Insights and Food for Thought
Dr Rick Hayman
Modern day employers are seeking to recruit graduates who are adaptable, able to cope with new and challenging situations, show initiative, think strategically, are willing to try new things and have effective time and self management skills (Andrews & Higson, 2008). To create such dynamic and flexible individuals, a growing body of research emphasises the need to move away from traditional teaching and learning approaches such as lectures and ensuing seminar formats as they may be unbefitting for the changing size, profile and diversity of the 21st century United Kingdom Higher Education (HE) student population.
Flipped learning is a pedagogic approach which affords heightened opportunity for learners to engage with problem based learning and inquiry orientated strategies (Butt, 2014). This format exposes learners to new materials for the first time outside of formal lecture settings and requires the completion of pre assigned activities, either independently or in small groups, before scheduled sessions. Class time is then spent within highly participatory, hands on, interactive and student led learning environments where theory can be applied in practice. This retransformation requires students to take greater ownership of their learning and supports them to learn independent of academic staff.
In recent years, flipped learning has gained popularity within the HE sector, proving influential in nurturing the academic, professional and employability skills of learners across wide ranging educational contexts and disciplines. For example, Ryan (2013) reported undergraduate biochemistry students who engaged in flipped learning for one hour each week over a three month period developed soft skills appropriate for employment and lifelong learning in 21st century society including problem solving, critical thinking and time management.
I utilised a flipped learning approach for the first time to deliver a semesterised final year undergraduate Talent Identification and High Performance Coaching module with 65 students enrolled between September and December 2015. Since 2011, this module had been delivered year long via two hour lectures and seminars (fours total per week) on a fortnightly basis. Student attendance, engagement and summative grades were below Institutional bench mark since 2012. The revised delivery format required students to attend a 1 hour workshop and 2 hour tutorial each week for three consecutive months. Audio blogs incorporating pre assigned activities lasting a maximum of ten minutes replaced traditional lecture and seminar sessions and were collectively uploaded to the institutional virtual learning environment one week prior to the module commencing.
One activity from week three required students to appraise the content of a 60 minute video which overviewed a current world class athlete’s holistic development from childhood to present day in their own time. In pairs, they then determined if Deliberate Practice Theory (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993) aligned or not to the athlete’s experience and communicated their argument through an infographic. In ensuing class time, infograpghics were showcased to peers and a formative spot test on video content was completed and peer marked.
I found adopting a flipped classroom had a significantly positive impact upon my overall satisfaction and enthusiasm as a lecturer. The experience was liberating and I was forced to think much more creatively more than ever before when it came to resource development and ensuring all tasks were research led, challenging, intellectually stimulating yet practically applied.
As the weeks passed by, I found myself taking an increasingly supportive instead of leading role both within and outside of class time, promoting student autonomy, empowerment and self discovery. Unwittingly, I had left power point karaoke behind and became somewhat of a chameleon, blending into the background, saying less and probing more. Peer led questioning and feedback became the norm to reinforce understanding, co-construct meaning and extend learning.
This was the first flipped learning experience for all 65 students and many were initially overwhelmed with the consequent increases in work load, responsibility and independence. But gradually, as the weeks started to pass, many started to like how they were able to work through tasks at their own pace in their own time. I also learned how taking oneself out of a comfort zone too implementing a new pedagogic approach for the first time can be daunting yet enriching and rewarding.
I explored student understanding far more frequently with targeted questioning strategies and used extra practical examples and insights from industry and high performance sport to provoke further discussion and clarify concepts. The approach received glowing feedback in the form of student module review, course representative committee meetings, peer observations and external examiner reports. I have also listened, reflected and learned from my initial experience. For example, I now using team teaching more frequently, ensure all audio blogs last a maximum of 5 minutes and have trialled with postgraduate students.
Unwittingly, I noticed the approach helped my relationship with students to blossom more than ever before, thus enhancing my potential positive contribution to the overall student experience. Colleagues are curious to see if I will persist with this “new way of doing business” in the future. Well, the hard evidence reveals the vast majority of the sports coaching students responded positively to the approach with consequent improvements in attendance, engagement and achievement. They particularly liked the greater opportunity it allowed for them to discuss, synthesise and critique with tutors and peers. It also encouraged me too critically reflect upon my own practice, motivated me to improve further as a scholar and allowed me to provide support, guidance and inspiration for colleagues.
In closing, I must emphasise how my overall module workload increased significantly compared to using more traditional teaching and learning approaches. This was particularly noticeable in the lead up to the start of the semester when audio blogs and resource development responsibilities had to be developed. I suspect the approach may also prove much more difficult to administrate and manage when dealing with significantly larger module cohorts and academic module delivery teams. Indeed, whilst not a bed of roses, I would encourage all colleagues to try out with the approach at some point in the future regardless of subject specialism and experience of teaching and learning.
Andrews, J., & Higson, H. (2008). Graduate Employability: Soft Skills Versus Hard Business Knowledge: A European Study. Higher Education in Europe, 33, 411-422.
Butt, A. (2014). Student Views on the use of a Flipped Classroom Approach: Evidence from Australia. Business Education and Accreditation, 6, 33-43.
Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.
Ryan, B. (2013). Flipping Over: Student-Centred Learning and Assessment. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 1, 30-39.
Dr Rick Hayman, Senior Lecturer and Programme leader for the MSc Professional Practice in Sport Coaching Degree, Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation, Northumbria University, Newcastle.