Its the start of a new term... well okay, we are almost a month into a new term, and I have to say, I am flipping excited about my flipped biochem course this year! If you followed my posts on this course from last year, then you are aware of the challenges (and successes) I faced.
As I sat looking at my evaluation ratings I noticed something interesting: Nearly all my students from the 2 Organic laboratories I taught that same term rated me as excellent in almost every category, while my Biochem students were widely spread between excellent and satisfactory. The two categories that had the biggest (and most alarming) disparities between the two courses were "Rate the instructors overall teaching effectiveness" and "The course improved my ability to think critically and reason effectively", where the vast majority of my lab students rated me as excellent and my biochem students gave me an average of "good", (and who wants to be just "good"?!). The interesting thing I realized, however, is that I approach my flipped biochemistry course much like I do a laboratory course in terms of teaching pedagogy. In both classes, students work in groups to solve a problem or reach an objective by applying content they learned outside of that room, and I circulate from group to group to facilitate their progress and answer any questions. And it was at this moment I realized I may know why my biochem students' perceptions where not lining up as my laboratory students' were...I thought: It may be possible that my students have an ingrained perception of how a "lecture" course should be approached by the instructor and of how a "laboratory" course should be approached, and the two should not overlap. So with that hypothesis in mind.... I made a number of environmental changes.
1. Get rid of the lecture hall environment
If I didn't want my Biochem students to perceive that they were attending a "lecture", I had to get them out of the lecture hall and put them in a completely different environment... one that more closely resembles the laboratory. Fortunately, we havethe perfect room on campus at BSC, our brand spanking new Blended Learning Room (you can still smell that fresh paint new room scent!).
2. Get a Teaching Assistant
Just like in a laboratory setting, circulating from group to group as questions arise is difficult for one person; and I saw this reflected in my student comments. Last spring, I was very fortunate to have one of my former Biochem students from the previous fall ask if he could TA the next term of biochem with me. Throughout the term, his responsibilities are to help out during class by fielding questions and guiding stuck students, grading and giving feed back in the in-class assignments, and even helping with tutoring students, and we meet weekly to ensure he understands the material as well as I do.
3. Continue to improve your lecture videos
Scripting the videos allows me to stay on topic ,which is always a little bit of a problem with me when I am just lecturing freely, and allows me to streamline my videos. Through scripting I can often take what was a 45 minute lecture video and compress it to 30 minutes with minimal "um's", "uh's" and other distractions. I also find my sound quality is better in these videos as I am using a headset now to record, minimizing background noise. The post recording editing allows me to further polish the videos by cutting out excessively long pauses (again, shortening the video and keeping the pace consistent), and inserting graphics and text to emphasize or point out aspects of the powerpoint. I can also splice multiple videos together if I decided to add something later.
Next year I hope to re-do the remaining 12 or so videos. And then the year after that? Well, I am sure I will continue to select a handful of videos each year to improve and modify, because like I said... who wants to be "just good enough"?
4. Make sure your learning assessment reflects your learning objectives.
5. Don't give up.
Overall, I feel that the changes I made this term have helped tremendously to keep student frustration low and engagement high! And to ensure that we are indeed improving critical thinking skills of our students, my colleagues (Dr. Pete VanZandt and Dr. Melanie Styers) and I are assessing the impact of flipped teaching on critical thinking in our students using the CAT test developed by Tennessee Tech. This study was funded through a Blended Learning Grant from the Associated Colleges of the South and the results should be available next spring! Until then, happy flippn' teaching to you all and may your fall semesters continue to be challenging but exciting!