Focus on Pedagogy: Flipping the Classroom

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 15:52 -- Hillary Procknow

This week we begin a four-post series on pedagogy. Through this series we will highlight specific pedgagogical techniques, strategies, and tips that highlight ways instructors are transforming student learning and using College Readiness Assignments (CRAs) to improve college and career readiness. This week’s guest post comes to us from Dr. Julie Schell, a scholar internationally known for her work in flipped classrooms and Peer Instruction.

Flipping the Classroom

First of all, what do we mean when we say flipping the classroom? A flipped classroom is one in which students are first exposed to material outside the classroom; then, during class, students apply the key concepts and ideas from their pre-class work through interactive discussions, projects, or other activities. Here is an image that captures the essential elements of a flipped classroom.

Image credit to Josh Walker and The University of Texas at Austin Center for Teaching and Learning

A flipped classroom is a method of instructional design that is student-centered, focusing on student needs rather than just an instructor's goals. Student-centered learning generally refers to a design that puts greater responsibility for learning on student activity (discussion, projects, discovery) rather than teacher delivery (lecture). In a student-centered learning environment, students are active participants in their learning, rather than passive recipients of knowledge. The most successful flipped classrooms are those that are designed with student-centeredness as a central feature for both out-of-class and in-class work.

Flipped Classrooms - The Big Idea 

The biggest idea about successful flipped classrooms is that they are about pedagogy, not technology. The surest way to fail with a flipped classroom is to be so focused on technology that pedagogy takes a back seat. For example, asking students to watch a one-hour video of you lecturing and then having them come to class and work on the homework problems in the back of the book is not a student-centered flipped classroom; that is simply a traditional classroom in reverse. A true flipped classroom moves information delivery outside the class so that classtime can be devoted to internalizing, processing, and analyzing information with guidance from an instructor, as opposed to merely receiving knowledge during class and having to work through these more difficult processes on their own.

My go-to approach for flipping a class is to use Just-in-Time Teaching outside of class and Peer Instruction in class.

Out-of-Class Pedagogy: Just-in-Time Teaching

Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT) is a research-based pedagogy developed by Gregor Novack in the 1990s. In JiTT, instructors prepare an out-of-class activity to help provide first exposure to subject matter and ensure students come to class prepared. JiTT is distinct from homework. The purpose of JiTT is to provide a base level of prior knowledge that students will use to shape class time.  Figure 1. provides a framework for designing JiTT lessons.

  • First, students complete an out-of-class activity (e.g., watch a video lecture).
  • Then, students complete a brief 3-question assessment to A. ensure they completed the activity (2 concept questions) and B. allow students to indicate their areas of confusion (1 feedback question).
  • As the instructor, you then review the students' feedback and design/adjust the in-class time and activities to address their areas of confusion.

Figure 1. JiTT Process

The most important aspect to successful implementation of JiTT is to always make sure you give students credit for their pre-class work; I recommend at least 10% of their grade. However, this credit should be based on effort (rather than correctness) so as to encourage students to share their concerns/questions and honestly communicate their level of understanding. The rubric I use is attached as Figure 2.  

Figure 2. Example Rubric for JiTT Assessment

The JiTT method helps ensure that students come to class prepared to engage in the topic at hand, so now we'll look at what happens during classtime in a flipped classroom.

In-Class Pedagogy: Peer Instruction

Peer Instruction is a student-centered pedagogy that is simple to implement.  It was developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard University in the 1990s, and it radically transforms what and how students learn during class time. Watch this 3-minute video to get an overview of Peer Instruction.

Although some instructors use clickers or other online methods to administer ConceptTests, no additional technology is necessary to implement Peer Instruction; students can respond to questions using flashcards or even by holding up their fingers. By using this innovative pedagogy, classtime is focused on areas of confusion identified by the students and enables students to practice developing and defending their answers. The catch is, to really see dramatic success, Peer Instruction requires students to come to class with some prior knowledge of the concepts and content they will work on during class. The key is to use JiTT to ensure students prepare before class time.

Using JiTT and Peer Instruction with College Readiness Assignments (CRAs)

If you have already looked over some of the CRAs, you know that many of them integrate elements of JiTT by asking students to complete activities at home (e.g., a brief writing assignment) and come to class prepared to discuss the topic with their classmates. In addition, nearly every CRA could incorporate JiTT by the instructor creating a video or other resource covering the introductory information of the topic for students to review at home prior to beginning the class discussion portion of the assignment.

Peer Instruction is also a great technique to use with CRAs because these assignments have large components of paired or group discussions and often ask students to defend their answers or rethink their answers based on information from a classmate or outside source. You could pose a question to the students, have them select an answer, then have them pair up and act out the concept (as in Math/Science CRAs) or take turns providing justification for their answers. Then, remember to have the students re-answer the question and share some of their reasoning before revealing the correct answer (if there is one), wrapping up the concept, addressing any lingering confusion, and moving on to the next topic.

For more examples of how you can use the techniques of JiTT and Peer Instruction with CRAs, check out the Innovative Pedagogies video collection on the Resources page of this site, especially Making the Most of Retrieval Practice: Applying Strategies to CRAs.

The Impact

Using Peer Instruction and JiTT to flip your classroom is one way to improve your students' college and career readiness skills through a student-centered design. This flipped classroom approach has 20 years of research behind it and is demonstrated to improve students problem-solving skills, conceptual knowledge, academic performance, and even to reduce the racial and gender gap in some sciences. Student-centered teaching designs, such as the JiTT-Peer Instruction model, will help prepare your students for the kinds of out-of-class work and in-class effort that will be required when they get to college. To read more about JiTT and Peer Instruction, please go to