What's Your Motivation?

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What made you think that it might be a good idea to abandon hundreds years of lecturing tradition and do something different?

I would like to develop a post about why you, the members of our group, first decided to flip, how you took the first steps in flipping, and how your flip has developed.

As a beginning, I offer my story.

When I moved to Angelo State University, I was assigned to teach both General Chemistry and Non-majors Chemistry in my first semester. I am a biochemist and was previously teaching Biochemistry and the honors section of Biochemistry to juniors and seniors at the University of Arizona. ASU hired a young biochemist at the same time as they hired me to be department head so she got the biochemistry assignment and I got the freshmen. This freshman thing was new to me. The best that can be said of my first semester was that I survived.

After that, I concentrated on General Chemistry and started to seriously consider how to improve my Gen Chem teaching. I always considered myself a bit of a ham and thought I could pull off this lecturing thing as well as anyone. However, the performance of my sections was low to middle based on student performance on the American Chemical Society final exams. How to improve?

The idea of flipping was first instilled from articles in Higher Education and the Chronicle of Higher Education. I read with interest about the successes of active learning and the improvement of student learning when the students did the homework in class and watched the lectures at home.

I decided to dip a toe into flipping. I was at ground zero: no video lectures, no classroom materials, no online support, no TAs, and no one else flipping at the university. I was teaching a Tuesday-Thursday section of Gen Chem and so had over and hour to work with. I decided to do a half-lecture then pass out an open-book worksheet.

The fateful day came. My first day of (sort-of) flipping. I was nervous. I explained to the class what we were going to do. The students were skeptical. I gave my lecture; business as usual. Then I passed out the worksheet. There was an ominous pause while the students came to grips. Then the first question....

The first question was about how to work number one. The first problem concerned the first thing that was in the reading assignment. It was also the first thing I covered in my lecture. To add insult to injury, the student had his book open on his desk and key word concerning the first problem was in bold at the top of the first page.

The writing was on the wall. I resolved right then to change the way I was doing things.

I had suspected it before, but this confirmed two of my suspicions: 1) the students din't do the reading so they came to class completely unprepared (but you knew this) and 2) the students were too busy trying to write down everything I said to actually assimilate any knowledge. What to do? I resolved to completely flip the following Fall semester.

The next year I used online homework to try to enforce engagement with the material before they came to class. I assigned online homework every day. I tried to find the simplest problems so the students would be getting an introduction to the material. This didn't result in their actually reading the book, but I knew from overheard conversations that they resorted to the book or the internet to find out how to solve the homework problems. I developed worksheets for each class, but that first year I didn't have any video component whatsoever.

The class averages jumped up by about a letter grade. My sections started to show up 1&2 or 2&3 (out of 6-7, depending on the semester) on the exams.

In subsequent semesters, I added the daily quiz, I incorporated video help into the worksheets, and I modified the homework to include follow-up problems after class. I am still refining. I describe how I run my class on a page on my website. The worksheets are available for download (free) to teaching professionals.

I want to hear from you. I would like to hear your story and see how you developed your flip. I'd like to consolidate the stories for a later post or encourage you post your own story. Contact me at JohnOsterhout<at>JohnOsterhout<dot>com or look me up on the Angelo State University web page and email me there.

Happy Flipping!

About the Author
John Osterhout received his B.S. in Biochemistry from Rice University and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. John was a member of the Rowland Institute for Science in Cambridge Massachusetts for thirteen years before moving to the University of Arizona. Since 2008 John has been Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. John's research interests are in protein folding, Trojan horse inhibitors for HIV and snake venom proteins. He teaches general chemistry and biophysical chemistry. John uses flipped classrooms for both courses.