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Rochester Institute of Technology Embraces the Flipped Classroom
Online video lessons viewed at home let university professors get the most out of classroom time, and students reap the rewards.

At schools around the world, faculty are creating short video lessons for their students to watch outside of class. These aren’t traditional lecture capture recordings that are then repurposed: They’re produced specifically to minimize or remove the lecture component from class altogether, freeing up that time for activities and discussions that take better advantage of face-to-face time in the classroom.

This idea, called the “flipped classroom,” was named and popularized by Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann, who at the time were science and math teachers, respectively, at Woodland Park High School in Colorado. The “flip” comes from reversing the traditional teaching paradigm where students attend lectures in person then do most of their assignment activities as homework, on their own. With a flipped classroom, the informational component from the lecture is the homework, and class time is dedicated to exercises and assignments.

Professors Michael Palanski and Likin Simon-Romero both teach at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where faculty across a number of disciplines have begun adopting the flipped classroom into their courses with the support of the university’s Teaching & Learning Studio. Both teachers flipped their classes this past fall. Here’s what happened.

Flipping for Leadership

Two years ago, Michael Palanski (left) was at a teaching conference for his home field of organizational behavior. He had heard about the model in high school science classes, but not in university disciplines such as business. However, one presenter talked about flipping his marketing class, which is “more like what I do,” Palanski says. “It got me thinking it was something I’d like to try.”

The following spring Palanski joined a community of practice with other RIT faculty across a variety of disciplines, from engineering and biology to the liberal arts. “We got together every week to talk about flipped classrooms,” he explains. “We shared resources, and it was enough to give me a kick in the pants to give it a shot.”

For his leadership class in the Saunders College of Business at RIT, Palanski recorded a short video lesson each week using his office computer with a webcam and a screen capture application.

In the videos, “I don’t go through the content that’s in the reading,” he explains. Rather, “I’ll do a quick recap. It’s more of me saying what’s important, what’s not so important, and what you need to know. It’s more of my commentary on what they’re reading than a lecture-captured class.”

Then students are given a short online quiz to be completed before class. The quizzes are intended to check students’ recall and give them incentive to complete their assignments. “They’re not hard if you’ve done the readings and watched the video,” Palanski says.

He reaped benefits the very first class meeting. Typically, that day tends to be consumed by covering course requirements and administrative errata such as attendance policies. Instead of this, Palanski says, “I created a video going over the syllabus,” so the students were prepped before showing up.

In class “I put them in groups, gave them big sheets of paper, and asked them to come up with their own definitions of leadership.”

On the last day of class, he had the students do the same exercise. Afterward he brought out those sheets from the first day. “I put them up side by side and everyone could see that those definitions [from the last day] are much more nuanced and complex than day one.”

In other classes, “We spent a lot of time mind-mapping in groups, with paper and marker.” In the field of leadership, he explains, “There’s a number of basic approaches and philosophies. The trait approach says that some people are naturally good at communicating or speaking.” Another approach says that leadership “is about your behavior, focusing on task completion or how you work with people.”

In a mind-mapping exercise, Palanski asks his students, “How do these things relate to one another?” Students can then spend a half-hour in class brainstorming about these ideas, connecting them together, “rather than treating each concept discretely.”

He says, “Sure, you could do [exercises] in a traditional classroom, but not as wide of a variety.”

Flipping to Fuel Inquiry

As a mathematician, Likin Simon-Romero (left) says that he had given a lot of consideration to teaching methods since college. He says instruction has been an important topic in the field since the Moore method, named for mathematician Robert Lee Moore, was popularized in the 1920s. That method replaces lectures with having students leading each other in completing proofs in class. It’s not dissimilar to the flipped classroom.

“I was attracted to these ideas of making learning mathematics more constructive, instead of students being passive,” Romero says.

He teaches multivariate calculus at RIT. Romero says, “I love to teach it. But I found myself teaching the same things over and over, mechanically doing my explanation over and over. I realized that students could be watching it on their own time and not waste class time on that.” Then, in class, “We could talk about how to apply things to a particular question. I realized that what I was thinking about is a flipped classroom.”

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