Just Flip It

LaShawnda Ramsey is a senior triple major in biology, psychology, and art. Last fall, elementary statistics was on Ramsey’s course list.

Tianna Foore is a double major in business and human resources. She thinks flipped learning sounds pretty intriguing.“I was dreading it,” she recalls. “I was thinking, ‘This is going to be rough. I’m not going to pass.’”

Actually, Ramsey enjoyed the class—and did well. She attributes her success, in large part, to flipped learning.

Flipped classrooms are learner- rather than teacher-centered. The traditional ‘sage-on-the-stage’ becomes a learning coach who interacts one on one with students in the classroom—making sure they understand concepts they’ve learned independently—anywhere, anytime, on any device.

It’s the perfect solution for courses such as chemistry or statistics, where one misunderstood step or concept can severely impede progress.

At Carlow, Clara Cheng, PhD, associate professor of psychology, and Monique Hockman, PhD, professor of chemistry, are convinced that flipped learning makes a difference.

Cheng uses Office Mix, a Microsoft product, to create video lectures for elementary statistics, which students watch on their own. She saves problem solving for class, where she and a tutor from Carlow’s Center for Academic Achievement (CAA) are on hand to answer questions.

“It was so much better this way,” recalls Ramsey. “I had more time to practice and learn in the classroom, and Dr. Cheng and the CAA tutors were right there to help me.”

Cheng started flipping in 2014. She says the new approach is much more individualized.

“Struggling students can’t do the problems at home,” says Cheng.

“There is no one to ask for help. When they’re confused, they don’t do the homework—which is the number one predictor of failing a class.”

Cheng says flipped learning tackles another issue head-on: math-scarring.

“Very often, nontraditional evening students haven’t taken a math class in years,” she says. “Often they come in with so much anxiety. They’re afraid of math.”

Cheng was determined to help these students overcome their fear and succeed in her class. Flipping made all the difference.

Just ask Edina Johnson.

A licensed practical nurse for Gateway Health Plan and a mother of four, Johnson earned her associate’s degree from CCAC. In order to advance in her field, she turned to Carlow for a bachelor’s in psychology—and also enrolled in a fast-track program toward a master’s degree in professional counseling.

Johnson says Cheng’s approach was just what she needed.

“Having a tutor in class was a real benefit,” she says. “It provided clarification for me that I was doing things the right way.”

Through informal surveying, Cheng finds that more than 90 percent of students prefer the flip—and their grades improve, as well.

Hockman has been teaching chemistry at Carlow since 1992. She began flipping general chemistry courses during a 2013 sabbatical. In spring 2014, she and a group of students were invited to the Flipped Learning National Conference to discuss their experiences.

Since then, Hockman has tried various permutations—including a full flip, like Cheng, and a partial flip—in which she flips the course and then flips it back, so students can compare and provide feedback. 

For now, she’s settled on what she calls a quasi-flip—some in-person lecturing partnered with at-home PowerPoints and video lectures. But the bulk of class time is spent on problem solving.

When Hockman compared identical quizzes and exams given in her flipped and non-flipped general chemistry courses, she found that students in flipped courses performed better on average.

According to an informal study of her fall 2014 general chemistry students, a greater number of flipped format students earned higher final course grades than traditional format students.

Hockman is in the process of conducting a more formal analysis, but what she’s seen so far has her convinced this is the best way to teach chemistry.

Both Hockman and Cheng say Carlow is the perfect setting for flipping. 

“We can individualize,” says Cheng. “My stats class is capped at 18 students. Any additional student means that every other student has less individualized attention. You can’t do this everywhere.”

“Smaller is better,” agrees Hockman.

Flipping can be exhausting—for the teachers. But Cheng and Hockman wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Every student is at a different place,” says Hockman. “It would be a lot easier to stand up and give a 50 minute lecture and go! But this approach really works.”

“There’s no going back,” adds Cheng. “And the students wouldn’t want us to.”

By Alison Juram D'Addieco