By David Griffin
University educators and students face a range of challenges in teaching and learning. respectively. Face-to-face time may be limited; class sizes may be large; attendance may be below the desired level; students may struggle to engage with the material. Often it is academically weaker students who suffer most as a result of these challenges. To address these concerns, in recent years many educators have considered alternatives to traditional, lecture-based teaching. The ‘flipped classroom’ is one such alternative. This approach includes a broad range of teaching methods, however, it generally consists of two distinct parts. The first part is individual learning, involving the student exploring topics in advance of work in the lecture theatre, usually with the assistance of a recorded online lecture, Powerpoint slideshow, podcast or similar. The second part is an interactive learning activity during class time, often consisting of discussions, group work and application of the newly acquired knowledge.
A recent study at a Florida university sought to retrospectively analyse results data from a class within their Doctor of Pharmacy course (Mitroka, 2020). The ‘Principles of Drug Action I’ (PDAI) class employed both traditional lecture-based teaching and flipped classroom teaching over several years between 2011 and 2017. As a result, this class provided an opportunity to assess and compare student success through both approaches.
This class was typically delivered across a single semester. The curriculum was divided into three one-month blocks, with a different instructor delivering each of the three blocks. Block 1 in this course was delivered using a traditional lecture-based approach. This involved some limited interaction with students, such as asking individuals questions or polling the entire class. Students were typically assigned reading tasks as homework at the end of lectures.
Block 2 was delivered using a flipped classroom approach. Students were asked to watch a video lecture in advance of class, consisting of an online slideshow accompanied by an instructional voiceover. This introduced the students to material in advance of face-to-face teaching. During subsequent class time, students sat facing one another in groups of six. Each class began with students partaking in individual and group quizzes on that week’s material. These quizzes were typically followed by a group discussion around a case study related to the material the students had covered prior to class. Hypothetical situations and scenarios related to the case study were also discussed and time was then allocated to reviewing the quizzes.
Both Block 1 and Block 2 concluded with an exam set by that block’s instructor. This exam typically consisted of multiple-choice and short-answer questions. As delivery of Block 3 in this course often varied between the traditional and flipped classroom approach, its results were not considered as part of this study.
This work presented some fascinating findings. These can be summarised as follows:
Mean exam grades were not significantly improved when a flipped classroom approach was adopted.
However, students achieving grades within the lowest quartile saw significant increases in their grades with a flipped classroom approach.
At the same time, students achieving grades within the highest quartile showed no adverse effects from use of flipped classrooms.
Exam failures in the flipped classroom block were approximately half that of the traditional lecture block. Typically, in the PDAI course most failing students missed out on the 70% pass grade by only a few percentage points. Consequently, a slight increase in the grades of the lowest achievers could have a statistically significant impact on the failure rate. This was in keeping with the findings of several similar studies (Jensen et al., 2015; Flumerfelt, 2013).
The authors also noted that overall exam grades in the course reduced over the years examined, independent of the teaching method employed. They give several potential reasons for this decrease including an increase in student places on the course and a local natural disaster which adversely affected teaching. A primary goal of educators is to facilitate their students in achieving academic success. While this success comes with relative ease to some individuals, academically weaker students often struggle despite their best efforts. This study has demonstrated the potential value of the flipped classroom approach, particularly for those academically weaker students. This change in lecture format may enable those students to attain the passing grade requirements they strive for, and as such, empower them in their pursuit of academic and professional success.
Jensen J.L., Kummer T.A., Godoy P.D. Improvements from a flipped classroom may simply be the fruits of active learning. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2015;14(1):1-12
Flumerfelt S. Using lean in the flipped classroom for at risk students. Educ Technol Soc. 2013;16(1):356–366
Mitroka J.G., Harrington, C., DellaVecchia, M.J. A multiyear comparison of flipped- vs. lecture-based teaching on student success in a pharmaceutical science class. Curr Pharm. 2020;12(2020):84-87