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Classrooms are 'flipped' at PHCC

Friday, May 9, 2014


Big changes are coming at Patrick Henry Community College as instructors work to implement a “flipped” approach to the traditional classroom.

In a classroom that’s flipped, according to PHCC mathematics faculty member Chris Wikstrom, the instructor uploads his class notes onto Blackboard, an online education platform, where students have access to them outside the classroom.

Students read and study the notes before the class. That allows them to come to class already prepared and ready to learn more advanced material.

Instead of traditional homework, students work together in the classroom.

Wikstrom said in the fall 2013 semester, he implemented a flipped classroom in his Elementary Statistics course with help from other faculty members, including David Dillard, Bronte Miller and April Neblett.

“As David says, ‘I jumped off a cliff’ with it first,” Wikstrom said. “As we started implementing this model, we started seeing some promising results from it, which got me really excited.”

A flipped classroom, Wikstrom said, takes all the preliminary information from the beginning of a class, which may be repeated material for some students, and moves it out of the classroom.

“From a teacher’s standpoint, we spend time going over the elementary stuff, get a little bit into the intermediate stuff, and then by the time class is over, you really haven’t had time to go over the advanced stuff,” Wikstrom said. “That was really hurting us — not being able to cover that material. With the flipped model, we’re able to do that now.”

Wikstrom describes elementary material as beginner-level information for any particular subject.

“They are foundational concepts students can do on their own with some instruction that’s not being verbalized from the instructor, or it comes in the form of electronic lecture,” he said.

Intermediate material, he said, involves some discussion, problem solving and critical thinking, and advanced material requires more critical thinking, problem solving and analysis to arrive at a solution.

Using the flipped model opens the doors for a different style of learning for students.

“Because we moved all the notes outside the classroom, there’s no formal note taking in the class,” Wikstrom said. “We’re able to focus on deeper problems, but we’re able to do that in teams. I can go around and spot check and be more of a facilitator. The knowledge isn’t always coming from the teacher; it’s being generated within the groups, which is really cool.”

Incorporating more cooperative learning into a flipped classroom also is a benefit to the approach, according to Wikstrom.

Cooperative learning is a teaching method that encourages contact between students and faculty, gives prompt feedback and develops positive interactions and cooperation among students, according to the Southern Center for Active Learning Excellence (SCALE).

It encourages students to work together, while allowing for improved social skills and partnerships with their instructors, according to the SCALE website.

“The flipped classroom is just the application of all those (cooperative learning) fundamentals,” Wikstrom said. “In the traditional classroom, you kind of have to stop and think — here’s the concept we’re teaching. What pieces of cooperative learning can I incorporate? I found in my classroom that cooperative learning isn’t just an option, it’s a necessity at that point.”

Since fall semester, Miller has flipped her Mathematics for the Liberal Arts course, and Dillard and Wikstrom flipped the first five modules of PHCC’s developmental math sequence.

“Our next step is to talk to our division about expanding this approach to other classes, and eventually try and expand it across campus,” he said. “The flipped classroom has always been around, but this new resurgence came out of K-12 education. … It would be really cool to see a student exposed to this from kindergarten all the way to community college because it has such a proactive benefit to the student preparing for class before class.”

Wikstrom used his class in the spring 2013 semester as a control group and his fall 2013 class as the experiment to draw data on how the flipped classroom approach is helping students.

“We’re able to create a generic structure to build other courses,” he said. “We’re not trying to act like this is a brand new thing. We want people who may have been doing this for 20 years to talk to us and share so we can expand this out.”

A resurgence in the flipped classroom also is attributed to the accessibility of technology, Wikstrom said. With students and instructors more comfortable using Blackboard, “It’s become an expectation for an instructor to have a course on Blackboard. On top of that, mobile devices have made it so much easier to disseminate information and for students to access it … I think it’s really fired up the whole flipped approach and opportunities for student success.”

Wikstrom submitted the practice of using a flipped classroom to the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) for consideration of the Excellence in Education award. As a finalist, he presented the approach at this year’s VCCS New Horizons Conference in early April. He said he got positive feedback.

“A lot of people said they had heard about it but just haven’t done it,” he said. “When you’re doing a traditional lecture, they (students) are just taking notes. How do you really know they understand? You just don’t have time to check all their notebooks.”

Wikstrom said in his 12 years of teaching, this is the first wholesale idea he’s bought into with education.

“There have been some things we’ve dabbled in, or things that are just fads, but I really think this has some teeth to it,” he said. “There’s just so little research in it. We’re trying to find all those people with awesome courses out there to build a flipped network. We want to find these people and ask them to share what they’re doing, because it’s not about the teacher. It’s about the student and finding the best way to make them successful.”

Editor’s note: Latala Payne Hodges is a communications specialist with Patrick Henry Community College.


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