The Duck of Minerva

Flipping the Classroom

7 November 2013

I’m going to try it out this spring with my Introduction to International Relations class. (I’ll also post my lectures online, which I believe will make mine the second Intro IR course available to the general public—though if you know of others, please provide links in the comments.) Have any of you tried it? If so, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Below the fold are some thoughts on why I think it will help some students get more out of my class.

Giving students the ability to pause, rewind, and relisten... I talk fast (I sadly have but two modes: too fast and way too fast), and I teach technical material (I’ve always been of the mind that intro does not mean easy, only that the emphasis will be on breadth rather than depth.) I repeat myself a lot, and try to remember to slow down, but it’s still hard for some students to keep up.

…shorter and more focused lectures. Not only do I repeat myself a lot, but I spend a lot of time playing defense. Currently, I’d say I spend about a third of my time reminding students of what ground we’ve already covered (a must when algebra is involved) and acknowledging that my simplified models do in fact simplify reality. Some students, no doubt, appreciate hearing about the limitations of the models. But most of them tune out whenever they hear me say “of course, in reality…,” since they know that I’m basically going to babble for a few minutes before concluding, “…but if we accounted for that in the model, we’d get the same results, only with much uglier math, and then you’d all hate me even more.” Unfortunately, if I don’t include these auditory footnotes, it’s almost guaranteed that some sniper will raise their hand and try to prove how smart they are to their classmates by pointing out that the professor has made an assumption. My guess is that most of these questions will go away once I cease lecturing in front of a live audience. And those that do get asked under the new format are likely to be asked out of genuine curiosity, rather than a desire to look smart.

More in-class experiments. I’ve gone back and forth on incorporating these over the years. I’ve designed a few that I think work well, but students never seem to take them seriously. They see them as play time. Which was reasonable enough, I suppose, since in the past I tried to create stakes through extra credit or soda and cookies. There was never much of a downside to sub-optimal play. This semester, I’ve tried creating real incentives by basing 10% of their grade on the amount of points they earn throughout the semester. That hasn’t worked quite as well as I’ve hoped, but I do see a difference. Next semester, I’m going to base 50% of their grade on in-class experiments, of which there will be far more once I free up all that class time. Hopefully, this will also give the students a real incentive to stay current with the online lectures, since it will be very hard to know what strategies will perform best in the experiments otherwise.

Other benefits I’m overlooking? Downsides, besides the time it will take to re-prep the class? Suggestions on how to make it all work?