My First Flip


In Fall 2012, I decided to try flipping as one of several technology-based changes in my Modern Art class.  The course is an introductory survey covering 1840 (Realism) to the present (!), so needless to say, there are challenges.  Aside from the sheer volume of material, it is a popular class, which draws students with a wide range of  skill levels and knowledge of art history.

I base my lectures on prepared powerpoints that suggest a kind of narrative addressing cultural context, artistic precedents, formal innovations, and a range of ideas about meaning and art historical significance.  I also like discussion, so I encourage students to interrupt when they want to ask questions or contribute comments.  The net effect is I never cover all the material.

Flipping seemed a possible solution.  I pre-recorded portions of my longer lectures for students to watch before class.  I also eliminated a massive textbook in favor of web-based resources and an anthology of primary texts.  My goal was that the outside lectures and focused reading materials would introduce core content, and free up class time for discussion and interactive activities.

Indeed, my students were better prepared.  They asked more questions and hands shot up more quickly when I asked about their ideas.  But,  the classroom lectures still bogged me down.  Yes, there were fewer of them, but we were now moving even slower because of increased class discussion.  The flip hadn’t worked . . . because I hadn’t let it.

Finding Faith in Flipping

Flipping, ultimately, requires a leap of faith.  One day as I was commuting to school, armed with my lecture on Surrealism, I realized I had to throw it out.  I walked into class; told the students I was not going to lecture; and divided them into small groups.  I assigned them to brainstorm questions that someone should ask if they wanted to understand Surrealism, and to choose an image that would help explain the movement.  Each group wrote one question on the board.  We spent the rest of class talking about the questions they developed and the images they had chosen.

The results:  We covered a lot less material, but students brought in additional images that I had not planned on showing.   And it was awkward at first, I had to walk out of the room when the groups started brainstorming just to keep myself from intervening.   Once the class began talking, my role shifted to a facilitator–asking follow up questions, paraphrasing and helping them refine their thoughts, and keeping the conversation on track to ensure my goals for that class were achieved.

Like most classroom strategies, my first flip was not perfect.  But, the experience was useful in helping me adapt this approach to my own style of teaching.  I now give students more of a heads up about how class time will be structured.  I assign them prompts to submit via e-portfolios prior to class, and try to provide them feedback before we meet.  The students say they prefer a blending of slide-based lecture with class discussion, so I’ve tried to achieve a better balance.  Most notably, my lectures have shifted away from a narrative sequence of slides, and I don’t feel the same compulsion to discuss all of the images.  The flip was not the solution, but in combination with other technologies, it has helped me create a more interactive learning environment in my class.

2 thoughts on “My First Flip

  1. I teach at a community college, and I have also experimented with a flipped classroom — with mixed results. I have had a lot of success with homework assignments where students are are assigned some videos or museum resources, and complete a worksheet with a series of prompts that is due at the beginning of each class. I was surprised to discover how much they liked the assignments, and how prepared they were for class (the down side is that it created a lot of grading for me!). Since all of my lectures are available in an e-text format on WordPress, I then experimented with the idea of assigning whole chapters, rather than the small “chunks” assigned in the homeworks. This did not work — it was just too much information for the students to take in. So I am back to the homeworks, some in-class group work, mixed in with lectures that help tie it all together. But I am eager to hear from others who have had success with flipping the classroom, because I still feel it is the direction I want to go!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! I agree that having students prepare a related assignment strengthens the effectiveness of the flip. Just because the content is delivered outside of class, doesn’t mean they’re critically engaging with it. What’s worked best for me is to give short prompts or assignments (I’ll post some of these on my lesson plans page) that students submit through their electronic portfolios. I try to skim all the students’ responses before class, providing feedback where it seems appropriate; I then choose a few specific examples or look for points (common misperceptions or shared perspectives) that are points of departure for class discussion. (I also use small groups in class for these assignment-based discussions–since it encourages more exchange among all the students)

      These are low stakes assignments, which are graded on participation/completion by the due date. Admittedly (I tell the students) I don’t always read every response closely, but regardless of my review, the tasks forces them to think more intently about the material prior to class. My classes average about 35 students; so, in terms of time, I’ve found that I’ve really just shifted the time I used to give to lecture prep (I always spent too much time regardless of how many times I’d given a particular lecture) toward the review of their assignments.

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