Raising the Level of Student Engagement

Brian White has been teaching Biology to classes of between 200 and 400 students each semester for the past twenty years. In order to keep raising the level of engagement of his students, Brian employs the updated tools and technology to keep the material fresh and his students engaged in the learning process. Recently, Brian has been experimenting with different models of a Flipped Classroom.

Pedagogical Approach

With a flipped class, students absorb the content on their own time. They view video lectures and access their readings through a learning management system, such as Blackboard Learn. Then class time is spent interacting with one another and applying the concepts, either in question and answer formats or small group activities. There are several ways faculty can flip the class: utilizing text books that have an online component; recording lectures ahead of class meetings using lecture capture software (Echo360 and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra are available for UMB faculty); or taking your regular lecture and sprinkle in questions.

Lessons Learned

“Start small.” suggests Brian. “I started by flipping the entire class. I don’t think that’s strictly necessary, although it could help”. Brian discusses in the video above how one can flip parts of the course. He recorded his lectures in full and then chopped them up into smaller parts and put questions in between using the quiz function on Blackboard.

A few semesters ago, Brian led a discussion at the Learning With MOOCs Workshop about his experiences using a MOOC (Massively Open On-Line Class) from edX to flip his General Biology I (Bio 111) course. “There were a wide range of educators there, and they had a variety of interesting questions and experiences to share.” Brian explains in a post from 2014 on Flipping his classroom using a MOOC.

“If students are actively involved … they learn it much better.” Brian shared. Students need guidance in their video watching, “They don’t get points for watching the video, they get points for answering the questions [between segments].” Brian uses only one or two question quizzes to help students know what to watch for in the videos.

Using video lectures outside the classroom allows students to rewind and review rather than scrambling to take notes while the instructor is talking which can reduce the amount of information they are actually absorbing. This can be especially helpful for students with varied levels of language skills, attention issues, and abilities. Accessibility is also a concern, all videos should have a closed captioned option.

It is also important to evaluate your changes by requesting feedback. Some instructors request weekly feedback, but Brian asks his students at the end of every semester about their experience, what they liked, what didn’t work, what they would change and what was most difficult. He reports that students overwhelmingly prefer the flipped classroom style. He also found that he gave them the same final exam; three quarters of the questions on the final exam were the same the first year he flipped as the previous year when it was not flipped and he never lectured, they were able to focus in class on the difficult material.

Another interesting outcome was the fact that students preferred videos that he created of himself giving the lecture, rather than finding external videos. Best practices inform that shorter videos, between seven to fifteen minutes are more effective because students can find what they might have missed easier. It is important to categorize your lectures in their titles rather than using vague terms such as “week 1 lecture”.

Helpful Technology

Brian uses the Tests, Pools, and Surveys to create quizzes on Blackboard but another option is online assessments. “I would be interested in talking with anyone who is thinking about trying this in their class.” To contact Brian at his UMass Boston email: brian.white@umb.edu.

Learn more about the flipped classroom model.

For help with Blackboard or other educational technologies, contact eLIS at elearning@umb.edu.