Articles / Flipping the classroom follow up

During last week’s workshop on “Flipping the classroom“, a number of issues were raised by the delegates, which I said I’d document. If you want a copy of the slides and notes, please scroll to the bottom of this post.

Motivating students

How do I motivate the students to do the preparatory work?

How do I persuade students of their role in the learning process?

There are a number of possible approaches to motivating learners to do the things I think are important:

  • Assess the pre-work – even just attaching a mark to completion of the pre-work questions might help. It indicates its importance, and can often be the deciding factor for a busy learner, who is trying to juggle studies, work and family. This type of learner is constantly adjusting priorities; making something part of the assessed work is often the only way to push it higher up the list.
  • Make your expectations clear – right from the start, from the very first point of contact with a potential student, you will need to set out your expectations. And then stick with it. If you say that classroom sessions will rely on having done the pre-work, then make sure the classroom sessions do rely on having done the pre-work. They will learn.
  • Explain the rationale – some students might need to have the reasoning behind the teaching and learning methodology explained to them. As an example, David Dye does this clearly in his initial video clip for his students: “What is peer instruction
  • Set an example – as leaders of learning, I need to show that I also have prepared, and that we are practising what I preach.

Some students, from particular cultural backgrounds, may find the more discursive approach seen in a flipped classroom difficult to engage with at first. It might sit a long way outside of what they call “education”.

In commercial organisations, there is a process known as “educating the customer”, which is all about setting expectations, explaining the rationale, and making the process as simple as possible. Clear communications, from the outset, are essential.


Is “flipping” suitable for all academic disciplines?

My response to that would be that, if your discipline relies on considering new ideas, debate, reflection, critical thinking and conceptual understanding, then, yes, peer instruction/flipping is certainly a suitable approach to use. In fact, I would find it hard to identify a discipline where it would not work.


Will this create more workload for staff?

This depends on how much time you currently spend in preparation for lectures. Really, it should just be a change in what you prepare, rather than a difference in the time spent preparing.

Technology &resources

Is technology an essential component of a flipped classroom approach?

What resources work best in supporting the pre-work?

Technology is not essential. But it can help. Just as the early pioneers of this approach used the technology of the day (journal articles), so I can also use current technologies to help:

  • Find resources
  • Deliver resources – these could be video, pdf, audio, or even plain old web pages.
  • Get feedback and responses to questions (in my case I used a survey tool, but you could use the university VLE. For example, using a Moodle forum, configured as a Q&A)

If students are engaged, then the resource can be as long or boring as you wish. To stimulate that engagement, though, it’s probably best to keep them as short and as interesting as possible.

Stephen Downes’ Principles of Effective Elearning still stand. Key factors are:

  • Relevance – is this going to be useful to the learner?
  • Usability – not just the resource, but how the learner gets there. Consistency and simplicity are the watch words here.
  • Interactivity – and by this I mean interaction and conversation with other people who are using the resource

Group size

Can I use this approach with a large group?

Absolutely. Peer instruction and group work is at the heart of a flipped classroom approach. The role of the lecturer will change to being more of a facilitator as groups get larger. The current design of many lecture rooms, with tiered, fixed seating might make working groups harder, but not impossible.

There are many ways to facilitate group work (see this guide from Aberdeen University). One that I like particularly is the Fishbowl dialogue technique, which can also work well in large groups.

See also: From cooperation to collaboration – helping students become collaborative learners, chapter 5 in Co-operative LearningThe Social and Intellectual Outcomes of Learning in Groups, Robyn M. GilliesAdrian F. Ashman, Psychology Press, 2003


Does this approach work outside of Harvard and MIT?

There is research available that shows the peer instruction method working in a range of institutions – not just the rarified walls of Harvard et al.

Peer Instruction: Results from a Range of Classrooms Adam P. Fagen, Catherine H. Crouch and Eric Mazur, Phys. Teach., 40, 206-209 (2002).

Peer Instruction: From Harvard to Community Colleges Nathaniel Lasry, Eric Mazur and Jessica Watkins, Am. J. Phys., 76, 1066-1069 (2008).

Additional Resources

Medina, J. (2008) “Brain rules” Pear Press, Seattle. See website at:

The bibliography from the following paper would be a very good starting point for anyone wishing to dig into the research and thinking further:

RYAN, B.. Flipping Over: Student-Centred Learning and Assessment. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, North America, 1, dec. 2013.

Flipping the classroom slides

Posted: 16 June 2014

Tags: Learning Technology