Engaging Students with the "FLIP"

Interview with Barbi Honeycutt

Dr. Barbi Honeycutt is the Founder & Owner of Flip It Consulting in Raleigh, NC. Over the past 14 years, she has been facilitating workshops, sharing strategies, and designing resources for thousands of educators, instructors, and trainers who want to learn how to create engaging learning environments. Dr. Honeycutt is also a scholar and educator at NC State University where she serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Adult and Higher Education in the College of Education.

In this interview she shares some amazing information to help you better engage you students. We have done many interviews here at iTeachers and we can honestly say this is a must read!

Tell us a little about yourself

My interest in faculty development started when I was getting my masters degree, and I had a part time job working at our faculty center for teaching and learning on campus. I was really just filing and making copies, but I was able to listen to what was going on around me and meet a lot of the faculty. It was amazing to learn how excited they were about teaching. By the time I moved into my Doctoral program, I started studying pedagogy, higher education, how people learn. I ended up working as Assistant Director all the way up to director of that same teaching center. So it was nice seeing the center from every perspective. Seven years ago I started working with Graduate teaching assistants and loved that work. I wanted to do more: travel, and work with other campuses. I have always had entrepreneurial blood, I guess. A few years ago, I took out a white board, brainstormed out what I though I could do with a business, and I came up with an acronym for FLIP. What it means to me is Focus on your Learners by Involving them in the Process. I named my business FLIP it consulting because of that, and not 12 months later did all of this buzz come out about the Flipped classroom. It was kind of funny. It’s been interesting to ride that wave.

Tell us a bit more about the flip concept, and how it can impact the classroom

For me, what I am trying to do is push the conversation forward. Trying to make sure we are not sitting down and just saying, “Ok, let’s put all of our lectures on video and stick them on line.” And then students will just magically watch them! They don’t! And with that model you are still lecturing. A video lecture is still a lecture. There has to be more to it than that. We have to unpack a little bit and go deeper. So yes, you can still have videos. It’s just what are you going to have videos of? I am an advocate of the thought that you don’t have to flip everything. For me, what I try to do is flip where we place our emphasis and like Blooms taxonomy or any sort of critical thinking model. So that the flip is truly about focusing on those lower level learning outcomes outside of the class and focusing on the higher level problem solving here in class. This model has its roots in an economics journal back in the early to late 90’s and they actually called it inverted instruction. That’s where I have been basing my work. It’s about changing and shifting the energy in the classroom. Making it about what the students are doing rather than what the faculty member is doing.

Can you break it down into a simple example?

First of all, I would say that if it was a new faculty member in the first few years of teaching, I would encourage them to look for things I call “flippable moments”. Instead of saying, “I need to add a flip strategy to every single lesson that I am doing.” I actually have them step back and ask them what is it that you need to flip? And so I have identified 3 things to look for when you are thinking about flipping or adding some kind of active learning strategy around some lesson in your class.

1-Look for confusion. If students are confused, that certainly may be something that needs more activity around. Maybe you need to do a video of a problem you are solving in class so the students can watch and rewatch.

2-If there is any kind of foundational material or the fundamentals. Something that students really MUST know. Before they can move on to another unit or class is something that should be flipped. An example may be when we memorize the multiplication tables or something similar that is foundational. Doing activity around that, having it where students are practicing a lot and not lecturing about it would be something that is worth flipping.

3-Looking for boredom. If you have been teaching for a while you know when kids get bored. Perhaps you are bored as the teacher! It’s a good time to mix it up, make it more engaging or fun. Try something new. People learn in lots of different ways so this gives you a chance to engage them in other ways.

I think that is where I would start if someone was thinking about the flip. Stand back, look at a particular lesson. Is this something that’s foundational? Is this something that could be boring? Is this something that is very confusing? The next step is starting to think about strategy.

So you are saying in that strategy cut down the lecture and give activities that are more engaging to the student?

Right, when appropriate. I’ve always said that a lecture is still an effective way to deliver information if that is your goal. But if your goal is for students to engage with that information, to analyze it, do something with it, then that sets you up with the flip. But again, not everything needs to be flipped. And not everything should be. Sometimes the best way to deliver something is through a lecture. What I have been encouraging the faculty to do is step away from the podium and not lecture for the full 50 minutes. Try to break it up with activities

In the online-environment, the video lectures should be broken down into 5 or 10-minute clips. Do you feel the same about the classroom environment when it comes to videos?

I do yes. There’s a place for the lecture. Chunking information, then have the students engage in that information. Solid pedagogy there.

Would you structure a class differently “flipping it”, if it were actual college aged learners as opposed to adult learners, who are making up a majority of the education landscape nowadays?

That’s a really good question, and one that we have been looking at. I work with a lot of Graduate Teaching Assistants, and they are teaching a lot of intro courses on big campuses. They come to me all of the time saying, “I have an 18 year old freshman, and a 55 year old professional in my class. What am I supposed to do?” I really think it goes back to student support. Adult learners will have a lot of life experience, real world experience if you will, that your traditional college student might not have. There are ways to integrate that into your course. With any kind of flip strategy, you must support the learner no matter what their age, background etc., because it’s a new way of learning. It’s hard. We have to support their journey in that. You almost have to start strong, and hold their hand, like a structured flip: show them how to watch a video, when they should pause it, what questions they should be asking. Students are so quick to watch an educational video like they watch a YouTube video. Your adult learners didn’t come through school where we had the capability to watch videos or move things outside the classroom in this way. So we have to support them. That is part of our job as teachers.

Do you see the flipped environment helping with retention? And are there any stories you can share with us about that very topic?

Studies are so new, so we are still learning.I do have some stories. I went to a conference a few years ago. A math professor had studied a flipped class, where the teacher did have activities and videos where the students completed those outside of class, and did their homework inside the class where she was working along side them versus a non-flipped class that was traditional, lecture based, and homework was done at home. What she found was after 2 semesters the students in both classes performed about the same at the mid-term. However, when they got to their final exam the flipped class students out scored the “traditional” students by as much as 12 final grade points, which is pretty significant. What that shows me is that retention over a longer period of time seems to stick in a flipped class.

Does this help students with learning disabilities?

Great question. It’s a question that I don’t have a lot of experience in. I have read a lot about UDL (Universal Design for Learning) and that’s something that benefits every learner. We can certainly start moving in that direction. How can we take UDL and utilize it in the flipped classroom? I think that’s where we need to go next in our conversation. I don’t really have an answer, but I am exploring that. A flipped learning environment can be a very scary place for both a faculty member and a student, because it “looks” so different. The faculty member has to set it up as a safe place to learn. And for some students who have learning difficulties, having a lace where they are learning together may actually improve their confidence and their ability to retain information. I don’t have a study to back that up, but I can see how it could work to their benefit.

What would you recommend to a teacher if they just wanted to get their feet wet with the flip environment? Not necessarily dive all the way in?

A good place to start is a strategy called think, pair, share. Start your lesson, and somewhere along the way, say 15 minutes in, ask your students a question. Have them think about it for one minute on their own. They could even write down ideas. Then have them turn to a partner. This is the pair. They discuss the question. Then, open it up, and share with the whole class. It’s a very structured way to turn the energy over to the students, also keeping control of the classroom. That’s a quick one that takes 4 minutes or less. And then keep moving along.

How would you flip an online class?

My colleague and I are exploring this now. This is the next frontier in the flipped classroom. We had 61 campuses join us from across the world engaging in this discussion, and it seems when we expand the definition of a flip beyond “watch this video then come to class”, or move it from the definition of being “inside the class” or “outside the class”, then we can talk about the online space. If you think about it, in the online space there is no “in or out of class” environment. It’s all out of class. So we shift the definition to focus on “what are the students doing in the learning environment?” and making sure those are at the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Making sure that the students are getting together virtually, and creating something or co-developing something. That’s the kind of energy you have in a really well designed flip in the online environment. Too often, the online learning environment can be lonely. You are on your own out there. The flipped online class might have that ability to create that community in the online space. There are a few ideas for that: have the students create a video together, write a paper collaboratively. Anything that has them creating something.

Would you say that group work is a large part of that online?

I think it is a little bit of both. You still have individual accountability. For example, if you are teaching a biology class, you can have the students take a picture of something in their back yard, have them post it, then have the class analyze each one together. That little shift means the faculty member didn’t take the picture and post it. That was all student driven. So I think if we can do more things like that in the online space, we can really push our conversation of what the flip means outside of the traditional face-to-face classroom. And it is a new conversation.

Can you give one parting piece of advice for our audience?

I have two!

First one being – start small. I mentioned think, pair, share. Finding little strategies that work for your teaching style and students.

Second, don’t be afraid to try, then try again, then try again and again! Go easy on yourself. I have to give props to Aaron and John. They have started a conversation around the world about the flipped class. It’s not a new approach, but if we start bringing technology into our classrooms in ways that matter, that’s fascinating.

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