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Making Our Teaching Efficient: Flipping the Classroom

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 

Moving first exposure outside
 of class frees up time in class to
 do disciplinary work. Rather than primarily providing basic content exposition, we can explore disciplinary connections, conventions, and controversies.


The posting below looks at the role of the flipped classroom in the different phases of student learning. It is by Linda C. Hodges, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and is from the National Teaching and Learning Forum, Volume 25, Number 5, September 2015. It is #76 in a series of selected excerpts from the NT&LF reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [ ] The on-line edition of the Forum - like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. Copyright ©John Wiley & Sons, Professional and Trade Subscription Content, One Montgomery Street, Suite 1200, San Francisco, CA 94104-4594. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Making Our Teaching Efficient: Flipping the Classroom


Faculty typically spend a lot of time teaching—over 20 hours of a 50-hour workweek in one study (Bentley and Kyvik 2012). Are we spending that time productively? Obviously, whether or not we feel productive depends on what we hope to accomplish as instructors. For example, virtually all the faculty surveyed in the 2013–14 Higher Education Research Institute Faculty Survey felt that two learning outcomes were particularly key: 
developing students’ abilities to think critically (99.1%) and promoting students’ abilities to write effectively (92.7%). If these are our top goals for student learning, how do we direct our time most efficiently to achieve them? As more data become available on how people learn, the answer to this question may lie in our use of the flipped classroom.

What is the Flipped Classroom?

Technically, the phrase flipped classroom refers to the use of recorded lectures outside of class and homework-like activities in class.

The flipped classroom was popularized in high schools (Bergmann and Sams 2012) but is spreading
in college classrooms because of better and more prevalent online instructional materials; improved technology for developing and providing one’s own online lessons; and the push to make the large lecture class, an economic necessity, more effective in supporting student learning (Berrett 2012). The definition of a flipped classroom is also rapidly expanding to mean any approach that requires students to prepare outside of class for active participation in class (Berrett 2012; Sviniki 2013).

Thinking about the Three Phases of Learning:

First Exposure, Processing, and Feedback. Long before the technical birth of the flipped classroom, Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson (1998) advocated rethinking the classic model of who does what, where, and when in our courses. They described learning as having three phases: first exposure, process, and feedback. In the traditional model we faculty provide first exposure to content through face-to-face lectures, students process this information on their own doing assignments, and we provide response or feedback primarily through grading tests and papers. But is this approach efficient in achieving the outcomes we want from our time teaching?

The lecture is often maligned as an ineffective teaching approach, but perhaps the critical problem is that face-to-face lectures on new content are inefficient as a learning tool. In terms of how humans learn, the face-to-face lecture is too fast, too transient, and too one-sided. Promoting students’ abilities to think and write in the discipline, what faculty claim to value most, requires that students process information deeply. The pace of face-to-face lectures, however, is usually too rapid to allow this processing. To learn, humans must simultaneously choose from the complex sensory input being presented, select and access related prior knowledge
from memory (including content and processing skills), and forge new meaning. Humans have a very restricted ability to maintain focus on all this information at once,
a limitation often referred to as working memory capacity. As novices, students have prior knowledge that is neither robust nor well-organized, thus slowing their ability to access pertinent content and skills. Students rarely have time enough to process ideas and move them toward long-term memory before new ideas presented in lecture displace them. If we interrupt lectures by posing questions and problems, we do allow critical processing time. This approach is effective at promoting students’ content acquisition, but it severely limits both the amount and depth of new content we can cover. And if we spend class time primarily providing first exposure to content, we leave students on their own for the hard part—developing the critical thinking skills we so value. Students have a multitude of sources available for accessing content. But we are their best resource for learning how to think in the discipline. Lecturing in class wastes our most valuable commodity—our ability to guide students into thinking like an expert.

The traditional processing phase, when students work on their own on assignments, involves students in the most difficult aspect of learning: making meaning from ideas. Students may be very ill-prepared to process complex ideas on their own without the support and guidance of faculty or peers. Students need to think about their thinking (be metacognitive) to promote learning. Yet they typically do not engage in this kind of mental activity when working alone, unless specifically triggered to do so through assignment prompts. Even then, if they don’t have anyone to provide feedback or assessment on the quality of their thinking, they are not challenged to think beyond their first response. The work that they produce may not begin to meet the expectations we have for their learning.

The third facet of learning, feedback, often occurs when faculty have time to grade student work, too often evenings and weekends. The time required for us to provide response to students’ rudimentary attempts on assignments often means that students receive that feedback long after the work is finished. The motivation for improving or learning from that piece of work is greatly diminished, even if we provide opportunities for revision.

In essence, the classic paradigm wastes our time in at least two ways: preparing and delivering lectures that overtax students’ capacity to learn from them; and providing feedback on students’ largely embryonic attempts at disciplinary work too late for them to be interested in receiving it.

How Flipping the Classroom is Efficient

A more efficient approach redistributes the responsibility for the three phases of learning. In the ‘flipped’ classroom, first exposure to content (the more readily available part of learning) moves outside of class time and becomes the students’ responsibility. First exposure can come from technology enhancements or from traditional sources. We must hold students accountable for this preparation, however, or students will gladly push this responsibility back on us. We can encourage preparatory work by giving low stakes online quizzes or in-class quizzes using personal response systems. Alternatively we can ask students to write a response based on their preparation that we grade on a “they did it, they didn’t do it” basis.

If we do use recorded lectures to provide first exposure to content, students can watch these lectures over and over, learning at their own pace. This process is even more effective if lectures are divided into shorter chunks and include brief online quizzes so that students test their understanding (Szpunar, Khan, and Schacter 2013). A number of avenues for providing these online lectures are open to us. For common courses there are videos available on the web provided by well-known experts in the field. Many textbook publishers have web- based courseware that may include video resources. Failing that, we can make our own screencasts using readily available programs often included in our institutions’ learning management systems.

Moving first exposure outside
 of class frees up time in class to
 do disciplinary work. Rather than primarily providing basic content exposition, we can explore disciplinary connections, conventions, and controversies. Students can work in pairs or groups to solve problems, analyze data or text, or draft theses and arguments. They process ideas, practice skills, and deepen their understanding as they receive feedback from their peers as well as us. These activities provide deliberate practice, a critical factor in developing expertise (Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer 1993). We are thus spending our time more meaningfully in guiding students into the discipline.

This approach takes more time than reviewing our lecture notes. We must clarify our goals for student learning, plan the preparatory experiences we assign, and create follow-up in-class activities that deepen learning. The time we spend designing these experiences, however, is directed right to the challenges of student learning. We are spending our time with students helping them develop the thinking and writing skills we so value. As some faculty have already discovered (Bart 2013), our time spent this way is more productive, and thus our teaching becomes more efficient.


Linda C. Hodges, Ph.D.
 Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs & Director, Faculty Development Center - Engineering 101
University of Maryland, Baltimore County 1000 Hilltop Circle
Baltimore, MD 21250
Telephone: (410) 455-1829


Bart, M. (2013, November 20). “Survey confirms growth of flipped classroom.” Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www and-trends/survey-confirms-growth-of-the- flipped-classroom

Bentley, P. J., and S. Kyvik. 2012. “Academic work from a comparative perspective: A survey of faculty working time across 13 countries.” Higher Education 63: 529–547.

Bergmann, J., and A. Sams. 2012. Flip your Classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. International Society for Technology in Education.

Berrett, D. 2012, February 19. “How ‘flipping’ the classroom can improve the traditional lecture.” Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Ericsson, K. A., R. Th. Krampe, and C. Tesch-Römer. 1993. “The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance.” Psychological Review 100 (3): 363–406.

Svinicki, M. 2013. “Flipped classrooms—old or new?” National Teaching and Learning Forum 22 (5): 12.

Szpunar, K. K., N. Y. Khan, and D. L. Schacter. 2013. “Interpolated memory tests reduce mind wandering and improve learning of online lectures.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110 (16): 6313–6317.

Walvoord, B., and V. J. Anderson. 1998. Effective grading (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.