Go ahead and postpone the conversation about the backlash against the flipped classroom model. Supporters and skeptics alike — and even the researchers behind a seemingly critical new report — say the discussion continues to be positive. Or is it?
Flipping the classroom — the practice of giving students access to lectures before they come to class and using class time for more engaging activities — hasn’t been nearly as divisive as many other ed tech trends, such as massive open online courses or outsourcing digital services. So when USA Today last week reported on an experiment at Harvey Mudd College that had failed to improve student outcomes, it provided a rare contrast.
InsideHigherEd says that “Some students “said they felt the flipped classroom had a heavier workload,” and professors “had to spend considerably more time making and editing … videos and crafting engaging, hands-on sessions for their classes.” A comparison between the flipped classrooms and their traditional counterparts found “no demonstrable difference” in student outcomes. The researchers, the newspaper wrote, “have bad news for advocates of the trend: it might not make any difference.”
“The study could have fit into a growing body of research calling the science behind flipping the classroom into question. Days later, however, the researchers behind the study said their results and words had been misinterpreted.
Yes, the article did point out that the results were preliminary — twice in one sentence, even — but the headline (“ ‘Flipped classrooms’ may not have any impact on learning”) and hook drew too many conclusions about a study that is set to continue for another three years, they said.
“The researchers — Karl Haushalter, Nancy Lape, Rachel Levy and Darryl Yong — last year taught both the flipped and traditional sections of the courses, all of which were in the science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) fields. They declined to be interviewed for this article, butexplained their side of the situation in a social media post after the article was scrutinized by higher education consultant Phil Hill.
“There could be an argument that this article is a case of a reporter trying to find a sensational topic from a nuanced report,” Hill wrote. “But the real problems in this article seem to be direct quotes from one of the research professors, despite the qualifier of ‘preliminary.’ “
“Yong warned “that we should be cautious about extrapolating our experience here to other contexts.” Harvey Mudd’s roughly 800 undergraduates “already spend a lot of time working together in groups in and out of class,” and the college’s size means there are few of the large lectures that the flipped classroom model aims to supplant.
“Our goal is to better understand the conditions under which flipped classrooms lead to better student outcomes,” Yong wrote. “[G]iven our study design and Mudd context, we have not yet seen any difference in student outcomes. Of course, this was only the first year of the study and we are admittedly working out all of the kinks in our flipped classes.”