Flipping the Classroom

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Helen Mongan-Rallis and other professors discuss flipped classrooms
Helen Mongan-Rallis discusses the flipped classroom with other professors

“We do our best work as teachers when we truly engage students, both in and out of class,” Faculty Fellow for Technology Enhanced Learning Helen Mongan-Rallis said. “Good teachers have been ‘flipping’ their classrooms since before there was a catchy phrase for the concept.”

The flipped classroom method ‘flips’ the traditional style of teaching on its head. Instructors post resources such as online activities, lectures, and diagrams to Moodle, a learning management system for educators and students. This allows students to come to class each day having already laid the foundation of the daily lesson. National data indicates that flipped classrooms have a positive effect on retention rates, grades, and standardized testing results for students in high school and college.

This new methodology is right up the alley of Mongan-Rallis and Faculty Fellow for Technology Enhanced Learning Mitra Emad; both enjoy informing other faculty members of technology’s positive effects on teaching. Both have flipped their own courses, with very positive results.

“Earlier this week, I had a student stop me in the hall and say how excited they were by that day’s in-class activity,” Mongan-Rallis said. "She told me how much she had enjoyed class and how she couldn't wait for the next assignment. I don't know that I have ever heard a student say that they were excited about and looking forward to homework!"

Inspiring One Another

“As faculty fellows for technology-enhanced learning, our job is to support faculty development in the area of teaching and learning,” Emad said. “We discovered through meetings with faculty across UMD that the topic of the flipped classroom was both a high-interest and high-needs topic that came through as very popular.”

In response to this interest, Mongan-Rallis and Emad have formed the Flipped Classroom Community of Practice (FCCoP). “A community of practice is a group of practitioners who agree to meet regularly in order to collaborate and help each other move a project forward,” Emad said. “In our case, the FCCoP is a community of practice for professors interested in learning more about effective ways of flipping the classroom and sharing their experiences and experiments.” Meeting twice a month from February through April, this community is a ‘flipped classroom’ of its own.

“The FCCoP has its own Moodle site, on which resources are posted,” Mongan-Rallis said. “As the group meets more and more, group members are encouraged to add resources they have found to the list. This way, much as it works in a flipped classroom, as useful things are found, they are brought to the attention of the group.”

Preparations for the 'Real World'

This ability to share resources with peers is of great benefit to students. Determining the quality of information is also a valuable skill in post-college life. “An important part of what college students are learning is how to seek out information for themselves and how to be critical consumers of what they find,” Mongan-Rallis said. “Enabling students to do their own research and, most importantly, discern if that information is good or not, prepares them for the working world — where resources won’t always be prepared for them.”

Lessons on material preparation can be as useful to professors as they are to students. “Professors are experts in their field of study, but not all of us have studied teaching,” Mongan-Rallis said. “With that many different backgrounds, sometimes one of your colleagues will have a different understanding or access to different skills, than you do,” Emad added. Both agreed that working with other professors in programs like the FCCoP affords a unique opportunity to learn in an open, welcoming environment.

Despite being a young group, the FCCoP has attracted 27 professors and faculty members from 18 different departments and the UMD library. Many are excited to use their newfound skills in the classroom. “Everyone in the group has big plans,” Emad said. “Most of them have already, at least partially, flipped components of their courses.”


Written by Zach Lunderberg. February 2015.

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Cheryl Reitan, creitan@d.umn.edu

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