In Defense of the Flip, Part III

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Another semester has come and gone, and I am still continuing to recount my flipping journey with my flipped biochemistry course at Birmingham-Southern College. While I primarily write these blog posts for my own process of reflection, I hope my flipping readers will gain some insight from these posts as well. If you need to catch up, check out the series in this order: 
Flippn' Biochemistry
In Defense of the Flip
Flippn' Biochemistry, Part II
In Defense of the Flip, Part II

After reflection from the Fall 2015 semester in terms of the CAT test, student evaluations, and the SALG survey, I had decided to test out some new ideas on the mechanics of the course in the Fall of 2016 such as:

  1. Model the in-class activities for the first week of class within a larger group, or start out with an activity that utilizes content most students are already comfortable with.
  2. Make a more concerted effort to connect the lecture videos with the in-class activities and remind students that the videos are simply there to help deliver the content they need to apply in the face to face activities. This was achieved by adding a brief 30 second introduction of each video lecture that explicitly summarized the purpose of the video, and aligned that face to face activities learning objectives with the content of the proceeding video.
  3. Substitute the muddiest points discussion board for the embedded lecture quiz videos. This component evolved mainly from consistent student feedback that they wanted more "muddiest point lectures" at the start of class, but still were not posting questions for me to address in these lectures the night before. So this term, students were required to post 1 question about the material from the video lecture or from the chapter materials and attempt to answer 1 other student's question prior to our face to face meetings. This alleviated two challenges I had faced: (a) I know consistently had relevant material to address in the first 10 minutes of class that typically always fed well into the activity and (b) served as a means to ensure students attempted to watch the videos or read the material prior to class. In previous years, I had attempted to ensure students prepare by embedding simple content based questions into the videos directly, or by requiring weekly online homework assignments. But both relied on lower Bloom's level questions which seemed misaligned with the exams and were confusing to the students and students found ways to cheat the system without actually having to put in the work. By requiring them to come up with original questions and reading through other student's questions, they found it more challenging to simply skim the material and were better prepared for classes.

Technology Survey:

As in past years, students were given a mid-semester survey asking them to rate the various tools from the course on their ability to help promote critical thinking a scale of 1 (not helpful or distracting) to 10 (very beneficial). As seen in the figure below, we continued to improve the appreciation for most of the course tools from 2014 (light blue), 2015 (gray) and 2016 (dark blue).

249036_2014 to 2016 comparison tech survey comparison.jpg

As seen above, I believe that the increased appreciation for the POGIL activities and video lectures from 2015 to 2016 is a reflection of better connecting the course learning objectives with the in-class activities. Throughout the term I consciously repeated and aligned the course and specific unit learning objectives in the introduction of each video and at the start of each class. One potential alternative to the significant increase in the POGIL appreciation could be the that students had access to the 2015 in-class exams that were much more reflective of the POGIL of which the 2015 students did not have. By seeing ahead of time that the exams and the activities are very similar, I think the students are more engaged and appreciative of the practice. 

Another significant change from 2015 to 2016 was the utilization of the course TA, as reflected in the "Recitation" category. In 2015 I recognized that having a TA for the course would be incredibly helpful for both me and my students, and during that term, the TA would facilitate the in-class activities with me. In 2016, however, I decided to instead allow the TA to hold weekly recitation meetings with students that allowed time for additional exercises, followup with the in-class activities and time to go over previous exams outside of class. These sessions were held in the evenings and were voluntary. As seen in the survey, the students greatly appreciated these meetings and it seemed to be a much better use of the TA's time. (In previous years, the recitation was scored as the "Facebook group" which provided students an opportunity to post questions or share material outside of class).

But again, as we have seen in previous years, the students favorite tool for promoting critical thinking is still the course management page (moodle), and it continues to grow in appreciation. But I am happy to see that the POGIL activities and previous year's exams are closing in. 

Student Evaluations:

In comparing my student evaluations from 2014 to 2016, I have found significant improvements in student perceptions of the course design and my effectiveness as an instructor. Specifically, I have found significant improvements in students' perceptions in the following:

  1. The course was intellectually stimulating
  2. The course improved my ability to think critically and reason effectively
  3. The instructor promoted understanding of general concepts not just knowledge of specific facts.
  4. The instructor's overall teaching effectiveness.

One of the key challenges in flipped teaching is that getting everything working well takes time, and often during that time, our evaluations from students can take a major hit. For the non-tenured, early career faculty, this can be a major concern as student evaluations are often taken into consideration during the promotion and tenure process. However, I am happy to say that after performing standard T-tests with my overall Fall 2016 scores to that of the entire BSC faculty, I have found no significant differences between my evaluations and those of my peers even while flipping.

249037_student evaluations 2014_2016.jpg

Student Comments:

Even the comments from the students seemed more optimistic:
"By clearly giving us the objectives"
"She has provided us with good lecture material in the form of videos, powerpoints, etc. I also enjoyed the group work:"
"Making me appreciate biochem and critical thinking between multiple disciplines. Particularly between biology, chemistry and physics."
"This has been one of the best classes I've taken at BSC. It was interesting, I felt like all of my questions were answered, and I had fun."
"Honestly this may be the best class I've ever taken here at BSC and even in high school. She did the best at making the information interesting, and was very organized."
"Connected the class to real world topics - this made the class much more interesting."
"She made this course interesting to where I wanted to learn more and ask questions. It helped me understand the major concepts associated with the biochemical pathways, and I know this will help me in the future."

That's not to say all of the feedback was glowing:
"STEM classes shouldn't be flipped because they are based on understanding of concepts, not opinion formulation like humanities classes. This material is too complex for us to learn on our own, which is why we pay $17,000 for tuition at this school."
"The class cannot be taught this way. POGIL can be used for humanities and intro bio/chem classes but not for advanced classes. I needed to teach everything to myself and mostly just remembering POGIL activities."

That being said, those were the only two vehemently against the flipped model comments I ran across in the student comments this year. Most of the other feedback was actually constructive such as "Give more time in class" , "Please provide more supplemental material", "Update some of the later term videos", and "have recitation times that all students can attend". 

Changes for next year:

Based on the feedback from both my students and my colleagues at BSC, I am making three changes for the course next year:

1. I am extending the face to face class time by moving the class from a M/W/F lecture at 1 hour each meeting to a M/W lecture at 1 hour and 20 minutes each meeting. While this does reduce my overall face to face time by 3.3 hours total over the course of the term, it allows us to not feel rushed through the muddiest points lecture and the in-class activities, and provides 10 minutes at the end of class to review the activity as a group, providing immediate feedback and closure. 

2. I have recently received funds from BSC to construct a lightboard studio in which I can make more live-action lecture and supplemental videos where students can now physically see me lecturing and modeling problem solving strategies versus my voice over power-point videos. It is my hope that if they physically see me lecturing instead of simply hearing me, that they will be more engaged with the videos and the concept of "self-teaching" is minimized while the perception of learning is maximized. 

3. By moving the class from M/W/F to M/W, I now know that all students will have that same time slot on Friday's open for the recitation (or supplemental instruction), alleviating scheduling conflicts between the students and the TA. I am also hoping to pick up two TAs next year, one that can focus on the recitations (the Friday time and then maybe a second evening time slot earlier in the week for convenience), and one TA who can work with me during the classes to facilitate the activities. 

Here's to another great year, another great learning opportunity, and on to the next! Happy flippn' journey to you all!

About the Author
As an educator, researcher, wife and mother, I am dedicated to developing and assessing innovations in chemistry education, medical diagnostics, and the biophysical characterization of non-helical DNA structures found in the non-coding regions of the genome. Website: