Guest Contributor: Beverly Amer, Northern Arizona University.

For as long as there have been students, there have been teachers trying to engage them in learning. The Socratic Method has stood the test of time, as have many others that have followed. One of the latest such methods to hit the halls of higher education is called the “flipped” classroom. In a flipped classroom model, the responsibility for information-gathering – traditionally controlled and delivered by the instructor in front of the class – moves to the student outside the confines of the classroom lecture hall. No more does the instructor “lecture” on a topic to captive and silent students who may or may not take adequate notes.

Instead, the student reads and researches the assigned topics (the information gathering) on their own time and then brings this knowledge to bear in class, where the instructor gives problems, exercises or projects to work and solve alone or in groups. These activities formerly were the homework assignments completed outside of class. But now, class time is spent applying gathered knowledge and helping students use what they’ve sourced with the instructor available for guidance and coaching.

The approach “flips” the class model so the focus is less on instructor control of information, and more on empowering learners to gather on their own and bring the knowledge to bear on solving a problem or contributing to a work group. And if you think about it, isn’t this what they’ll eventually have to do when they graduate?

Why flip your classroom? Erik Mazur, a well-respected Harvard physicist, asks instructors to think about something they’re really good at doing and then think about how they got that way. For example, let’s say you’re a really good cook. Did you become a good cook by listening to people lecture about cooking, or did you get in the kitchen and try it for yourself? Flipping the classroom helps students “become good” at a particular topic by removing the “I’m the teacher and I hold the knowledge” part, and nudging them toward the “try and do” part.

As you think about your class, ask what you are trying to help learners achieve. If the information gathering part can be done outside of class and you think replacing lectures with hands-on activities might work to help students become better at what your course aims to achieve, give it a try for a single topic. Ask your students what they think of the approach, and then compare assessment results to see whether the topic’s learning outcome has been achieved. Either way, you’ll have a better idea of what the flipped classroom is all about and can contribute your voice when the method hits your school’s hallways.

Beverly Amer is on the faculty of the W. A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University, where she has taught computer information systems, management information systems, and accounting courses to thousands of students over the past fourteen years. Her passion is helping students connect their classroom learning experiences to professional work and business environments. 

To hear Beverly discuss engaging learners and changes in education, view this video on our YouTube page.

Do you have experience teaching with the “flipped” classroom method? What challenges did you encounter? Did it improve learner engagement, outcomes, and achievement? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.