Collaboration in a Flipped Classroom

Teachers in higher education have traditionally used their classroom time for presenting information in the form of lectures to students (Michel, Cater III, & Varela, 2009).  During the one- to three-hour class time, students are expected to absorb information that will be required in other learning and testing (Herreid, & Schiller, 2013).  The passive nature of this didactic teaching method does not always engage students in active learning – a critical component of learning (Michel, et. al., 2009). Some of the drawbacks for students include lack of time to take accurate notes, distractions, fear of interrupting to ask questions, inability to follow the lecturer, lack of interest in the subject, and poor presentation by the teacher.  Some students have resorted to recording lectures to ensure that they are not missing vital information. Any information presented via a white board or projector, is absent in such audible recordings.  The time spent with a professor is thus during a passive learning period.  In fact, labs that are part of a course are often taught by Teaching Assistants instead of the professor. The lab or workshop and even homework are where active learning is supposed to be taking place and yet the teacher is usually absent.  Teacher and student collaboration need to be examined from the viewpoint of where and when it happens and what type of classroom encourages active learning.  Where is teacher and peer collaboration most effective during the learning process?
With the explosion of technology and mobile devices, teachers have the ability to rethink the delivery of information via the traditional classroom lecture.  The flipped classroom has been shown to provide teachers with more time in the lab workshop section of their courses, where active learning can occur (Forsey, Low, & Glance, 2013).  Although many professors have embraced the use of technology in the form of Power Point in their lectures, they commonly do so in a didactic classroom setting (Strayer, 2012).  Teachers may find a better integration of technology and learning in the classroom, through the implementation of the flipped classroom. The lecture part of the class would be available online and the classroom part of the class would become the laboratory of active learning through collaboration between teacher and students.  Flipping a classroom involves engaging the students with course materials online through short videos and readings and then having them come to class workshops where they practice applying the knowledge by creating and completing various tasks (Forsey, et. al., 2013).
The comparison of active learning to passive learning has previously been studied, but there is minimal research on the flipped classroom.  Experiential learning has been studied, where business students were placed into groups of learning and assigned a project to complete and then compared to business students who attended a traditional passive lecture (Michel, Cater III, & Varela, 2009).  This study found that students benefit from both lectures and active learning – using methods of absorbing information to actively using that information, and that the teacher is integral in that success.  The active group showed improved cognitive outcomes, but both groups were comparable in overall mastery of the subject (Michel, et. al., 2009).  By moving lectures from a face-to-face format to a rich  technological interface, students and teachers will have more time for active learning in workshops and labs.
The flipped classroom has been studied in various subjects, from sociology to the sciences, with varying methods of delivery, teacher capability, and success.  One study flipped a basic statistics course at a university and compared it to a traditional basic statistics course at the same university, with the same instructor (Strayer, 2012).  Students in the flipped classroom felt less satisfied, reporting that there was not enough structure in the classroom portion and that the teacher seemed unorganized (Strayer, 2012).  However, they collaborated more and had more innovative ideas during the classroom workshops (Strayer, 2012).  There were several problems with this study in making an accurate comparison.  The teacher had used a statistics program on the Internet for the lecture portion of his class, called ALEKS, which differed from the way that he explained problems in the workshop sessions.  This cognitive overload for many of the students made it difficult for them to make the connection between the two methods of solving problems.  Also, the students were not fully engaged in the subject matter, deeming it a necessary course only for the completion of a degree, and having no interest in learning statistics (Strayer, 2012).  Obviously, the teacher must provide content that is engaging and specific to his course for the online portion of the flipped classroom.  Missing in this study is more passion for the process – the teacher could have integrated his lesson plans with an effective online portion.
Martin Forsey, a university sociology teacher flipped his classroom when he developed a course for a massive open online course or MOOC as they have come to be called (Forsey, Low, & Glance, 2013).  While the MOOCs are not usually for-credit courses, university professors teach them.  In this case study, Forsey used the material that he developed for the MOOC as the online portion of his traditional sociology course at the university (Forsey, et. al., 2013).  The students were asked to engage in the online activities of the MOOC in preparation for in-class tutorial/workshops.  Forsey found that his face-to-face time in the workshops with the students was more productive, where he was devoted to helping students research and write sociological biographies (Forsey, et. al., 2013).  Students reported that they appreciated the new format because it was more flexible, the content was richer, and they had become more productive (Forsey, et. al., 2013).  The teacher had actively embraced the challenge to create a new teaching method, favoring the constructivist learning theory of MOOCs and applying that to a flipped classroom environment.  
In reviewing the literature on the effectiveness of teacher and peer collaboration in traditional classrooms versus the flipped classroom, it appears that there are variable results based on differences in teaching abilities, preparation of the online materials, and enthusiasm of the participants.  However, as more research is added to the field of flipping classrooms, teachers may begin to evaluate their own classrooms and pedagogy.  The idea of flipping a classroom may become more palatable after the explosion of MOOCs and positive feedback from students and instructors. However,  more research is needed in comparing the traditional classroom with the flipped classroom to evaluate where teacher and peer collaboration are most effective in learning. 
I would propose a test-control situation between two identical classes, where the causal mechanism is the only variation – one class flipped and the other traditional.  The study is feasible within the time frame of a one-semester course, where I would have access to the participants and site.  Hopefully, the results would provide more incentive to teachers desiring to improve student collaboration and learning.  The need for further research is apparent, considering that many instructors are skeptical of online education (Allen & Seaman, 2013).

Allen, I. & Seaman, J. (2013).  Changing Course:  Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. The Sloan Consortium.  Retrieved from http://www.onnlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/changingcourse.pdf
Forsey, M., Low, M., & Glance, D. (2013). Flipping the sociology classroom: Towards a practice of online pedagogy. Journal of Sociology, 49(4), 471. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=91934408&site=eds-live
Herreid, & Schiller, N. A. 3. (2013). Case studies and the flipped classroom. Journal of College Science Teaching, 42(5), 62-66. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=86988365&site=eds-live
Michel, N., Cater III, J., & Varela, O. (2009). Active versus passive teaching styles: An empirical study of student learning outcomes. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 20(4), 397-418. doi:10.1002/hrdq.20025
Strayer, J. (2012). How learning in an inverted classroom influences cooperation, innovation and task orientation. Learning Environments Research, 15(2), 171-193. doi:10.1007/s10984-012-9108-4

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