Monday, April 28, 2014

My Flipping Experiment

Greetings from Oklahoma!
My name is Keri Kornelson, and I'm in the math department at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.  And I can't escape the fact that I'm a technological newbie, at least when it comes to technology in the classroom.  But I decided to teach an inverted (flipped) class this semester, so I needed some technology to make it all work. 

The idea started simply enough.  Discrete mathematics is often the course where students get their first exposure to logic and proofs.  I decided to teach in the flipped model because I wanted to be present when students started trying to read and write the proofs, rather than letting them struggle through that on their own after I did the content delivery (a.k.a. lecture) during class time.  For example, they don't really need me to be right in the room with them when they learn the definition of an even integer, but they are likely to have questions when the time comes to prove that the sum of two even integers is always even.  

So, let me tell you what I'm doing.  I record screencast lectures and post them online for the students to watch before class time.  (Want more details?  I'm using a 22" Wacom digital screen and an open source whiteboard program called Open Sankore that also has recording ability.  After recording, I edit the videos with iMovie.)  I tend to make up some slides with definitions and outlines already in place, then fill in details and computations as I talk through the material.  I make 1-2 videos for each day of class and try to keep them under 12 minutes long.   

During class time, I focus on active learning and peer-to-peer engagement.  Students complete activities using the new material and often present their findings to the other students.  Since they are actually getting their hands dirty, a lot of questions come up.  They work together and often figure things out within their groups, but I'm also there to help.  

There are definitely some challenges.  It takes a lot longer to make a screencast video than to write a lecture.  It requires distilling the topic down to the essentials, creating just the right examples, making slides to fill in, and practicing both the script and the writing to be sure the final result will be clear.  Then, planning the class activities is also pretty hard.  Do you want to do group work, or individual?  Should they write on paper, or on the whiteboard today?  Is this topic better served by having presentations, or do they just need time to puzzle it out?  I'd definitely advise making core topic videos before the term starts and devising some class activities ahead of time that you choose from as needed.   

But now, at very nearly the end of the semester, I'm delighted with the results of the flipped experiment.  Students do watch the lectures ( I spent a long time worrying that they wouldn't) and they re-watch them before exams and while they are doing homework.  I even see the lectures called up on laptops and phones during class so they can review a definition or example.  While we are in class, I hear the greatest conversations.  They are talking to each other, drawing diagrams, testing out ideas, asking questions, answering questions, and just engaging in mathematical discourse.  They are learning how to learn math!  My work here is done.

Thanks, all, for letting me visit your discussion.   

By Dr. Keri Kornelson, University of Oklahoma