Eagle Glassheim in History uses Connect to create a flipped classroom environment


eagle glassheim

Take some of the course material out of the lecture and add it to the online modules, freeing up some lecture time to have some interactive exercises with the students.

–Eagle Glassheim, Associate Professor of History

Back Story

Originally, Professor Tina Loo and I developed and taught HIST 106 together. At first, the course schedule was set up as one 80-minute lecture with a 20-minute lecture another day. After a couple of years teaching the course in this way, we saw some problems with it. Namely, students didn’t appreciate having to come to class for just 20 minutes of lecture, especially if their tutorial section was not meeting directly after class. This prompted us to try putting some of the content from the mini-lecture online, via WordPress, along with a discussion forum, to help them prepare for tutorial. Thus, we arrived at a format of one lecture a week, plus the online content and a face-to-face tutorial.

What was your main goal for transforming your course?

We wanted the weekly modules to supplement and build on the material we covered in class, and as a result provide the same amount of material and content as if we had 100 minutes of lecture every week. I was also thinking about ways to make the classroom lectures more interactive. I’d been following some of what’s been happening with flipped classrooms in other courses, but I didn’t think a totally flipped classroom would work quite as well in the humanities as it might in the sciences. Especially since we have a 50-minute tutorial scheduled every week, which already serves the purpose of providing a place for discussion and activity regarding the material. Still, 80 minutes is a long time to sit through a professor just talking at you, and so I wanted to have something other than the lecture material happening in class.

What changed through the FL project?

We’d seen some good results from using online content on WordPress, so we took this as an opportunity to run with the idea. Seeing as this format was so successful at fixing the issues we had with the mini-lecture, and was also much better suited for our growing constituency of students from the Applied Sciences and Science faculties, there was a lot of impetus to move the online content into full-fledged modules. This is how I came to the decision to take some of the course material out of the lecture and add it to the online modules, freeing up some lecture time to have some interactive exercises with the students. Sometimes it would be simply asking them a question, other times I might have them do some small exercise or discuss an issue in small groups then take responses. It’s not meant to be a major pedagogical change in the classroom, but rather a way to increase student attention and engagement with the instructor and the material being covered.

What has been the result? Were there any quantitative/qualitative changes in student learning?

I personally saw an increase, albeit a small one, in student engagement during lectures when the modules were implemented. We also polled the students for their opinions on the modules after they’d completed them and the results were overwhelmingly positive. Students enjoyed the interactivity of them, and many appreciated the flexibility to work through them at their convenience. One student summed this up nicely in her comments: “I found that I paid more attention to them than I did when I was in lecture. I think this was due to my choosing to do the module (at the time that I did it) rather than attending class whenever it was scheduled.”

On the other hand, I find it difficult to compare the quantitative data such as test scores before and after the introduction of the modules to the course because of the nature of humanities courses such as this one. The exams require students to write using their thoughts and insight about the subject rather than reproduce facts or solve discrete problems, and this makes a quantitative comparison somewhat difficult to glean useful information from. Mostly, I was looking for a qualitative change in how students experienced the course, and I think that the survey responses and student engagement show that the modules have been a major success.

What were some challenges you faced during this process?

I was happy with the modules that we produced (I worked with a talented grad student assistant who did the graphics and layout design for the modules). I think there might be some activities I might add or take away in the future. What I was least satisfied with and what I would like to keep working on in the future is making the classroom lectures more interactive, and possibly finding ways to tie the lectures in with the online content a little more tightly.That’s more of a conceptual challenge and it’s going to involve working a lot with the course content. I’d like to try something with Top Hat and talk to other people teaching humanities courses, like English for example – I would ask them, how does English make lectures with their larger classes more interactive? Some of the best innovations in interactive lecturing have come in the sciences (Eric Mazur’s flipped classroom, for example), but these methods are problem based and don’t seem directly relevant to teaching in the humanities. I’ve had some success incorporating discussion into smaller lectures (under 100 students), but I’m still looking for good ideas for larger classes like Hist 106.

Do you have any advice for instructors hoping to implement this in their course?

First of all, I’d say that it’s not very difficult to do this. It takes some time, just like preparing lectures and putting together all the parts of the course and delivering them in a compelling way. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean a lot more time than updating or developing more ideas for any course that you feel has gotten a little stale. There are really good resources out there, like Arts ISIT to help you out with the technological part, so there’s nothing too daunting in terms of being able to create what you want to see in your course. For example, Connect works quite well for hosting these types of online modules. One thing I want to do next time is add quizzes at the end of each module, just so I can see whether students have grasped the main points. You can also embed WordPress within Connect, so for people who prefer that format, it’s not difficult to do at all.