbourg from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne reported on a study that had campus students form groups and watch a MOOC online together in the same room. In this case, not only could the students pause and replay the video but they would spend time discussing challenging or interesting content. They would never be able to do that in live lecture, at least not without causing a raised eyebrow by the lecturer.
Jeffrey Himpele from Princeton reported that in one course the experience was not so good but he attributed it to the specific design of the course. And, of course, it is important to remember that there are still many places where not everybody has access to fast internet and in these places flipping the classroom is not an available option.
Overall, however, it seems that the flipped classroom model, also known as “blended” classroom, has received initial positive feedback from instructors and students that have tried it. It makes good sense if you think about it.