Study: flipped classroom implementation can make or break the learning experience

A recent study of large-enrollment classes on campus has yielded promising results for interactive teaching approaches, and has provided guidance to instructors about how to successfully teach in flipped classroom settings.

The study, conducted by the Research and Analytics team at Colorado State University Online, found that flipping the classroom may improve student participation and attendance rates, and create a more challenging experience that fosters critical thinking. “We found that flipped classrooms often led to students holding each other more accountable for showing up to class prepared,” said Sean Burns, Assessment Coordinator at CSU Online.

However, Burns said, when flipped classrooms are implemented the wrong way, it is a very frustrating experience for students. “They want goals and learning objectives defined for each class, and if this is missing, they feel lost and don’t get the maximum value from the class,” he said.

The flipped classroom approach isn’t new to higher education or CSU, but it has gained popularity in recent years. The idea centers on engaging students in activities, projects, and discussions during class time, rather than lectures. This model is facilitated by a more adaptable classroom setup, with movable seating and tables to accommodate various group activities.

Many CSU instructors have adopted flipped classroom approaches, and several classrooms on campus now feature flipped capabilities. “This is why it was important to conduct the research and learn what works and what doesn’t,” said Burns. “We wanted to ensure instructors and students are set up for success as they teach and learn in these environments.”

The results of the study have provided valuable feedback for course instructors. For example, it was found that the use of Learning Assistants — undergraduate students from previous course sections who provide classroom support — improves course outcomes. Additionally, TILT instructional designers are using findings to help professors structure classroom activities in a way that allows time at the end of class to debrief and discuss key concepts, as that was also found to be beneficial to the learning process.

Overall, the study found that flipped classrooms:

  • Improve student engagement and participation
  • Result in higher rates of attendance
  • Help students develop writing skills
  • Improve exam performance
  • Create more energy and excitement in classrooms
  • Are perceived positively by students

CSU’s Research and Analytics Team

The Research and Analytics team, which was formed at TILT and has since transitioned to CSU Online, was created to help test the effectiveness of new methods of teaching at CSU. Now, the team has access to more data, and is able to observe and track student behavior in online learning environments like Canvas. More data means faculty can receive more feedback about how to improve the learning experience for students.

According to Dave Johnson, Director of Research and Analytics at CSU Online, this kind of research is crucial to flipping classrooms. “Because we focus on online education, we’re heavily invested in teaching with technology. Often, flipping a residential class involves using a lot of the technology used in online classes — video, animations, digital communication tools, etc…” He said that once faculty learn about the effectiveness of these tools, instructional designers at TILT and at CSU Online are adept at teaching them how to use them.