Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Personal and Scaffolding Issues with Flipped Classes

The second major issue my students had with the flipped composition class was personal dislike. I received comments such as "It didn't work for me" and "I didn't really get it" with no elaboration. Of the 27 students who reacted negatively to the flipped class, 9 (33%, 9 of 216, 4.2%) simply disliked the flipped class, and 7 of those 9 students recommended that I stop doing flipped classes altogether. This was, by far, the largest group to recommend dropping the flipped class technique.

The third major complaint had to do with scaffolding issues. Seven of 27 students (25.9%) (7 of 216, 3.2%) expressed some discomfort with their lack of preparation for the flipped class. Unlike the above group, 6 of these 7 students wanted to modify the flipped class rather than drop it. In other words, the students eventually bought into the concept, but they wanted more scaffolding in the class to prepare them.

One student captured this attitude well when they said, "I would emphasize at the beginning of the term that you are not expected to fully understand what is going on and that we will discuss it during the next class. I know that you said not to worry about it when we had questions or concerns in the beginning but I don't think it was stressed enough. After week two you know what to expect and you get it that you will be reading and doing things that you will have questions or reservations about but when you get into class you do make it clear."

From the beginning term, I had listed the flipped class as one of the primary educational strategies in my composition classes, but I did not discuss this very well, especially in my first term. I made the unfortunate assumption that my students would understand what I meant by
Composition I/II/III is a flipped class, which means the content is delivered outside of class through online lectures and readings and the writing is done in class. Weekly online quizzes guide preparation for class.
This seemed obvious to me. It clearly was not obvious to many of my students. By the second and third terms, I was incorporating outside videos and readings about the flipped classroom early in the course. By the second year of flipping my classes, I was asking students to write about the flipped class in their class blogs and class documents, which I believe has the most effect on improving their attitudes about the flipped classroom.

I made another big change by scheduling all my composition classes in computer labs so that I could guide students through the activities that the course would expect them to perform outside of class on their own. Even though most of the outside, online activities are no more difficult than setting up a Facebook account, students are very anxious about performing well for a teacher and not appearing dumb. Going through each activity in class, in groups, with no penalty for failure eased their minds tremendously.

Then, I began incorporating smartphones more and more into the class, showing students how to download the various computer apps that we use in class onto their smartphones. This gave the students much greater confidence that they could always find a way to their online work to complete it. By the end of the last term (April, 2013), many of my students were doing their blogs, their weekly assessments, and even some of their formal documents on their smartphones. Although I have a non-traditional student population, the combination of personal computers, tablets, and smartphones means that almost all of my students have relatively easy access to their work when off-campus.

Finally, I changed the way I graded their outside, online work. Most of the activities received a participation grade. In other words, they didn't have to perform a task correctly—they just had to try. Simply attempting the online weekly assessment earned the student a 100 mark toward a score that amounted to 10% of their grade (a full letter grade). Of the more than 200 students this past year, less than a handful did not master the outside, online work.