Currently viewing the tag: "Flipped Classroom"

Yes, they probably will. A recent study conducted at Queen’s University Belfast reported that students are more likely to view the availability of recorded lectures as a reinforcement of class teaching, rather than a replacement of it.

In a post-course survey, 96 per cent of students said that the availability of footage had had no impact on their attendance … [and] 98 per cent of students said that revision in preparation for an exam was a primary reason for viewing a video.

A brief summary of the research published in the THES is available here.

This is a fairly long blog post, so in case you don’t have time to read it all, the key message is this:

Flipping the classroom is likely to lead to improvements in student performance and reduced failure rates when it is used as part of an overall strategy to create a more active learning environment. These gains are likely to have the greatest impact in classes with less than fifty students.

John Dewey

"Education is not an affair of 'telling' and being told, but an active and constructive process." John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1916

One important question arising from our earlier blog posts, ‘What is the flipped classroom?’ and, ‘Designing a flipped module in NILE’, is whether or not flipping your class will improve student learning. Clearly there must be some evidence to support a flipped approach to teaching and learning, otherwise we wouldn’t be suggesting it, but what is that evidence, and where is it?

At the risk of appearing to concede defeat before we’ve even begun, I would like to start by looking at a recent paper which argues that flipping the classroom does not guarantee any gains in student achievement.


Flipping the classroom is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to generate improvements in learning

‘Improvements from a Flipped Classroom May Simply Be the Fruits of Active Learning’ is a very interesting paper by Jensen, et al (2015), and it is clear from the title what their findings are. They begin the paper by stating one of the main problems behind many of the claims that the flipped classroom improves student learning, which is that there are normally too many variables that have changed between the flipped and the non-flipped classroom to isolate flipping as the key variable. They note that flipping the classroom usually leads to more active learning taking place (indeed, this is often the reason that teachers want to flip the classroom in the first place), and they investigated the extent to which the increase in the amount of active learning, not flipping, is the key variable.

Jensen, et al. (2015)

Study design by Jensen, et al (2015)

Jensen, et al (2015) took a class of 108 students and divided them into two groups, one of 53 and one of 55. One group had a flipped experience, the other a non-flipped experience – however, both sessions were very active. The diagram on the left indicates how the sessions worked. The flipped and non-flipped classes were compared with each other, and also with the previous year’s class of 94 students, referred to as the original class. While the content and the underlying structure of the teaching remained consistent, a great deal of time and effort was put into creating additional materials for the flipped and non-flipped classes, which is evident from reading the paper.

As will be clear from the title of the paper, the flipped classroom did not produce statistically significant learning gains or improvements in attitudes to learning over the non-flipped classroom, and neither the flipped nor the non-flipped classroom significantly outperformed the original class. The one area in which the flipped classroom did produce a statistically significant improvement was in final examination scores of low level items (e.g., remember and understand type questions) over the original class.

Regarding these results I think that it is important to make at least two observations. Firstly, it should be borne in mind that the students in the study were high ability, highly motivated students attending a private university at which the average ACT score of students is 28 and average GPA is 3.82. For context, an ACT score of 28 would put a student in the top 10% and a GPA of 3.82 would be between an A- and an A. Whilst not necessarily Oxbridge students, they are solid Russell Group students, the kind of students who “virtually teach themselves; they do not need much help from us” (Biggs and Tang, 2011, p.5). Secondly, the original class appears to have been be a fairly active class already, certainly if judged by the standards set in the definition by Freeman, et al (2014) which we will look at later.

The study by Jensen, et al., did come up with other interesting findings though. One finding (2015, p.8 and p.10) which reinforces the importance of time spent with lecturers was that,

Students “perceived their time with the instructor as more influential for learning, regardless of whether they were participating in” the flipped class or in the non-flipped class … “the presence of the instructor and/or peer interaction had a greater influence on students’ perceptions of learning than the activities themselves.”

Additionally, Jensen, et al., were not dismissive of the potentials and advantages of the flipped classroom, noting (2015, p.10) that,

“If active learning is not currently being used or is being used very rarely, the flipped classroom may be a viable way to facilitate the use of such approaches, if the costs of implementation are not too great. As the research indicates, using active learning in the flipped approach can increase student learning as well as student satisfaction over traditional, non-active learning approaches.”

The claim made by Jensen, et al., that active learning is the key variable is certainly very credible, and, as we shall see, it is increasingly apparent in recent publications that flipping the classroom is a very popular way of creating a more active learning environment.


Flipping the classroom is a good way of making classrooms more active

‘The Flipped Classroom of Operations Management: A Not-For-Cost-Reduction Platform’ is a 2015 paper by Asef-Vaziri, and it provides an excellent introduction to the flipped classroom. Additionally, the literature review in the paper gives a good overview of some recent publications on the subject. A wide variety of active learning ideas are discussed in the paper (pp.74-80) and they give a good insight into the practical workings of Asef-Vaziri’s flipped classroom. Right from the outset Asef-Vaziri (2015, p.72) makes it clear that the benefits of using the flipped classroom are because it allows more class time to be spent engaged in active learning:

“Class time is no longer spent teaching basic concepts, but rather on more value-added activities, such as problem solving, answering questions, systems thinking, and potentially on collaborative exercises such as case studies, Web based simulation games, and real-world applications”

Asef-Vaziri’s classes were fully flipped in the autumn of 2012 (141 students) and 2013 (157 students), and the average grades were compared to those of the classes in the spring and autumn of 2011 (both with 160 students) which not flipped. The results were as follows:

Autumn 2012
flipped classroom
Autumn 2013
flipped classroom
Average grade increase over
spring 2011 traditionally taught class
+7.4% +7.3%
Average grade increase over
autumn 2011 traditionally taught class
+11.8% +11.6%

The improvements in Asef-Vaziri’s students’ grades are undoubtedly impressive, and these high gains are likely to result from the significant amount of time and effort that Asef-Vaziri put into re-designing the course.

What came across very clearly in Asef-Vaziri’s paper is the idea that the flipped classroom offers ‘the best of both worlds’, creating increased opportunity to engage in active learning in ways that are difficult for the traditional classroom (due to lack of time) and difficult for online classes (due to lack of face-to-face interactions).

A cursory glance at a number of other recent publications about the flipped classroom makes it clear that a key motivation for using it has been in order to create more active learning opportunities. For example, in their paper, ‘Moving from Flipcharts to the Flipped Classroom: Using Technology Driven Teaching Methods to Promote Active Learning in Foundation and Advanced Masters Social Work Courses’, Holmes, et al (2015) state that the desire to engage in more active learning was the primary driver behind introducing the flipped classroom.

A number of other papers bear out the notion that flipping the classroom is a popular way of adopting a more active approach to teaching and learning, including: Gilboy, et al (2014); Hung (2015); Love, et al (2013); Roach (2104); See and Conry (2014); Simpson and Richards (2015); and Tune, et al (2013). All of these papers make the connection between the flipped classroom and increasingly active approaches to teaching and learning.

Hopefully the above discussion goes some way to making the case that the flipped classroom is a good (or, at least, a popular) way of creating a more active classroom. We will now look at some more evidence in support of the idea that adopting an active approach to teaching and learning is likely to improve student performance.


Active learning increases student performance

Active learning is certainly not a new idea. John Dewey (1902, p.6) knew that learning is an active process, and referred to it as such since the beginning of the last century. Some years later, 112 to be exact, Freeman, et al (2014) published an important meta-analysis of STEM education in which 158 active learning classes were compared with 67 traditionally taught classes. Aleszu Bajak, writing in the daily news site of the journal ‘Science’, summarised the paper as follows: ‘Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds’. And Eric Mazur, cited in Bajak (2014), said

“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data.”

The results of the paper “indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sections, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” (Freeman, et al, 2014, p.8410) To get a sense of the significance of the results, the authors note (p.8413) that had it been a medical randomised control trial it may have been stopped early because of the clear benefit of the intervention being tested; in this case, the active learning. The authors also note that because the retention of students on active learning courses is higher, and because it is lower ability learners who typically drop-out, the positive effects of active learning could actually be greater than reported because the active learning classes were holding on to a higher proportion of their lower ability learners than the traditional classes. And, good news for Waterside, active learning was shown to have “the highest impact on courses with 50 or fewer students.” (p.8411)

One issue which may be useful is to define what is meant by active learning. For the purposes of their study, Freeman, et al (2014, p.8413-4) adopted the following definition:

“Active learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussion in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert. It emphasises higher-order thinking and often involves group work.”

Freeman, et al (2014, p.8410) state that for the purposes of their study the “active learning interventions varied widely in intensity and implementation, and included approaches as diverse as occasional group problem-solving, worksheets or tutorials completed during class, use of personal response systems [clickers] with or without peer instruction, and studio or workshop course designs.”

Other studies about the effectiveness of adopting a more active approach to teaching and learning in STEM subjects include Hake’s 1998 paper ‘Interactive-engagement vs traditional methods: A six-thousand student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses.’ The paper concludes that:

“Comparison of IE [interactive engagement] and traditional courses implies that IE methods enhance problem-solving ability. The conceptual and problem-solving test results strongly suggest that the use of IE strategies can increase mechanics-course effectiveness well beyond that obtained with traditional methods.”

Also of interest is ‘Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results’ in which Crouch and Mazur (2001) discuss the positive effects of replacing a more traditional approach to physics teaching with Mazur’s method of peer instruction, an approach to teaching and learning developed in the 1990s which inspired the flipped classroom movement.

Whilst a good deal of the most rigorous and credible quantitative studies into active learning have been carried out in STEM subjects, Hung (2015) makes the point in the paper ‘Flipping the classroom for English language learners to foster active learning’, that,

“it is evident that although the flipped classroom approach has mainly been conducted in STEM fields, its feasibility across disciplines (in this case, language education) should not be underestimated.”



It’s important to make clear that this has not been an extensive, rigorous and systematic study of every recent publication on the flipped classroom, so any conclusions drawn must take that into account. Nevertheless, and with this in mind, I think that we can still draw a few conclusions with certainty, and a few more with slightly less certainty.

We can be very confident that:

  • Active learning produces statistically significant improvements in student achievement in science, engineering and mathematics.
  • Active learning in classrooms of under 50 students produces the largest gains.
  • Even a small amount of active learning will produce positive gains in student achievement.

We can be reasonably confident that:

  • The positive effects of active learning seen in science, engineering and mathematics will be applicable to other subject areas.
  • Lecturers in a variety of subject areas have successfully flipped their classrooms.
  • The gains in students’ learning achieved by the flipped classroom are more likely to be a result of increasing the amount of active learning taking place online and/or in the classroom.
  • Flipping the classroom is a good way of creating a more active learning environment.

It may be the case that:

  • The gains in student achievement produced by flipping the classroom will have a greater effect in non-Russell Group universities.
  • Flipping the classroom will have a greater effect when focused at the level of knowledge, understanding and application rather than analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

From the papers looked at, it is not clear:

  • Whether there are significant differences in the effectiveness of different types of flipped/active learning opportunities.
  • Whether there is an optimal level of student activity online and in the classroom (i.e., is more always better?)
  • Whether students from all cultural backgrounds experience similar improvements in performance from the flipped/active classroom.
  • Whether students whose first language is not the language in which the course is taught experience additional benefits or disbenefits from flipped/active classroom.

Readers wanting to look at the literature themselves and draw their own conclusions are directed to the further reading section at the end of this blog post, which provides links to many recent papers on the flipped classroom from a diverse range of subject areas.



Asef-Vaziri, A. (2015) The Flipped Classroom of Operations: A Not-For-Cost-Reduction Platform. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education. 13(1), pp.71-89.

Bajak, A. (2014) ‘Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds’ Science News. 12th May.

Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 4th Edition. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Dewey, J. (1902) The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p.9.

Crouch, C. and Mazur, E. (2001) Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics. 69(9), pp.970-977.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S., McDonough, M., Smith, M., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H. and Wenderoth, M. (2014) Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering and mathematics. PNAS. 111(23), pp.8410-8415.

Gilboy, M., Heinerichs, S. and Pazzaglia, G. (2015) Enhancing Student Engagement Using the Flipped Classroom. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 47(1), pp.109-114.

Hake, R. (1998) Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics. 66(1), pp.64-74.

Holmes, M., Tracey, E., Painter, L., Oestreich, T. and Park, H. (2015) Moving from Flipcharts to the Flipped Classroom: Using Technology Driven Teaching Methods to Promote Active Learning in Foundation and Advanced Masters Social Work Courses. Clinical Social Work Journal.43(2), pp.215-224.

Hung, H-T. (2015) Flipping the classroom for English language learners to foster active learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning. 28(1), pp.81-96.

Jensen, J., Kummer, T.. and Godoy, P. (2015) Improvements from a Flipped Classroom May Simply Be the Fruits of Active Learning. CBE – Life Sciences Education. 14(1), pp.1-12.

Love, B., Hodge, A., Grandgenett, N. and Swift, A. (2014) Student learning and perceptions in a flipped linear algebra course. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology. 45(3), pp.317-324.

Roach, T (2014) Student perceptions toward flipped learning: New methods to increase interaction and active learning in economics. International Review of Economics Education. 17, pp.74-84.

See, S. and Conry, J. (2014) Flip My Class! A faculty development demonstration of a flipped-classroom. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning. 6(4), pp.585-588.

Simpson, V. and Richards, E. (2015) Flipping the classroom to teach population health: Increasing the relevance. Nurse Education in Practice.15(3), pp.162-167.

Tune, J., Sturek, M. and Basile, D. (2013) Flipped classroom model improves graduate student performance in cardiovascular, respiratory, and renal physiology. Advances in Physiology Education. 37(4), pp.316-320.


Further reading about the flipped classroom

Asef-Vaziri, A. (2015) The Flipped Classroom of Operations: A Not-For-Cost-Reduction Platform. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education. 13(1), pp.71-89.

Bristol, T. (2014) Flipping the Classroom. Teaching and Learning in Nursing. 9(1), pp.43-46.

Brunsell, E. and Horejsi, M. (2013) A Flipped Classroom in Action. The Science Teacher. 80(2), p.8.

Chen, Y., Wang. Y., Kinshuk, and Chen, N-S. (2014) Is FLIP enough? Or should we use the FLIPPED model instead? Computers & Education. 79, pp.16-27.

Enfield, J. (2013) Looking at the Impact of the Flipped Classroom Model of Instruction on Undergraduate Multimedia Students at CSUN. TechTrends. 57(6), pp.14-27.

Forsey, M., Low, M. and Glance, D. (2013) Flipping the sociology classroom: Towards a practice of online pedagogy. Journal of Sociology. 49(4), pp.471-485.

Gilboy, M., Heinerichs, S. and Pazzaglia, G. (2015) Enhancing Student Engagement Using the Flipped Classroom. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 47(1), pp.109-114.

Herreid, C. amd Schiller, N. (2013) Case Studies and the Flipped Classroom. Journal of College Science Teaching. 42(5), pp.62-66

Holmes, M., Tracey, E., Painter, L., Oestreich, T. and Park, H. (2015) Moving from Flipcharts to the Flipped Classroom: Using Technology Driven Teaching Methods to Promote Active Learning in Foundation and Advanced Masters Social Work Courses. Clinical Social Work Journal. 43(2), pp.215-224.

Hung, H-T. (2015) Flipping the classroom for English language learners to foster active learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning. 28(1), pp.81-96.

Jacot, M., Noren, J. and Berge, Z. (2014) The Flipped Classroom in Training and Development: Fad or the Future? Performance Improvement. 53(9), pp.23-28.

Jensen, J., Kummer, T.. and Godoy, P. (2015) Improvements from a Flipped Classroom May Simply Be the Fruits of Active Learning. CBE – Life Sciences Education. 14(1), pp.1-12.

Kim, M., Kim, S., Khera, O. and Getman, J. (2014) The experience of three flipped classrooms in an urban university: an exploration of design principles. The Internet and Higher Education. 22, pp.37-50.

Love, B., Hodge, A., Grandgenett, N. and Swift, A. (2014) Student learning and perceptions in a flipped linear algebra course. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology. 45(3), pp.317-324.

Lujan, H. and DiCarlo, S. (2014) The flipped exam: creating an environment in which students discover for themselves the concepts and principles we want them to learn. Advances in Physiology Education. 38(4), pp.339-342.

Roach, T (2014) Student perceptions toward flipped learning: New methods to increase interaction and active learning in economics. International Review of Economics Education. 17, pp.74-84.

See, S. and Conry, J. (2014) Flip My Class! A faculty development demonstration of a flipped-classroom. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning. 6(4), pp.585-588.

Simpson, V. and Richards, E. (2015) Flipping the classroom to teach population health: Increasing the relevance. Nurse Education in Practice. 15(3), pp.162-167.

Slomanson, W. (2014) Blended Learning: A Flipped Classroom Experiment. Journal of Legal Education. 64(1), pp.93-102.

Tune, J., Sturek, M. and Basile, D. (2013) Flipped classroom model improves graduate student performance in cardiovascular, respiratory, and renal physiology. Advances in Physiology Education. 37(4), pp.316-320.


Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time!

The move to Waterside can seem as if it isn’t really that long away, given all that you may feel you have to do inbetween now and then. Wondering where to start can also seem daunting and the mountain of work that you see ahead of you can be so huge that you can’t even see the summit, let alone work out a route to the top.

In supporting staff to get to grips with the course redesign implications that are predicated on a number of guiding principles about how learning and teaching will look, the Learning Design team came across a really useful set of blog posts by Tony Bates, a Canadian Research Associate who is also President and CEO of Tony Bates Associates Ltd and who, according to their website are “a private company specializing in consultancy and training in the planning and management of e-learning and distance education.”

The blog posts were written to help people understand and implement a series of practical steps to help deliver quality in their online learning materials. While I don’t wish to duplicate the posts here, I thought it might be helpful to summarise some of the key points in an attempt to help you to start thinking about how you might begin to eat your own elephant, or climb that mountain. I found some obvious points in the posts, some practical and straightforward suggestions and some real gems. There are also some questions and exercises to get you started along the road to redesigning your own modules.

I should also preface this post with the reminders that, as an institution, we are definitely NOT going fully online but will be exploring ways to enhance our learning and teaching using technology and that the precise nature of each blended module is for staff teams to determine.

The Nine Steps are as follows (each link will take you straight to the original post)

Step 1: Decide how you want to teach online

This step highlights the importance of rethinking the way you teach when you go online and redesigning the teaching to meet the needs of your online learners given that their needs may differ because of the specific learning context. The gem in this post is the emphasis on asking you to consider your basic teaching philosophy – what is your role and how would you like to tackle some of the limitations of classroom teaching and renew your overall approach to teaching? As Bates himself says: “It may not mean doing everything online, but focussing the campus experience on what can only be done on campus.”

Step 2: Decide on what kind of online course

Bates describes a continuum of online learning ranging from online classroom aids to fully online and explores four key factors that will influence the kind of online course you should be teaching:

  1. your teaching philosophy (see step 1)
  2. the kind of students you are trying to reach (or will have to teach)
  3. the requirements of the subject discipline
  4. the resources available to you

A number of subject groups and disciplines are already starting to explore what the current direction of travel for learning and teaching at Northampton might look like for them and developing models and suggestions for how to redesign their modules and programmes within a broader set of principles. It is useful to note that while Bates experience suggests that “almost anything can be effectively taught online, given enough time and money” (emphasis added), the reality is that resources are finite and that it is therefore imperative to work out what could and should be taught face-to-face and what could and should be taught online, remembering that we are still going to be primarily a campus-based institution. He begins the process by differentiating between the teaching of content and the teaching or development of skills and provides a useful example of how this might look in practice.

The gem here is his consideration of how to make best use of the various resources available to you including time (the most precious resource of all), your learning technology support staff (always glad to help), your VLE (NILE) and your colleagues.

Step 3: Work in a Team

Online learning is different to classroom teaching and as a result will require staff to learn some new skills. You are unlikely to have all your F2F learning materials in a suitable format for online learning. This post considers how the team of staff around you can help you to move from where you are, to where you want to get to given that “particular attention has to be paid to providing appropriate online activities for students, and to structuring content in ways that facilitate learning in an asynchronous online environment”. Working in a team can also, of course, help with managing the workload, and with getting quickly to a high quality online standard, as well as being a way to save some of your time.

Step 4: Build on Existing Resources

As one Deputy Dean said at a recent School Learning and Teaching Development Day: “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!”

This can include repurposing your own content, but also drawing on existing online resources (TED talks, The Khan Academy, iTunesU) as well as ‘raw’ content that you can use as the basis for developing learning activities and he argues that ‘only in the areas where you have unique, original research that is not yet published, or where you have your own ‘spin’ on content, is it really necessary to create ‘content’ from scratch”.

The hidden gem? Distinguishing between using existing resources that “do not transfer well to an online learning environment (such as a 50 minute recorded lecture), and using materials already specifically developed for online teaching”. He suggests that you “take the time to be properly training in how to use [NILE]“, recognising that a 2-hour investment now can save you hours of time later on.

Step 5: Master the Technology

That’s it really – come to some training on the tools that you would like to use and know more about! This includes learning about their strengths and weaknesses so that you know that you have selected the right tool for the job, but also have a clearer idea about how they might work in practice or how to avoid some of the pitfalls. There are plenty of tools out there, but selecting the right tool is an instructional or pedagogical issue that requires you to be clear on what it is that you are trying to achieve.

Bates’ gem (from my perspective) is his no-nonsense approach to engaging with central training and development initiatives. Here are a few that might help:

  1. The CLEO (Collaborative Learning Experiences Online) workshop that forms part of our C@N-DO staff development programme is a good way of putting yourself in the shoes of the online learning and experiencing first hand some of the obstacles that online learners face, in order to prevent your own students facing similar issues.
  2. NILE training (around specific pedagogical purposes) is provided by the Learning Technology team and in addition to regular scheduled training, can also be tailored to suit the purposes of your subject team or discipline. Please just ask!
  3. Spend a little time each year looking at any of the new features added to NILE during the year (Check out the Learntech Blog for updates).

Finally in this step is a discussion around why simply recording your lectures is not the best way to go.  Definitely worth the time to read through his reasons, if this is something you were considering.

Step 6: Set appropriate Learning Goals

In short, should the learning goals (outcomes) for online/blended learning be the same as, or different to the same module delivered in a fully face-to-face mode? The key differentiator is that while the goals may well remain the same, the method may change. He also raises the question as to whether additional learning outcomes need to be considered in terms of the development of 21st century learning skills (in particular, learning the skills to ‘manage knowledge’ long after they graduate).

The link between learning outcomes and assessment is also explored here as is the way in which assessment drives student behaviour. He concludes by saying that “[b]ecause the internet is such a large force in our lives, we need to be sure that we are making the most of its potential in our teaching, even if that means changing somewhat what and how we teach”.

Step 7: Design Course Structure and Learning Activities

After an initial exploration between ‘strong’ and ‘loose’ online learning structures, Bates identifies the three main determinates of teaching structure as being:

  1. the organisational requirements of the institution;
  2. the preferred philosophy of teaching of the instructor; and
  3. the instructor’s perception of the needs of the students.

In the light of recent discussions here around what is meant by ‘contact’ hours (see this Definitions paper produced recently by the University’s Institute of Learning and Teaching), he identifies problems with this approach whilst simultaneously recognising that this is, nevertheless, the standard measuring unit for face-to-face teaching. One reason he highlights in particular is that it measures input, not output. Bates is also keen to ensure parity between online and face-to-face learning in terms of ensuring quality at Validation.

He discusses the time input as well as the structure of modules and how existing face-to-face structures mean we can already be some way down the path on module design, with the important proviso that it is important to ensure that content moved online is suitable for online learning. This is where the Learning Design team can help you to make decisions around what to teach or what to leave out, given that making some work optional means it should not be assessed and that if it is not assessed, students will quickly learn to avoid doing it.

This step concludes with a look at how to design student activities. This is typically something that would be covered during the second day of a CAIeRO curriculum redesign workshop, but anyone who has participated in any part of the C@N-DO programme will already have come into contact with some of these online learning activities / e-tivities. Some good points for consideration here though.

Step 8: Communicate, communicate, communicate

This steps explores the vital importance of ongoing, continuing communication between the tutor and the online learners, that is more than simply seeing them in class on a weekly basis. Maintaining tutor presence in the online environment is a “critical factor for online student success and satisfaction”, helping students recognise that their online contributions are just as much a part of their learning experience as the face-to-face components.

Creating a compelling online learning environment is possible but requires deliberate planning and conscientious design. It must also be done in such a way as to control the instructor’s workload. Bates has a number of ‘top tips’ for setting and managing student expectations online and emphasises that tutors should also adhere to these themselves. Like in the CLEO, he suggests starting with a small task in the first week that enables the guidelines to be applied, with the tutor paying particular attention to this activity. As he rightly points out …

students who do not respond to set activities in the first week are at high risk of non-completion. I always follow up with a phone call or e-mail to non-respondents in this first week, and ensure that each student is following the guidelines … What I’m doing is making my presence felt. Students know that I am following what they do from the outset.

There is a discussion here around the benefits and disadvantages of both synchronous and asynchronous communication – the decision again being based on pedagogical need. There is also a list of tips for how to manage online discussions for you to read an inwardly digest :) and a consideration of how cultural factors can impact on participation.

Step 9: Evaluate and Innovate

We ask our students to do it all the time – let’s make sure we apply the same principles to our own learning and teaching development and complete our own reflective cycle. Bates has a series of questions to guide any evaluation of teaching (not just online teaching), linking it back to Step 1 where he defines what we mean  in terms of ‘quality’ in online learning. This doesn’t have to be a hugely onerous task – we already have ways of answering some of the questions (e.g. student grades, student participation rates in online activities (track number of views), assignments, Evasys questionnaires etc).

Then consider what it is that you need to do differently next time, in this ongoing, iterative process of Quality Enhancement.

Hopefully you will have the opportunity to explore some of these blog postings as you begin to think about how to get ready for Waterside, even if you don’t agree with everything that Bates says!

Digival-vs-AnalogueAs Learning Designers, my colleagues Rob, Julie and myself are always looking for ways to help staff with the transition to Waterside and in (re-)designing their modules and programmes to take account of new ways of learning and teaching. To this end, there are a number of posts here on the flipped classroom, or on de-mystifying the CAIeRO for example, that aim to take away some of the apprehensions that we know exist.

What does teaching mean to you?

Another recent initiative has been a series of activities designed to help staff begin the process of reconceptualising how they teach and articulating their individual teaching style. In the midst of discussions around whether or not we are going to be a fully-online University (definitely ‘not’), or what the ‘new model’ for learning and teaching is going to be (the decision is for you and your team to determine- within certain parameters), it is easy to lose sight of the value of what staff do each and every day in the classroom – our face-to-face contact time (for an understanding of what we mean by ‘contact time’, including face-to-face and online, click here – sign in required).  Through conversations with ILT generally and Shirley Bennett, our Head of Academic Practice, we hope to help our staff identify what it is that they value about their face-to-face contact time, and then use technology to help them do more of what they value in the classroom. In starting from this perspective, the aim is to conceptualise technology as an enabler, of excellence in learning and teaching rather than a driver.

In response to the question What do you value about your face-to-face teaching? staff have produced some interesting and sometimes unexpected visual metaphors that will be the subject of a later blog. The workshop/Away Day was also used to set a challenge around learning and teaching innovations through reflectiong on past innovations (to you) and sharing ideas with colleagues.

A 21st Century Learning and Teaching SWOT Analysis

The direction of learning and teaching at the University of NorthamptonOur Institute for Learning and Teaching have recently produced a short video that many staff may have already seen, showing the general direction of travel for the 2015-2020 learning and teaching plan. It is important to stress that this model is only one approach – if you have an alternative that is more appropriate to your teaching style and your discipline, then there is no reason for you not to explore how that might look in practice.

The key part of this arrow is the second stage – learning activities that help students to make sense of the content. These can be either online or face-to-face depending on tutors’ individual pedagogy and subject discipline. What works for one subject, might be wholly unsuitable for another – and this is why we are keen to help staff articulate their pedagogical preferences and continue the process of enhancing their own practice and, as a result, the student experience, rather than simply focussing on the latest piece of technology. As a way in to exploring some of these issues, we facilitated a ’21st Century Learning and Teaching SWOT Analysis’. By 21st century learning and teaching, we mean looking at how we prepare our students for employment in the 21st century, where technology is ubiquitous and constantly evolving, and how we use technology ourselves to enhance our learning and teaching. Identifying individual strengths and weaknesses concerning technology-enhanced learning, and highlighting some of the opportunities and threats these new ways of learning and teaching bring helped staff to begin the process of development and provides indicators of individual training needs.

Determining your blend

We also began the process of looking at how to determine what must be taught face-to-face (content or skills) and what could be taught online. Really, this is about thinking what you want your ‘blend’ to look like and builds on the earlier notions of using technology to enable you to do more of what you value in the classroom. Expressing this in terms of what and how students are learning and not solely in terms of what the tutor is teaching can be tricky but we have activities that can help with this. We can also help you to begin to see how this might look in NILE.

Many course teams and individuals have been engaging in various forms of blended learning within their practice for a long time. Determining how you might need to develop your own practices is not something that you need to do in isolation – as Learning Designers, we are here to help and there is also your School Learning Technologist you can draw on, as well as your colleagues.

Packing your Suitcase for Waterside

The day concluded with asking to staff to select what they would need to pack in their suitcases in order to get them from where they are today to where they have identified that they would like to be. This tongue-in-cheek exercise involved selecting from a collection of icons and images of things that you might take on holiday and can include, but is not limited to the following: a bucket and spade (to help you build something new); your Kindle to read while sun-bathing on the beach (mobile content creation and delivery); paracetamol (to help get rid of your headache); lifeguard and buoyancy aid (peer support, learn tech training etc); towel to reserve your (deck)chair (desk) and so on.

On a more serious note, the underlying premise is to identify your training needs, and other ways in which staff can take steps to ‘get ready for Waterside’ and look at what you might do to respond to the challenges of 21st century learning and teaching or the implementation of Changemaker in the Curriculum.

If you or your subject team would like us to facilitate any or all of these activities at an upcoming Staff Development session or Away Day, or to help you design your teaching to enable you to do more of what you value, please email You know where we are!



Safe is Risky

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne -

Following on from the blog post, ‘What is the flipped classroom?’, it seemed that it would be useful to put the ideas discussed there into practice, and to design and build a flipped module in NILE. As you would expect, there is no one way of putting together a flipped module that will work well for everybody – how you choose to design and run your flipped course will depend on a number of things, such as the level of study, size of class, what you enjoy doing in your face-to-face sessions, and what it is that you’re teaching. How you design your course will also depend on what kind of blend you want between the online and the face-to-face teaching elements. For example, if you want to take a two hour a week face-to-face course, and put 50% of the teaching online, this could be blended as a one hour online and one hour face-to-face session every week. However, it could also be done as a two hour online session in week one, followed by a two hour face-to-face session in week two, and so on. You could also rotate the online and face-to-face sessions on a three or four (or more) week basis, or even have all of term one online, and all of term two face-to-face (or vice versa).

The (fictional) course that has been designed and built in NILE has been created with the following in mind:

Title of module: CRIT101: Critical Thinking – A Practical Introduction
Level: 4
Credits: 10
Duration of course: 12 weeks
Contact hours per week: 2
Blend: 50%
Blend type: weekly blend (1 hour online, 1 hour face-to-face per week)

Additionally, the course has been built with the aim that the face-to-face sessions should be highly participatory and focussed as much as possible on dialogue with and between students. Again, this is not necessarily how everyone will want to run their face-to-face sessions – you may prefer to do just in time teaching1, peer instruction2, team-based learning3, problem-based learning4, small-group teaching5, or any number and mixture of other things that you can do in a face-to-face teaching space.

If you would like to find out more, you can enrol yourself on ‘Critical Thinking – A Practical Introduction’ and browse through the materials and the activities. The course begins with a set of three Panopto presentations which introduce the course and the NILE site to students, so this is a good place to begin when looking through the course. To access the course, login to NILE and click on the ‘Sites and Organisations’ tab. Type ‘CRIT101′ in the ‘Organisation Search’ box, and click ‘Go’. You will then see the course listed in the search results. Click on the drop-down menu next to CRIT101, and select enrol (see screenshot below).

Enrol CRIT101

The course is fully functional, so feel free to contribute to the discussion boards and take the tests, etc. It’s also very mobile friendly, so works well via the iNorthampton app on iOS and Android devices.

If you have any thoughts on the course, suggestions for improvements, etc., please feel free to respond to this blog post, or to email me directly at If you would like to arrange a meeting with a learning designer to discuss what technologies are available in NILE and how you could further develop your own modules, please email



1. Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) is a responsive method of teaching in which the content of the in-class sessions is determined by student responses to online activities, often only completed between 1 and 24 hours before the class begins. For more information see:
2. Peer instruction is a method of teaching developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard University in the 1990s. For more information, a good place to start is:
3. Team-Based Learning (TBL) is an approach to teaching and learning developed by Larry Michaelsen. For more information see:
4. For more information about Problem-based Learning (PBL) (and enquiry-based and action learning) see:
5. A useful guide to small group teaching can be found in Phil Race’s book, ‘The Lecturer’s Toolkit, 4th Edition’ (Routledge, 2015). See, chapter 4 ‘Making small-group teaching work’.

Mazur - Flipped Classroom (CC-BY-NC 2.0 Derek Bruff)

CC-BY-NC 2.0 licensed image by Derek Bruff

One of the more discussed topics at the University of Northampton at present is the idea of the ‘flipped classroom’ or of students engaging in ‘flipped learning’. A major reason why this is being discussed now is that use of the flipped classroom could well be a major feature of the University’s new Waterside campus1, however this is not the only (nor even the best) reason for interest in this subject. As will undoubtedly be clear, the best reason for adopting a flipped learning approach to teaching and learning is that it offers pedagogical advantages, and we will certainly look at some of the evidence in favour of flipped learning in a later blog post. However, our purpose in this post is simply to outline what flipped learning is, and how one might go about doing it.

The key points in this post are:

1. Very simply put, the flipped classroom is one where students access content and engage in activities designed to develop their understanding before class, and then use the class time to discuss and engage in depth with issues, ideas and questions arising from the pre-class content and activities.

2. Whilst there may be some barriers to adopting this approach, most (if not all) can be overcome.

3. The flipped classroom is very relevant to the University of Northampton at the moment as it is one of the models of teaching and learning which will work very well in the new Waterside campus. However, there’s no need to wait until we get to Waterside to try it out, as it’s something that will work well right now.

4. There is a lot of support available to staff wanting to try out the flipped classroom, and staff are encouraged to try out this approach to teaching and learning.


What the flipped classroom is

I was introduced to the idea of flipped learning in 2012 by the Harvard Professor Eric Mazur, when I attended his keynote speech2 at the annual conference of the Association for Learning Technology. The idea of the flipped classroom owes a great deal to the work of Mazur, whose ideas about peer instruction3 formulated at Harvard in the 1990s evolved into what we now term flipped learning. To use Mazur’s terminology, what happens in a traditional classroom is that class time is typically taken up with ‘knowledge transfer’, often a lecture, and students then complete tasks outside of class in order to process and understand the subject matter, which Mazur terms ‘knowledge assimilation’. What Mazur proposed is that the knowledge transfer stage should be covered prior to attending class, and that the class time could then be used to help students assimilate what they had read or watched prior to coming to class. The ‘flip’ is simply that knowledge transfer now happens outside class, and knowledge assimilation now happens in class.

“Mazur’s reinvention of the course drops the lecture model and deeply engages students in the learning/teaching endeavor. It starts from his view of education as a two-step process: information transfer, and then making sense of and assimilating that information. ‘In the standard approach, the emphasis in class is on the first, and the second is left to the student on his or her own, outside of the classroom,’ he says. ‘If you think about this rationally, you have to flip that, and put the first one outside the classroom, and the second inside. So I began to ask my students to read my lecture notes before class, and then tell me what questions they have [ordinarily, using the course’s website], and when we meet, we discuss those questions.’” 4


Putting the flipped classroom into practice

Obviously no classes at Northampton are taught only via lectures, and I suspect that very few (if any) lectures at Northampton are pure didactic monologues, but Mazur’s ideas could still be used to good effect to free up more class time to spend with students helping them to understand the material and the subject in more depth.

If this approach appeals to you, then an example of how you could put it into practice is by putting your lectures online, and using your class time to engage students in activities and tasks which will help them to fully understand the material which was covered in your lecture. The online lectures should be short, certainly no more than thirty minutes, but two fifteen minute lectures would be preferable. And supporting the video lectures will probably be some reading, a book chapter or journal article perhaps. Students may watch your lectures a few times in order to get the most from them, and students for whom English is not a first language may benefit greatly from the ability to watch and re-watch the lectures. You’ve now freed up an extra hour to spend with your students, so what’s the best way to use that hour?

Well, there are plenty of options here. If you’d prefer a more teacher-led session then one idea would be to ask your students to complete a pre-class test or survey in order to find out where the gaps in their understanding are. Perhaps you’d prefer to give them a test so that you can check their understanding yourself, or perhaps you’d prefer the students to determine for themselves what they did and did not understand, so you ask students to submit questions about the material. Their questions or their test results could then form the basis of a class session in which you discuss and answer the questions that the students submitted in the survey, or provide further clarification on the things they got wrong in the tests. This approach is often called ‘just in time teaching’ as you don’t really know what you need to cover in class until the test or survey results have been submitted, and this is often less than 24 hours before the class is due to start. If you’d prefer something more student-led then you could still use a pre-class test or survey, but this time you take the students questions (or develop your own questions based around the things they got wrong in the tests) and get the students to answer their questions themselves. This is the approach that Mazur uses, which he terms peer instruction.

“Mazur begins a class with a student-sourced question, then asks students to think the problem through and commit to an answer, which each records using a handheld device (smartphones work fine), and which a central computer statistically compiles, without displaying the overall tally. If between 30 and 70 percent of the class gets the correct answer (Mazur seeks controversy), he moves on to peer instruction. Students find a neighbor with a different answer and make a case for their own response. Each tries to convince the other. During the ensuing chaos, Mazur circulates through the room, eavesdropping on the conversations. He listens especially to incorrect reasoning, so ‘I can re-sensitize myself to the difficulties beginning learners face.’ After two or three minutes, the students vote again, and typically the percentage of correct answers dramatically improves. Then the cycle repeats.” 5

Other options could involve a blend of just in time teaching and peer instruction. These are not the only approaches though, and whilst there is no one correct way of doing things, it’s probably safe to say that an approach which sees the students actively engaged in class is likely to lead to them learning more than an approach in which the students are passive. A visual idea of how the flipped classroom could work in practice is given below:

An Approach to the Flipped Classroom

An Approach to the Flipped Classroom - click image to view full size


Waterside – a flipped campus?

Can you flip a whole institution? Yes, you can. Clintondale High School in Michigan started flipping its classes in 2010, and now delivers all classes using the flipped model. They claim that this approach has led to dramatic reductions in both failure rates and discipline problems6. The University of Technology, Sydney, has developed a teaching and learning strategy which fits extremely well with flipped classrooms7, and has set up its own Flipped Learning Action Group to promote the use of this approach8. Does this mean that Waterside going to be a flipped campus? No, it doesn’t. Whilst we won’t have any lecture theatres, and while much of the teaching and learning will happen in smaller teaching spaces (twenty to forty students), a one-size-fits-all approach would not be the best option for the new campus. Nevertheless, what is encouraged for Waterside is what is encouraged at both Park and Avenue campuses here and now, which is participatory, student-led teaching and learning and the use of both class time and technology to engage students in active, exciting and transformative learning experiences.


Will students complain if I flip my classroom?

Possibly. Students may expect lectures and they may think that they learn from them. Students may also like lectures because they’re easy: not much is expected from attendees at lectures as they are “the teaching moment that most promotes passivity and discourages participation.”9 If you adopt a flipped learning approach then students will have to work harder both in class and before class. This is a good thing, and if you want to counter objections from students who want you to lecture you could refer them to bell hooks’ essay quoted above, ‘To Lecture or Not’10, where she tell us that “When we as a culture begin to be serious about teaching and learning, the large lecture will no longer occupy the prominent space that it has held for years.” You could also refer them to Graham Gibbs’ article, ‘Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing’11, in which he explains and provides evidence as to why lecturing does not “give students a rich and rewarding educational experience.”12 In addition, the recent National Union of Students’ publication ‘Radical Innovations in Teaching and Learning’ is worth referring students to as it asked universities to, amongst other things, consider what place the lecture has in “a modern, democratic university.”13


Support for flipping your classroom

What support is available to academics wanting to try out flipped learning? Well, an excellent place to start is with the Learning Designers and the Learning Technology Team. The Learning Designers will be able to explain more about flipped learning, and will be able to help you successfully plan and implement flipped classroom sessions.  And the Learning Technology Team will be able to provide you with training and support regarding the technologies that you may want to use as part of your flipped classroom sessions.

To end, it’s worth pointing out that changing the way one teaches takes time, and without support from professional services staff, colleagues and managers, change is not likely to happen. Change, especially radical change, also needs failure to be acknowledged as a possible and legitimate outcome, as not every new technique that we try out will be a success. However, perhaps the flipped classroom offers a low-risk opportunity for change, as there is plenty of training and support available from the Learning Designers and the Learning Technology Team, and the evidence, which we will look at in a later posting, seems to suggest that this is an approach that works.



Learning Designers:

Learning Technology Team:



1. Parr, C. (2014) ‘Six trends in campus design: 5. Informal, flexible learning spaces.’ Times Higher Education Supplement. December 2014. [online]. Available from:

2. Mazur, E. (2012) ‘The scientific approach to teaching: research as a basis for course design.’ YouTube. [online]. Available from:

3. Lambert, C. (2012) ‘Twilight of the Lecture.’ Harvard Magazine. March/April 2012. [online]. Available from:

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. See: Clintondale High School (2012) Our Story. [online]. Available from:

7. UTS (2104) ‘Learning 2014 Strategy.’ YouTube. [online]. Available from:

8. UTS (2014) ‘Flipped Futures.’ UTS Newsroom. August 2014. [online]. Available from:

9. hooks, b. (2010) Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. Abingdon: Routledge. p.64.

10. Ibid. pp.63-68.

11. Gibbs, G. (1981) Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing. SCED Occasional Paper No. 8, Birmingham. 1981. [online]. Available from:

12. Ibid.

13. NUS (2014) Radical Interventions in Teaching and Learning. [online]. Available from: