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.