Harvard | February 15, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Should We Flip the Classroom, Too?

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Stanford has begun using the flipped classroom model, an inversion of the conventional model where the instructor teaches at home through recorded videos, and has students do “homework” in the classroom.  The advantage of this is that professors can individually work with students in the classroom and students can collaborate in-person easily.

At Stanford, Professors have students watch the video versions of their lecture hosted on the website of Coursera, the Stanford Massive Open Online Course provider. Professors then devote what would have been lecture to interaction.

According to the Stanford Daily, the flipped courses have had mixed success.

In Stanford’s Computer Science 147: Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction, the professor instituted an incomplete, flipped classroom model, which received mixed reactions. In the words of one of the students, “time could have been better used.”

But other classes saw more success.

Professor Kristin Cobb M.S. ’99 Ph.D. ’02, taught HRP 213: Writing in the Sciences with Coursera last fall. She said, “Because writing is so hands on, to get the students to edit each other’s papers in class and make them write in class is a great use of class time.” The students reactions, as reported by the Daily, were favorable.

The question remains: should Harvard follow suit, using video components of the courses it offers through edX?

Harvard has partnered with MIT and four other universities in offering courses through edX. HarvardX courses include CS50x, Copyright, and Justice. For certain courses offered, it might well make sense.  Haven taken CS50, I testify to the dwindling lecture attendance.  What started as a packed lecture hall in September ended near-empty. Students chose to watch Professor Malan’s lectures through the CS50 course site, taking advantage of the ability to play back at 1.5x and 2.0x speeds.  Professor Malan’s time might be better spent organizing office hours during the day or coordinating focused problem solving sessions during the would-be lecture time.

What’s more, studies done on video lectures v. conventional support the efficacy of delivering content via video. They cite the benefits of the ability of students to pause and review concepts in real time and that time in class for application reinforces learning.

Harvard professors ought to evaluate whether their time lecturing is spent wisely. What really matters is that students master the material. In seminars, obviously the flipped classroom is harder to implement. But in larger lecture courses, in which it is easy to disengage and interactive video is easy to create, Harvard must ask itself some serious questions and ask itself whether it has done all it can to optimize education.

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