Harvard, Juncture — February 15, 2013 6:33 pm

Should We Flip the Classroom, Too?



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.

  • Tom Silver

    Great article! I think this article begs an even bigger question than whether or not Harvard should “flip the classroom”: should all non-seminar type, problem set courses be flipped? Moreover, should this model be used in high schools? This model has the advantage of letting students work at their own pace. But traditional education wisdom says that something about in-person lectures is lost when they go online. Maybe as this goes online more and more, lecture videos will become more effective.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sam.finegold Sam Finegold

    Agreed. But also found it interesting that the Stanford Daily’s report of flipped classrooms at Stanford made it sound like flipped writing courses were as or more successful. Obviously anecdotal, but still…

  • StudentJ

    Innovations are great, but people tend to lose ability to consider long-term effects as well as weigh potentially serious downsides when new things come along. Students at Harvard (and it’s not the only one) already had trouble with take-home exams for a “in-person” lecture class; who would be naive enough to think more students will NOT cheat on online, “in-your-room” tests?

    as exciting as all those shiny new technology are — we must also consider the not-so-glorious aspects of education and such changes (should we still pay prof as much even if he/she never shows up to class, and replays the same video every semester while the computer automatically grades all P-sets? Who owns the rights to those videos, after he/she leaves the U, etc..)

    I must admit though, that it would be nice not having to hear that ONE kid in class ask a frivolous question every 3 minutes.

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