On Fridays, rather than walking into a big lecture hall and sitting among the sea of students for his organic chemistry lecture, Jonathan Jones, a sophomore in the College of Pharmacy, walks down the stairs of Hicks Undergraduate Library to a small classroom where he sits with his group of only five members. Other similar small groups are also present and dispersed throughout the room. And on those days, rather than having traditional lecture, Jones and his peers help each other with their homework and solve problems alongside his professor and TAs.
This model of instruction is an example of a flipped classroom, where the delivery of content and instruction is done online through video tutorials and most homework is done in class in lieu of lecture time. The lectures done previously in traditional classroom settings are now flipped to be accessible to students anywhere outside of class. In return, students receive extra instructional time and homework help during class.
“Being able to solve problems in the presence of your professor and other TAs … saves you time, and it helps you with understanding,” Jones said. “If you come to a point in the problem where you are stuck, you can get the assistance you need to proceed right then and there. Watching the lecture online doesn’t take any more time than a normal lecture would, but solving these problems in the presence of the professors and TAs definitely saves you time and ensures that you understand the concepts.”
Jones is not alone. In fact, there are already many proponents of the flipped classroom model, including universities like Stanford as well as the popular nonprofit online educational site, Khan Academy, which provides tens of millions of students hours of instructional videos at home. Purdue’s first-year engineering program has also been trumpeting this model since the launch of its new curriculum five years ago.
Animesh Aditya, visiting assistant professor in the department of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, said he began this embarkment in the spring semester of 2015, albeit intermittently with traditional lectures still the primary form of instruction. It was only after the positive feedback he received at the end of course evaluations that he decided to make flipped lectures a biweekly event during this fall semester.
Lucas Banter, a senior in the College of Agriculture and TA of Aditya’s class, said, “When Dr. A first told me that he’ll be doing flipped lectures, I would say that his enthusiasm, his positivity that he brought to the table – I didn’t think I had an ounce of doubt about it.”
However, Aditya credits the original professor of the course, Marc Loudon, emeritus professor of medicinal chemistry, for his own motivation to make flipped classrooms a thing.
”I got all my inspiration from him, and he, Dr. Loudon, had actually started a lot of interactive activities in class a lot longer than even I was around,” said Aditya. “I watched all of that closely as a TA and saw that something is really happening here … he designed his lectures and his course in a way that prompted students to learn better and prompted students to interact with each other within the lecture.”
According to Aditya, grades moved up toward a higher letter grade. An exam score comparison between the traditional classes in 2013-2014 and flipped classes in 2015 revealed the latter having more As and Bs and fewer Ds and Fs. Aditya also said he has seen a drastic increase in students’ interest to learn. Whereas before, around five or 10 students, 15 at most, showed up during office hours, since the day Aditya has started flipping, he said he had never seen fewer than 35, and sometimes over 100, students during those hours.
Victoria VanEtten, a sophomore in the College of Pharmacy who attends the flipped lectures, said she particularly likes the way flipped lectures are formatted in a sense that more things are hands-on.
”I am a hands-on learner,” VanEtten said. “I can’t just read a book and take notes and understand how to do something. A lot of these flipped lectures have to do with mechanisms and learning how to write those out. So for me, that is something I am not as confident with. Doing them in a flipped lecture class where I can have a TA over my shoulder watching me do it, correcting me when I’m wrong or telling me when I got the right answer on my own is really, really helpful for me. I remember that more than just sitting in a lecture and watching the professor write out the mechanism and you just copying it down, not really understanding what’s going on.”
Research on learning retention rate, published by National Training Laboratories, is consistent with what goes through VanEtten’s learning process. Average retention rate during lectures alone is found to be around 5 percent, while audio-visual, demonstration and discussion group means of learning see a 20 percent, 30 percent and 50 percent rates of retention, respectively.
“Students learn kinesthetically,” Aditya said. “Kinesthetic learning is an extremely important feature of effective learning in organic chemistry. You need to utilize the eye-hand coordination to reinforce the concepts in your mind. Simply reading the textbook or looking at a PowerPoint does not work optimally until you actually write the structures with your hands on paper.”
Banter said, “I wish that this would have definitely been more around because I think it’s a great way for students to have the opportunity to work on something and make sure they understand it in an application sense as opposed to just memorizing something and saying later ‘Oh, okay, do I actually understand this?’ You don’t know what you don’t know until the question stares you in the face.”