Deniz Saip

Last year, the Chemistry Department experimented not only with molecules and reactions but also with pedagogical techniques.

For the first time, CHEM 220 “Organic Chemistry” “flipped” its class structure: readings and supplementary videos were done at home, while traditional homework was completed in the classroom. But this semester, the department reverted back to a traditional classroom structure — not necessarily because the flipped classroom was a failure, chemistry professor Timothy Newhouse said, but because the department cannot yet tell how the structure affected students’ retention of the course material. Newhouse, who spearheaded the change, explained that the department is waiting for more data to determine the program’s success.

“[Last year’s CHEM 220 students] are continuing on in chemistry this semester, and after this semester [professors] will have a better idea of how the flipped class worked,” he said, adding that the department “needs to develop other metrics [other than test scores] to evaluate the success of a flipped course.”

The Chemistry Department’s experiment with the flipped classroom is part of a national push toward the educational model. Recent technological advancements have put this type of learning in a spotlight unlike ever before, according to a paper released by the University of Northern Iowa in May 2014, in which flipped learning was also described as “industrialized education.”

While flipped learning can take various forms, CHEM 220 assigned its students both optional videos and required reading for homework. Class time was devoted to reviewing, practicing and expanding upon the material learned at home. In class, students were given the opportunity to ask clarification questions and to learn about practical applications of the concepts they had studied.

Though Newhouse said that overall, course evaluations were good, students interviewed expressed mixed opinions.

“I personally don’t like using videos to study. I like the [traditional] class structure because it gives students a chance to stop the professor and ask clarification questions. You can’t ask questions when watching videos,” Anna Merkuryev ’18, who took the flipped chemistry class last year, said.

Matthew Wrocklage ’18 also cited students’ inability to ask questions while learning concepts as a major flaw in the flipped classroom technique. The structure made it easy for him to feel like he was falling behind when he had difficulty understanding a concept, he added.

“The flipped classroom was very effective at increasing engagement and interaction between the students and the professor and TAs,” Steven Lewis ’18 said.

While some students disliked the flipped structure, several studies evaluating the pedagogical technique have yielded favorable conclusions. In 2013, Pearson Education Inc. — a national education provider — found that students scored between 9 and 19 percentage points higher across the core subjects of math, English, social studies, science and writing when they learned in a flipped classroom. The study also found a 32-percentage-point increase in student scores in math classes. The University of Waterloo, the Center for Digital Education and York University have also found a statistically significant relationship between flipped classrooms and improved student retention of class material.

Still, other studies have found lower improvement rates, or even concluded that there is no statistically significant relationship between a flipped structure and test scores.

Newhouse said that studies like Pearson’s contributed to the Chemistry Department’s decision to make the change last year. He added that many physics and math classes at Yale have long seen success with the flipped structure, but these successes do not necessarily apply in every academic setting.

As of Sept. 17, 113 students are enrolled in CHEM 220 this semester.

  • Professor Autar Kaw

    The problem with making comparisons is using the traditional lecture as a control group. If one uses active learning in the classroom and gives and uses all the resources available to the flipped class, only then flipped classrooms can be evaluated fairly.

    The 32 percentage point increase in math class is not just because of flipped class but because of forced distributed practice and availability of personalized learning. One can do that in traditional lecture classes as well.

    • Gregory Green

      When flipping, the main objective is to make a classroom a more engaging learning environment. Thus, if one does that the goal has been accomplished. Sit and get for most students is not ideal and simply watching a video at home is not the answer either. It’s simply about the pedagogy that takes place around the lecture that really counts. The more we can get students involved in their own learning experience is most crucial.

      • Professor Autar Kaw

        There are many other ways to make a classroom more engaging. No matter what pedagogy we use, we need to stay away from extremes as nothing extreme is good for anything in this world. Why not mix flipped class with an active learning lecture depending on the topic? Why not briefly introduce the student to a topic at other times and then ask them to learn on their own? Why not ask them to do a project on their own, and at other times let them do it in a group? No matter how we teach, the student is still doing the 100% of the learning.

  • wondering

    Though you blandly identify Pearson Education Inc. as a “national education provider,” you do not make obvious that this for-profit vendor of online education products clearly has an interest in concluding that such products are educationally effective. It’s not good reporting to cite these statistics as if they come from some kind of objective source. Even some of the non-profit educational study groups need to be examined closely, for that matter, for their strong links to Silicon Valley’s business interests.