In part I of this blog series, we explored why Pete, Melanie, and I believe critical thinking is a vital skill that students should learn while earning an undergraduate degree. We also explained our hypothesis in which we believe that the utilization of the flipped teaching model allows us to incorporate more active learning and blended learning techniques that can enable our students to further practice and hone those skills associated with critical thinking. In this video, we explain both the differences in our three classes and how we incorporate flipped teaching; as well as our study methodology and the tools we utilized to assess whether or not flipped teaching promotes critical thinking within our students.
If you have been following along with me during my flipping journey, then you are aware of a study in which two colleagues (Dr. Melanie Styers and Dr. Pete Van Zandt) and I wanted to assess whether or not flipped teaching promoted critical thinking within our students... but instead of me writing about it, we thought, in good flipped teaching manner, we would make some short videos to describe our project.. here is video one which describes who we are, and why we think critical thinking is important:
Please stay tuned for part II, which describes the mechanics of our project.
It's that time of the year again where the turkey has been roasted, eaten, sandwiched, casseroled, and sworn off till next year (or next month for some); and if you are in academia you are now preparing for final exams and course/instructor assessment. It was just earlier this week that I passed out our standard institutional assessment forms to my first flipped biochemistry course and because I wanted to gauge the various blended learning techniques I employed over the semester, I added my own additional assessment. In this survey, I asked my students to rate the various tools I utilized in order to "help deepen student understanding on a variety of biochemistry related topics and to facilitate the development of critical thinking skills". These tools included: video lectures, 10 minute "muddiest point" lectures in class, Sapling Online Homework, lecture powerpoints, Facebook "Journal Club" Discussions, Facebook Course Management, exam study guides, exam study sessions, POGIL workbook activities, case studies, metabolic pathway posters, and the Moodle course management page. Students were asked to rate these tools on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not beneficial at all and 10 being very beneficial) and then comment on the tool they found most beneficial and least beneficial. The average ratings for these tools can be seen in the graph below.
The standard deviations for these responses where quite large, ranging from 1.8 to 3.0, which to me indicated that these students varied greatly on the tools they appreciated, which should be expected since these tools target a wide range of learning styles. However, I will note that I inadvertently left out one of the most important tools - the textbook. It would have been great to see if there was a correlation between students who valued the lecture videos as little to no benefit but highly valued the textbook, and would be something I look into next year. And while the overall averages may seem disheartening at first glance (particularly the POGIL workbook and video lectures), reading the students comments have been very reassuring; so I wanted to take a moment and discuss some of the common disparities between student perceived gains/values and instructor perceived gains/values that I noticed as a result of this assessment. In their comments students asked me to:
"Improve lecture videos (so that they are) strong enough to stand on their own w/o needing text"
So okay, yes I admit, I took the "good enough" approach this semester because I had over 25 video lectures to make in less than 13 weeks, I do see reflection of that approach in the student evaluations and am planning to revamp a number of the lecture videos this summer and next fall to incorporate interactive features such as questions, polling, and feedback, but I do not want my lectures to ever be good enough to stand alone. I want to encourage my students to continually seek out a variety of resources and to never be quite satisfied so that they keep trying to learn more. As an instructor whose primary goal is to create life-long learners, I am actually encouraged with the student quote above because it indicates that he or she wanted to learn more. That being said, I am learning that it is important in the flipped classroom to constantly remind my students that the lecture videos (as they currently are now) would have been identical to me lecturing at a podium for an hour in a traditional lecture, but now they can pause, rewind, and fast forward as often as they wish, and access these videos throughout the entire semester; and that in traditional lectures, the classroom lecture is meant to help clarify and supplement the required text reading. And, as I said, there was a wide range of disparity in the student valuation of the videos which was reflected in their comments from "The lecture powerpoints and videos were beneficial because it helped identify the most important points from the chapter" to "More in class lecture, flipped classes are very confusing and do not allow the professor to lecture to the students the knowledge they need".
"POGIL - some concepts, actually most, were too complicated for the scope of this course"
The POGIL workbook, surprisingly to me, was one of the least valued tools by the students. Based on the comments, the students were frustrated both at the level of challenge and that there was no answer key given at the end. Again, I believe I need to be clearer about the overall purpose of utilizing POGIL activities in the classroom; however, I believe students will always be frustrated and uncomfortable when challenged and it is important to teach them (especially a class made up of 99% pre-med majors) that they will not be given an answer key on the job. As I was reading over the POGIL "How-To" I ran across this statement :
"Students are missing the experience of science as the exchange and evolution of ideas, and gender and ethnic issues are being ignored in the design of courses. Poor performers withdraw from learning, and even the best performers may disengage because they are not challenged. The results are low levels of learning and high levels of attrition... To address this situation and to help students become better learners in our courses, it is essential to recognize that education has two components, content and process, and that the process component often is not given adequate attention. Science education needs to be concerned equally with both the structure of knowledge, which is the content component, and with the development of the skills for acquiring, applying, and generating knowledge, which is the process component."
I believe to help our students become better at processing the knowledge they gain from lecture, we have to push our students hard, make them uncomfortable, and challenge them. Therefore, when I was reading these comments such as "they weren't beneficial because there weren't clear answers, and they were pretty extreme cases, some really hard to understand", actually pleases me as an instructor to no end. But I will agree with the students in that it is important to incorporate some sort of post-activity reflection/discussion, and I will be spending time during the Holiday break figuring out how to do this given the in-class time constraints (and, as always, am open to suggestions from my colleagues).
"I think the class should be more lecture based. While the flipped idea is fun, I think that for a class with this much information, we need a lecture"
This is actually one of my favorite quotes. While I couldn't agree more that an undergraduate biochemistry course meant to prepare both pre-med and pre-graduate students for their post-baccalaureate careers does cover an immense amount of material, I believe this, in particular, is one of the biggest reasons this course begs to be flipped. By incorporating engaging lecture videos (yes something I need to work on), text readings, and challenging/provoking in class activities, we as flipped instructors, can encourage our students not only to gain fundamental knowledge they need to "make the grade" but to develop the skills they need in order to apply that knowledge critically allowing them to derive new connections and new ideas in their future careers.
At BSC, our mission statement specifically says "Birmingham-Southern College prepares men and women for lives of significance. The College fosters intellectual and personal development through excellence in teaching and scholarship and by challenging students to engage their community and the greater world, to examine diverse perspectives, and to live with integrity." If I were to simply "concentrate on the things we absolutely have to know" as some of my students have request, I would not be living up to the expectations of the college, and even to the students themselves. While flipping the class, such as a biochemistry course, may not seem to have instant gratification for the instructor, I do believe my students will (eventually) see the benefit of this course. In the meantime, let us continue to teach, assess, reflect, and modify!!
No, no, no.. I am not verbally expressing dismay with Biochemistry, I am talking about a teaching method that has gained momentum in the STEM disciplines recently: Flipping the class. Instead of spending class time lecturing, students are given lecture materials and reading assignments to complete on their own time before class. This method allows class time can be spent working on practice problems, group learning activities or discussions. Since this was my first experience with a full lecture course of my own, and because I prefer active learning techniques, I decided "why the heck not!!" and dove head first into creating a flipped biochemistry course. The major advantages I have found for flipping the class is that we, as a class, now have time to delve deeper into the material, allowing my students to further develop their critical thinking, communication and creativity skills necessary for developing as life long learners. However, as rewarding as the results of a flipped classroom may be... there are still some major challenges... a flipped class is hard work (on both the instructor and the student)! So I wanted to spend some time describing the challenges of a flipped class, my method for flipping an advanced undergraduate chemistry course like biochemistry, and resources that can help you flip your own course.
Pre-Class: The Video Lecture
During Class: Group Learning
Because this is my first year teaching biochemistry, as well as my first year doing a flipped class, I have been devoting most of my time on the development of lectures and videos, and not on developing my own group learning activities. Thankfully, there are a number of great case studies, and group-learning activities already developed for Biochemistry. For this semester, I have been utilizing the POGIL workbook "Foundations of Biochemistry" and so far have been very pleased with both the level of challenge and the amount of time to complete the activities ( about 45 minutes). For units that do not match well to an activity in the biochemistry POGIL, I often turn to case studies provided by the textbook publisher or from the NSF Case Study Collection. As the semester continues, should I find an exceptionally good activity or design one, I will share it here!
After Class : Homework
To help reinforce the material from the text, lecture and group learning activities, I also offer my students weekly interactive homework assignments using Sapling Learning. This wonderful tool was first introduced to me by my colleague, Dr. Melanie Styers from the Department of Biology at BSC, who also utilizes this website for her Biochemistry course. At Sapling, instructors are able to design homework or practice assignments, as well as quizzes or exams from a bank of questions ranging in difficulty developed from the class' text book material by educational professionals. The instructor can set the point value and distribution as well as the number of times students can attempt a problem (and whether there is a point penalty for each attempt). Sapling also provides a range of review exercises, tutorials, hints, and answer solutions. Each instructor is paired with either a masters or PhD level teaching assistant with a background in the course material who can assist in developing the material as well. In addition to helping students further understand the material, students are able to access their course materials for as long as they are a student, allowing them to utilize this tool for professional school entrance exams such as the MCAT,
In addition to online homework, I also utilize current media or interesting studies related to the current unit's material to spur online discussions. And I have to say, these students do exceptionally well discussing topics such as the increased rate of the ebola virus genetic mutations, and the effect of climate change on specific ecosystems at the cellular level.
So far, I have really enjoyed this method of teaching. It has allowed me to cover the immense amount of material required for an undergraduate Biochemistry course, while at the same time allowing my students to further explore these topics much as graduate students would in a more advance course. That is not to say there hasn't been any push back, the students do realize they are working harder and doing more. However, my students are starting to realizing that instead of being challenged by the material for the first time in an exam, they are instead being challenged by the material for the first time while working in groups of their peers with unlimited resources at their hands. By learning how to solve real world simulations, delving deeper into the material, and learning how to work with their peers, my students are quickly gaining not only a working knowledge and understanding of Biochemistry, but also the skills necessary for becoming life long learners.
Some other bits of advice... don't be so hard on yourself, even in traditional lectures, the class doesn't always run as according to plan. You may run out of time, an activity may not have worked as well as you hoped, or you may finish waaaay to early and didn't prepare. So first, keep a teaching journal and immediately following class go back and right down what worked and what you could change for next year. If you finish early, never under estimate the power of classroom discussions, keep a few think-pair share questions on hand, a good one is to have students jot down 3 things they already know about the next unit's material, or have them come up with 3 possible exam questions. And always remember, if your students watched the lecture videos and read their assignments, then even if the day's group activity fail short of expectations, it was still above and beyond what they would have gotten from a traditional course.
As an educator, researcher, wife and mother, I am dedicated to developing and assessing innovations in chemistry education, medical diagnostics, and the biophysical characterization of non-helical DNA structures found in the non-coding regions of the genome.