Flipped classrooms, a pedagogical technique becoming increasingly popular in colleges across the nation, has been backed by a Yale-led study published last Tuesday.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, suggests that “flipped” classrooms — an educational model in which in-class lectures and homework assignments are reversed, with students completing problems during class and watching lectures outside of class — lead to significant improvements in students’ comprehension of the course material, especially among female students, underrepresented minority students and students with lower grade point averages. At Yale, the CTL has also found positive results from flipped classrooms. But students interviewed had mixed opinions about this alternative model.
“We found that because class meetings were active and engaging based upon the online lectures, students were preparing earlier and more often and more accurately in the flipped classroom as compared to the more traditional lecture format,” said Mark Graham, evaluation director of the Yale Center for Scientific Teaching and one of the study’s authors.
According to the study, learning -— as measured by exam averages — improved by about 12 percent for students in the flipped classes compared to those in standard classes. Female students’ scores went from significantly lower than male students’ to statistically equal after the course flipped, according to David Gross, another one of the study’s authors and a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UMass Amherst.
The researchers collected data from one of Gross’ classes at UMass Amherst over five years. For the first three years, students learned in a traditional classroom setting with in-class lectures, and in the last two years, the course was “flipped.”
At Yale, the CTL has also worked with STEM professors to experiment with different forms of active learning methods, including flipped classrooms, according to CTL Executive Director Jennifer Frederick. With active learning techniques, students are encouraged to participate more in class discussions as opposed to passively listening to professor-led lectures.
Frederick said Yale professors are invited to annual workshops about active learning, and that the number of classes that integrate such pedagogical methods is increasing every term.
“I can say that the data [about active learning] is very promising,” she said. “We have observed better learning outcomes based on test results.”
Frederick added that the CTL’s ongoing research shows that students who believe in active learning are also more likely to benefit from it.
However, Yale students interviewed expressed mixed responses regarding their experiences with flipped math and science classrooms.
Wissem Gamra ’18, who took PHYS 180 last year in a flipped classroom, found the learning approach unhelpful for mastering new material.
“The problem was that those videos would explain the concepts, but if you do not understand, then the only option you had was to re-watch the video, saying the same thing again,” Gamra said. “So in other words, the flipped classroom experience for me was if as if we were taking an online class, and then we go to class where we are given multiple-choice questions to practice with, some of which we could easily find online.”
Alison Fritz ’16, who also took PHYS 180 last year, said she could see how female students may benefit more from flipped classrooms than their male counterparts.
“In male-majority classes like physics, I think that men are often — but not always — more likely to stop the lecture and ask questions, or engage with questions the teacher asks,” Fritz said.
Professor of geology and geophysics Jeffrey Park, who teaches “Earth System Science” in a flipped classroom, said he appreciates that most of his students participate actively with an open mind during class. Park added that female students are typically not afraid to speak up and participate in class, sometimes participating more than their male counterparts.
The study was published in the journal CBE-Life Sciences Education.