A Flipped Classroom Sparks Online Student Engagement

Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series of essays by Duke faculty members whose normal fall 2020 class routines were disrupted by the pandemic. These essays will examine how faculty adapted.

By Maria Tackett

In the Fall of 2020, I taught two courses — STA 199: Intro to Data Science and STA 210: Regression Analysis — completely online. There were about 90 students in each course, so I knew one of the biggest changes would be transitioning the lectures from face-to-face to remote learning.

During a typical face-to-face lecture, I introduced new concepts and there were short discussion questions and activities throughout the lecture. As I considered how to structure lectures for remote learning, I had two primary considerations:

• How to make lectures work for students in a variety of learning environments and time zones.

• How to engage a large class on Zoom.

Keeping these in mind, I decided to use a flipped classroom approach. Under the new format, each lecture had two components:

Lecture content videos (asynchronous): These videos were used to introduce new concepts and definitions. A colleague described these as a “video textbook”, which is the perfect summation. Students watched the content videos to prepare for each live class meeting.

Live lecture sessions (synchronous): These were the large class meetings held twice a week on Zoom. In a typical session, I’d start by answering questions from the lecture content videos (students who couldn’t attend synchronously were able to post questions on Piazza before the session). I’d sometimes do a short coding demo, then students worked in breakout rooms of 4–5 to apply the concepts from the content videos to a set of practice questions. We’d end the session by discussing the practice questions as a large group. Students unable to attend synchronously could watch a recording of the live session.

I started using the terms lecture content videos and live lecture sessions when we moved to remote learning in Spring 2020, since many students were not used to synchronous vs. asynchronous classes at that point. I opted to keep these terms in the fall, since they help emphasize that both parts are necessary to fully participate in a lecture.

In reflecting on my first semester using this lecture format, a few things come to mind:

• Since new concepts and definitions were introduced in the content videos, we were able to have more in-depth discussions when we met as a class in the live sessions. I enjoyed spending the class time talking about interesting applications of the material. This also ensured students had multiple opportunities to engage with the material before doing any graded work.

• One of the biggest challenges for me was making the lecture content videos. I was able to work with the production team from Duke Learning Innovation to make some videos during the summer; during the semester, I used Camtasia to record and edit videos. I spent a lot of time in the beginning learning how to use Camtasia, and then each week as I recorded and edited videos for each lecture. This process got easier as the semester progressed, but I will still be more generous in how I allocate time for making videos in the upcoming semester.

• One of the most pleasant surprises was student engagement during the live sessions. Features on Zoom such as polling and reactions made it easy for all students to participate, even in a large class. I was also impressed by how much students used the chat during live sessions to share thoughts, ask questions, and help answer each other’s questions.

Adapting my classes for remote learning made me rethink what learning is done in the classroom versus what students can learn on their own. Despite the challenging circumstances, I’m pleased with how the semester went using the flipped classroom approach and how much students engaged under the new format. The experience from teaching in Fall 2020 has changed how I think about lectures, both remote and face-to-face. I look forward to taking what I learned in the fall as I get ready to try it again in the spring!

Maria Tackett is an assistant professor of the practice with Duke’s Department of Statistical Science

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