Flip your perception of online learning

Let’s be real – online classes can get dull. No matter how intriguing the topic, it can be a challenge to keep your eyelids from drooping when your professor is lecturing for two hours straight, especially for those of us who have already worked an eight-hour work day. Or those of us who may or may not have brought a glass of wine to class…

Luckily, a new approach to online learning will have you flipping out (pun intended) about your next class. In the flipped classroom setting, students view lectures and complete readings in preparation for each week’s class ahead of time. When students join the class, they are already familiar with the week’s topic and have had time to compile thoughts and questions; class time is then spent discussing or completing activities related to the week’s materials. Students are given the opportunity to control the direction of the class and to interact with materials in a way they would not have the opportunity to in a lecture style classroom.

Last summer I took a course on administration and management of libraries that utilized the flipped classroom method. In this course, the professor began the class with a quick overview of the week’s theme and then asked the class as a whole for any questions. Following this class discussion, we spent most of the class period flip-flopping (another pun, I couldn’t resist) between small group conversation and discussion with the whole class. Our professor would drop in on our small group chat rooms periodically to check on us and make sure the discussion was on track.

This style of learning was especially suited to this course because it explored issues of leadership, employee relations, and other ethical dilemmas that do not have an easy answer. For example, one discussion involved resolving issues of bullying in the workplace. The small group dynamic was excellent because we all viewed situations differently, leading to some great interactions and revelations. Personally, I felt more engaged with the material and challenged in whole new ways by my classmates who viewed things in ways that may not have occurred to me.

Another thing I enjoyed about this course was the ability to move at my own pace. My professor generally assigned less than an hour’s worth of lectures and they were broken down into small segments, usually three twenty-minute recordings. I chose to space out viewing the lectures so that I had time to absorb and think about the material before moving on. As someone who needs a good chunk of time to mull things over before expressing my opinion, this dynamic worked great for me.

If you can, try to check out a course that uses this method or suggest that your professors try out this flippin’ awesome approach to online learning (last pun, I swear). Designer Librarian also pointed out an awesome tool called Knowmia that helps instructors design flipped classes, in case you’re interested in using this method to teach a class or workshop.

For more info about flipped classrooms and workshops, check out ALA’s guide to flipping and the ACRL Instructional Technologies Committee’s report on the flipped classroom.

Have you taken an online class that used the flipped classroom method? Tell us what you thought of it!

5 replies

  1. This sounds like something I’d like to see in my online Lib Tech courses. I love the freedom that online courses provide, but so far they have done a poor job at replicating classroom discussion. Having a lively discussion makes a big difference! It helps students to process and apply the information they are learning, and it also provides an opportunity for networking. Forum discussions never really seem to take off and the online chat typically revolves around the teacher answering questions about assignments. The flipped classroom concept seems like a good solution for shaking things up!


  2. We tried out an activity called World Cafe for a kind of flipped classroom experiment this semester: http://www.theworldcafe.com/method.html Could work in an online environment too. In fact, the small-group chat activity you describe is very similar.

    The same class frequently set aside time for group discussion and presentations with posters and markers. Again, this seems so adaptable. Anyone using an LMS with screen sharing or screencasting to make quick group presentations easier?


  3. Just to take this one step further—the “flipped MOOC”:

    When I was in Library School I starting thinking how odd it was that there isn’t a “library school” for kids. I mean, any kid with a tablet has an immediate, practical need for all sorts of library concepts: collection development, organization of and access to information, personal information management, universal access issues, weeding/archiving, and pretty much anything else we learned at the graduate school level.

    So, I designed an 8-week “library school” for kids, designed as an after-school program. Now I’m developing it into an online program in the form of a MOOC…and realized I’m developing not a regular MOOC but a “flipped” MOOC.

    A flipped MOOC (as I think about it) is a format where students go online to access module information, assignment-challenges, and resources to aid communication between MOOC participants. The mechanisms for feedback and assessment are built right into the modules and assignment-challenges themselves.

    If anyone’s interested, I’ve posted sample proof-of-concept module descriptions and materials (which will all be released with Creative Commons licensing if it ever goes live). Not looking to be self-promotional, but to encourage anyone working on putting these new ways of thinking into practice. Let’s see what we can do!

    Scott Ferguson, MLIS
    Lincoln, Nebraska


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