By Marisa Graser
Small group teaching often accompanies quantitative courses like mathematics, statistics, or economics. Most commonly, the main content is delivered in lectures, after which students are given exercises to prepare ahead of small group sessions. Whilst the lecture provides students with the basic knowledge, the group tutorials are the place where higher-level skills should be developed.
Unfortunately, students frequently miss these mostly voluntary tutorials, are unprepared or follow passively instead of participating actively. The issue lies not only with the students but also the teacher as tutors often just deliver worked solutions for problem sets and avoid active discussions and questioning.
Becker and Proud (2018) propose a flipped classroom approach to overcome these issues. Being already used in lecture environments, this concept can also be adapted to small group settings. Following a lecture, Becker and Proud (2018) suggest that students receive practice problems and an online clip with worked solutions one week prior to the accompanying tutorial. This video should ideally be recorded by the lecturer to ensure consistency in delivery.
At the beginning of the tutorial, the tutor should then spend around 5 minutes answering remaining questions on the published problems. Following this, the students should be given a new set of problems, replicating or extending on the published ones. Their task will then be to work on the new questions in small groups of 3-5 students in an open book environment for about an hour.
During the tutorial, the tutor acts as the facilitator of learning (Becker and Proud, 2018). This means that instead of teacher-centred teaching, the tutor creates a relaxed atmosphere where students are allowed and encouraged to interact and make mistakes.
To facilitate this, the tutor should walk around and support groups and individuals in the process of solving questions. A helpful tool is thereby open-guided questioning, for example: What lecture content does this problem refer to? Was there a question in the published problem set that relates to this question? (Becker and Proud, 2018).
Additionally, the teacher should also encourage discussions amongst all group members and ensure that everyone is included and participating.
If the tutor frequently faces similar questions from students on a specific area, the tutor should intercept and briefly, meaning no longer than 5 minutes, work out solution strategies with the group as a whole.
Since less experienced junior lecturers or PhD tutors might be new to this style of teaching, Becker and Proud (2018) suggest a 1h meeting with the lecturer prior to the tutorial to make sure that the expectations are clear and that potential guiding techniques can be discussed.
To ensure the success of a flipped classroom tutorial, a few key points should be remembered. Firstly, the number of students per group should not exceed 20 (4 groups of 5). For larger groups, more staff is required.
Secondly, Becker and Proud (2018) point out that the progress in flipped tutorials is often slower than in normal tutorials. Hence, it is important to be realistic about the content to be covered.
Thirdly, the tutor should encourage students to write answers in exam-style for their own practice but also to allow for a quick assessment of progress so the tutor can provide feedback easily.
Lastly, correct answers should be communicated clearly. However, and Becker and Proud (2018) stress this with great importance, under no circumstances should worked solutions be published. Instead, students can be pointed towards worked solutions of the published problem set.
The flipped classroom environment has multiple advantages over the classic setup. It tests the students’ understanding by encouraging dialogue. The interaction also encourages cooperation, expression of one's own views, listening, and discussing, which all enhance student success (Springer et al., 1999). Overall, students are given the opportunity to develop higher-level cognitive skills (Becker and Proud, 2018).
The students themselves also seem to prefer the flipped classroom approach (Waldrop, 2016; Calimeris and Sauer, 2015) and might even improve their grades compared to the traditional setup (DesLauries et al., 2011; Olitsky and Cosgrove, 2016).
However, it needs to be stressed that it is essential to encourage students to interact with the preparation material and engage with the tutorial to ensure the full benefits of the flipped classroom approach.
 L. Springer, M.S. Stanne, S.S. Donovan (1999). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: a meta-analysis. Rev. Educ. Res., 69, pp. 21-51.